This is an interesting new term (or new to me, at least). "White fragility" is basically the nicer version of "white tears," referring to the way we white people just cannot seem to handle it when people bring up race. Particularly when we're called out on our own racist attitudes. And we all have racist attitudes, because we're white people brought up in a racist society.
Why White People Freak Out When They're Called Out About Race
This is an interview with Robin DiAngelo, the woman who does workshops on race with her fellow white people and forces them to face their white privilege. You may have seen the videos of her putting up with that shit, somehow.
She coined the term "white fragility" after so many years of seeing white people fall to pieces when we're forced to think about race issues. I've seen it plenty of times myself. I can't tell you the number of times I've been called racist by my fellow white people or even been told I'm "obsessed with race" simply for pointing out the racism in something they like or a thought pattern they have. And it doesn't matter how nicely you go about it, either. Just like with misogyny, the very second you imply that a white person might be the slightest bit subconsciously racist, you can expect to see them fall to pieces.
We white people just can't seem to handle it. So out come the defense mechanisms. On the top of the list is accusing the person talking about race of being racist, because it made them so upset to be called racist that they're hoping that it will make the person talking about race shut up. Or they do it to get you on the defensive, derailing the conversation. They accuse you of taking things too personally, which is, of course, projection, because they're the ones taking the conversation about racism too personally.
In large part, white fragility—the defensiveness, the fear of conflict—is rooted in this good/bad binary. If you call someone out, they think to themselves, “What you just said was that I am a bad person, and that is intolerable to me.” It’s a deep challenge to the core of our identity as good, moral people.
There's so much other great stuff in this interview, including the idea that privileged people "often confuse comfort with safety" and a rejection of the idea of white people being objective about race.
And I LOVE this:
When I’m doing a workshop, I’ll often ask the people of color in the room, somewhat facetiously, “How often have you given white people feedback about our inevitable and often unconscious racist patterns and had that go well for you?” And they laugh.
Because it just doesn’t go well. And so one time I asked, “What would your daily life be like if you could just simply give us feedback, have us receive it graciously, reflect on it and work to change the behavior? What would your life be like?”
And this one man of color looked at me and said, “It would be revolutionary.”
This is exactly how I feel about providing feedback to men about misogyny. It's so rare for it to go well that the number of times it has, and actually I can only recall one example, it's shocking. I've spent so much time and energy just trying to explain to men how absolutely futile it is to try and be nice to men about subjects of gender because no matter how you approach it, it goes badly. If I'm super nice about it, the best I can expect is condescending dismissal and mansplaining. But more often than not the response is angry and defensive.
That's a big part of where Not Sorry Feminism came from. I'm tired of being nice and apologetic about "asking for" the human rights I should already have, because it doesn't work anyway. I'd rather spend my energy practicing being unapologetic and spreading the idea that women do not need to apologize for their existence.
But I'm getting off track. Another bit from this interview that's super important is when DiAngelo is asked about her used of the word "we" when talking about white people - something I strive to do as well.
Well, for one, I’m white (and you’re white). And even as committed as I am, I’m not outside of anything that I’m talking about here. If I went around saying white people this and white people that, it would be a distancing move. I don’t want to reinforce the idea that there are some whites who are done, and others that still need work. There’s no being finished.
I'm not separate from other white people. I'm not "one of the good ones," and I'm not above criticism because I acknowledge the extremely obvious reality of systemic racism. I never will be.
And the rest of the interview is fucking phenomenal, too. Talking about the dilemma of being a white person talking about race issues when people of color have been saying the same things, but white people won't listen to people of color so fffffffffuuuuuuck. And yeah. DiAngelo is great, for a white person.
See what I did there. Har har.