Yesha Callahan

Anti-Racist Educator Robin DiAngelo Explains “White Fragility”

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Robin DiAngelo

 

‘White fragility’ is a defensive response to real conversations about race.

When it comes to talking about race, it’s seemingly the last thing a lot of white people feel comfortable doing. Which is irony within itself, because typically in the U.S., white people have the trademark on racism. Sometimes it’s just fun to watch white people squirm when the subject comes up. Especially if it’s being discussed in person.

Robin DiAngelo, professor of multicultural education at Westfield State University and author of What Does it Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacycame up with an interesting term in 2011 called ‘white fragility’ which she describes as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include outward display of emotions such as anger, fear and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence and leaving the stress-inducing situation.”

White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium. — The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Over the last several months, white fragility has become increasingly visible, especially with the advent of “Black Lives Matter.” White people, who took issue with the statement, quickly turned it into “All Lives Matter,” because of their fragility.

In an interview with AltnerNet, DiAngelo discussed the term, and why she came up with it.

Sam Adler-Bell: How did you come to write about “white fragility”?
Robin DiAngelo: To be honest, I wanted to take it on because it’s a frustrating dynamic that I encounter a lot. I don’t have a lot of patience for it. And I wanted to put a mirror to it.

I do atypical work for a white person, which is that I lead primarily white audiences in discussions on race every day, in workshops all over the country. That has allowed me to observe very predictable patterns. And one of those patterns is this inability to tolerate any kind of challenge to our racial reality. We shut down or lash out or in whatever way possible block any reflection from taking place.

Of course, it functions as means of resistance, but I think it’s also useful to think about it as fragility, as inability to handle the stress of conversations about race and racism.

Sometimes it’s strategic, a very intentional push back and rebuttal. But a lot of the time, the person simply cannot function. They regress into an emotional state that prevents anybody from moving forward.

SAB: What causes white fragility to set in?
RD: For white people, their identities rest on the idea of racism as about good or bad people, about moral or immoral singular acts, and if we’re good, moral people we can’t be racist – we don’t engage in those acts. This is one of the most effective adaptations of racism over time—that we can think of racism as only something that individuals either are or are not “doing.”

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.

The good/bad binary is also what leads to the very unhelpful phenomenon of un-friending on Facebook.

To read more of the interview click here.

Clutchettes, what do you think about the term “white fragility”?

Image Credits: AlterNet/Robin DiAngelo

  1. March 16, 2015 - Reply

    fragility = deflection & gas lighting. i’m so sick of them coming up w/cutesy names to forgive themselves for avoiding the issues & turning everything back against us to make it our fault that they kill us, demean us, and deny us our economic freedoms. it’s not fragility. it’s purposeful & intential. & they’re every bit aware of what they’re doing when they do it. they do it to shut us up so they won’t have to ruin the status quo.

    • March 16, 2015 - Reply

      @Me

      What they do is purposeful, how they face the consequences of their actions is by pretending to be too weak to discuss the issue. Its like the girl who talks the most ish and starts crying when she’s about to get her arse beat.

      • March 16, 2015 - Reply

        @Love.tweet.joi

        “Its like the girl who talks the most ish and starts crying when she’s about to get her arse beat.”

        This the perfect analogy.

        • March 16, 2015 - Reply

          @dirtychai

          It sure is.

    • March 16, 2015 - Reply

      @Me

      That’s an excellent point.

  2. March 16, 2015 - Reply

    White Fragility seems like a term that almost excuses the behavior instead of indentifying it. DiAngelo’s description of the behavior is accurate though. Racism is not about being good or bad, racism is a series of attitudes and assumptions that can be held by all sorts of people.

  3. March 16, 2015 - Reply

    This reminds me of an ancient episode of Oprah when a young white man decided to take vitilago pills that would turn him brown and visit the south. His parents were stressed out, afraid that he would be killed by BLACK people for not really being black. He was supposed to “be black” for two months. After experiencing racism for two weeks, hestopped the experiment and went back home. Oprah says, “You could only stand being black for two weeks, I’ve been black my whole life.”

    No wonder studies show that white people think we have superpowers. Fragile is a good word for them.

    • March 16, 2015 - Reply

      @Love.tweet.joi

      Reminds me of “Black Like Me.”

      • March 16, 2015 - Reply

        @Guest

        yep.

  4. March 16, 2015 - Reply

    This is the first time that I heard of the phrase of white fragility. White fragility is more like white excuses or white denial. Many white people harbor even the excessive reactions to even a minute conversation of race and racism. The lies of “race doesn’t matter” and “racism no longer exist” has been embraced by many in the white collective. Change must come. It must come by no more denials and no more window dressings. It must come by structures in society must change, discrimination must be combated, and there must be an overall transformation of society were people are treated as human beings not as economic commodities. We, as black people, want solutions and justice.

