Dear White People:
White is the status quo. White is the norm. White rules. White perspective is assumed to be universal and is imposed on everyone.
White supremacy is a system we are all socialized into from the moment we are born. White schools are better than Black schools. White neighborhoods are better than Black neighborhoods. White health care is better than Black health care. White wages . . .
I’ve rarely had a more uncomfortable yet educational experience as I had reading Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility.
White fragility is “an outcome of white people’s socialization into white supremacy and a means to protect, maintain, and reproduce white supremacy.” It thrives on a collection of almost automatic defense mechanisms white people commonly employ when challenged on their assumptions about race or their denials of being racist.
Whites “produce and reinforce the dominant narratives of society—such as individualism and meritocracy . . . [that] allow us to congratulate ourselves on our success within the institutions of society and blame others for their lack of success.”
White people are defensive when challenged about race.
White people are the ones who resist integration efforts.
One key takeaway for me from this book is the false but widespread belief that racial discrimination can only be intentional. That only bad, ignorant, bigoted people engage in racism, and because I’m a well-intentioned good person and a progressive I therefore can’t be racist. This hugely misguided assumption allows me to shut down discussion of racism and exempt myself from any responsibility for the problem in order to protect myself, my privilege, and my comfort.
So much of white supremacy is unconscious and it is difficult to overcome.
I think about what’s going on right now in our country—with states making it harder for people of color to vote, or stoking culture wars by declaring it illegal to teach critical race theory in schools (because white kids might feel bad), and for the unending and increasingly loud racist whistles issuing from politicians.
How am I going to do better? I’m starting from way back. Sadly, embarrassingly, I know few Black people. I live in a suburb that is more than 90 percent white. I used to volunteer teaching Black immigrants conversational English at Refugee and Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus (RISSE), but that ended with the pandemic.
I have to get back at it. I need to become more educated, more enlightened, more accountable. I’m not sure how to do all that, but reading books like this one is a good start for anyone.