White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism

By: Robin DiAngelo

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Author Robin DiAngelo uses her expertise as an anti-racist educator to highlight the issue of white fragility. This phenomenon comprises the defensive behaviors that white people tend to employ when confronted with their own prejudices and can include things such as anger, fear, guilt, emotional overreaction or withdrawal, and/or denial. But no matter which of these behaviors manifest they all have the consequence of shutting down any cross-racial dialogue and turning the attention toward the person exhibiting them rather on the person(s) who've been harmed. The author teaches white people the psychology and sociology behind how their own fragility manifests and how it prevents meaningful progress from happening by protecting racial inequity, while also showing what can be done constructively to overcome it.


White Fragility was an oft recommended book throughout the Romance Writers of America implosion that uncovered the dark underbelly of racism within the organization. I can't recall exactly when the book first came to my attention. It might have been during the earlier "Ritas So White" debacle, or I might have heard of it even earlier through another source, but in any case, I've been wanting to check it out for some time. With the current state of racial upheaval and Black Lives Matter protests within the United States and around the world, my church announced that they were going to offer a multi-week, in-depth study of the book, so I eagerly jumped in with both feet. We're currently three weeks into the study with several more weeks to go, but so far, both it and the book have been enlightening. Both have definitely been encouraging me to take a closer look at how I may have unconsciously benefited from racism and in what ways I may harbor racist sentiments due to the culture into which I've been socialized.

Author Robin DiAngelo looks at how all white people are born into a racist system that favors whites as a group and how this culture begins to affect us as early as when we're small children. We may not even consciously realize it, because our own privilege blinds us to it. Then there are the many stumbling blocks that make it difficult to acknowledge this dynamic even when directly confronted with it. One of the biggest reasons for this is the good/bad binary. Ever since the civil rights movement, racism has been looked at as an evil thing and people such as KKK members who outwardly express racist sentiments as bad. Therefore people who naturally view themselves as good feel like they can't possibly be racist because they don't belong to white supremacist organizations. But the issue is much more nuanced than that, because racism has literally become woven into the fabric of our society in such a way that it's difficult for white people to detect. Meanwhile, black people (and other people of color) must live with it every day of their lives. Therefore, it's incumbent upon us to root out these racist sentiments and to recognize the ways in which we are contributing to its continuation whether consciously or unconsciously.

There are many potential triggers for white fragility, so we must learn what they are and how to recognize and counteract them when they occur. There are also many ways in which white fragility may manifest, such as feelings of being attacked, shamed, or guilted, or reacting in a physical way such as crying, emotionally withdrawing, or denying. Whatever form it takes, these are all manifestations that help protect the underlying function of white fragility, which boils down to maintaining the status quo. Instead we must unlearn these behaviors and take a step back when offered feedback, stop making excuses, and engage in more self-reflection. I like that in the final chapter, the author offers guidelines for ways in which we can change our behaviors and reactions toward a path of humility, which if employed regularly can help to interrupt racism.

Overall, White Fragility was an excellent book that demonstrates through sound psychological and sociological theory the ways in which white fragility manifest and present and how we as white people can overcome them to be better allies to our brothers and sisters of color. Throughout reading it, I've learned a great deal. I've been educated on things I didn't already know, while also being challenged to look deeper within myself for the ways in which I might be complicit in these behaviors and how I can do better in the future. Some of these things are so subtle that it will take work to root them out and I recognize that the work will never be fully done. There's always going to be more to learn and improve, but I'm convinced that if enough people put what this book teaches into action, we can make the world a more equitable place for everyone. White Fragility is a book that will definitely go on my keeper shelf to refer back to as I continue this journey. I read it fairly quickly for our book study, but I'll probably read it again at some point and take more time to do a deeper dive. It's a somewhat dense book that takes a little more effort to understand and really figure out how certain things apply on a personal level, but one that is very much worth it. I'd highly recommend it to all my fellow white people who have a genuine desire to learn how to overcome their own fragility to become a better anti-racist.


Robin DiAngelo