White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (2018)

 

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I borrowed this book from a friend, and it seems I’ll have to buy her a new book because I’ve put so many sticky notes in this one, and I don’t want to give up what I marked. I’m going to start with excerpts from a long in the latter part of the book because I think it sums up its thesis “White people raised in Western society are conditioned into a white supremacist worldview because it is the bedrock of our society and its institutions…The messages circulate 24-7 and have little or nothing to do with intentions, awareness, or agreement. Entering a conversation with this understanding is freeing because it allows us to focus on how–rather then if–our racism is manifest…stopping racist patterns must be more important than working to convince others that we don’t have them…”(129).  I could quote and quote and quote from this book. It will make people uncomfortable. It made me uncomfortable. It made me see and realize so much more about how entrenched we are in a white worldview, but most important this book gives us tools to have difficult conversations–to stop denying and to embrace doing better. And as a white racial educator, DiAngelo is honest about how long this work takes and that she is still learning every day. It will take the rest of our lifetime to undo behavior and thoughts that have been with us since birth. She goes on to say “to be less white is to be less racially oppressive..more racially aware, to be better educated about racism, and to continually challenge racial certitude and arrogance…to be more compassionate toward the racial realities of people of color” (150). I know I can be more aware as an educator, I know I can embrace being uncomfortable in the classroom, I know I can use awkward moments to start a dialogue rather than overlooking those awkward moments hoping they’ll go away. I can recognize that when I feel teary-eyed at the scene in To Kill a Mockingbird when Atticus leaves the courtroom and the black residents stand to honor him, that I am seeing this tragedy from HIS eyes and I’m identifying with HIS character and HIS loss rather than Helen’s loss or Tom’s death–because we see nothing through their eyes.

While so many passages and ideas struck me in this book, another that I feel compelled to mention so I never forget it is “the most profound message of racial segregation may be that the absence of people of color from our lives is no real loss” (67). Literally no one in my life every conveyed to me that my life was diminished because my family and friends and neighbors and co-workers were almost all white. Nor did I convey that in any meaningful way to my own children. I enrolled them in a diverse dance school to be sure they would have experience with an evenly split Black/white ratio of students, but I did not do enough to foster such relationships nor did I explain the diminishment of their lives as their circles became whiter. Though our high school is predominantly white (a keystone of a racist world view), Black students and people of color broaden the student body’s knowledge, culture, and experiences. I hope that as a community, we can continually learn and understand each others’ views and experiences: we need honest, often uncomfortable, fragile conversations.

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