    • March 17, 2015 - Reply

      @truthseeker2436577@yahoo.com

      Many of us as black people are so naïve. Many of us still operate under the delusion that a competing collective will suddenly decide to change the social structure just to grant us equal opportunity and will stop using us as “economic commodities,” simply because it would be nice of them to do that. Well, golly LOL. What I want to know is: why are we so gullible, that we have trouble understanding the human spirit, and the nature of the adversarial society and of the dog-eat-dog world we live in? No one is going to respect us or make things fair for us just because it’s nice. No one gives a fudge LOL. No disrespect to anyone here, but the real world is not an after school special.

      All collectives are out for their self-interest. Period. They don’t care about us and never will, no matter how we beg for their understanding and approval. These white liberal social justice warriors make us feel so warm and fuzzy, but they’re just a distraction. I didn’t read this article because it’s irrelevant.

      Again…all groups are out for their self-interest. They’ll step on us if we’re in their way, use us if it benefits them, even help us to the point that it benefits them. The only way others will treat us with respect and give us fair treatment and justice is if we have the power to obligate them, the wealth or resources they need to trade or do business with. Look at Jews…other collectives dislike and distrust them but collectives have to treat them well. Cornering certain fields and building wealth has made them powerful. We have refused to build corporations, strong communities, instead preferring to beg other collectives to let us work under them in companies. We are economically dependent on other collectives for our survival, dependent on others for our safety and lives (we allowed our communities to be crime riddled…why didn’t we set up neighborhood watch?). Even if all white people disappear tomorrow, as a collective we’ll be as we are now: at the bottom, begging for the mercy of everyone above us. We’ll hear words, but collectively will see only the illusion of fairness and justice.

      • March 17, 2015 - Reply

        @Felina Femenina

        I know that you’re not being disrespectful to anyone.

        You are right on many points. You’re correct that some (not all black people) are naïve about the wicked components of mainstream society. You’re right that we should never reject naiveté about how society works. Every victory that we have achieved was never done by begging for acceptance. It was won by struggle, social activism, and direct confrontation against evil as said by the late Frederick Douglas. The Maafa ended via slave revolts, various wars, and other activists from progressive leaders. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act was formed by struggle, demonstrations, and other forms of social activism. I don’t view social justice and economic justice as dirty words. I will always believe in social justice and economic justice (as Fred Hampton, Dr. King, Fannie Lou Hamer, and others subscribe to). There is nothing wrong with forming a collective, powerful black powerbase. Other ethnics groups like the Irish, the Jewish people, the Indians, the Arabic people, etc. have done it. We have the right to do it. Also, it is important to condemn evil. Being selfish, hating on people, and doing corporation corruption has no justification. It was the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that resulted from lax regulations and BP had to pay money for that.

        Therefore, we should be wise to not only set up economic power, but we need to make sure that workers are treated fair and that power is fairly distributed. Solidarity and altruism has helped civilizations throughout human history. It was the cut throat economic actions of Wall Street bankers that caused the Great Depression of 1929. It was the cut throat economic actions (including the Western imperialism) of certain corporations that caused the Maafa. It was the selfish actions of Wall Street that contributed to the great recession of 2007-8. Therefore, we should build more in our communities with an independent powerbase, but we should not ignore the fact that we must fight for the betterment of society (as a whole). When society is improved, all of us are improved socially, economically, and spiritually. There must be a dramatically transformation of society without making everything a exploitative commodity. That tradition of all of us being in this together as Brothers and Sisters can do a great deal in helping our communities. We, as black people, are in a struggle. We have to struggle for liberation.

        Revolutionaries from many quarters are anti-imperialist and legitimately seek cooperation without unfair exploitation. Change never comes by pressure less persuasion. It comes by action and we have to use a diversity of actions to establish real change. We should care less if racist whites respect us. I don’t need their respect. I care if our people are liberated as human beings. There is nothing wrong with building wealth, controlling resources, and having power. There is something wrong with economic exploitation of workers in an evil way, environmental degradation, civil liberties being violated, and human life being degraded. We need solidarity, unity, and true justice. We have to fight for our economic rights and for our human rights. We have to unite internationally with all black people from Africa to Paris.

        We have to have hope. Without hope and action, nothing changes. With actions, things can change.

      • April 25, 2015 - Reply

        @Felina Femenina

        Honey please… negroes aint jews. You are making a false equivalency between the two races. Jews are a civilized, highly intelligent, moneyed race with a clear agenda to destroy White Christendom. As a white separatist I despise jews, yet I respect them as an intelligent, powerful adversary. Whereas negroes are simply subhuman brutes and parasites foisted upon whitey by jews, and who would have been dealt with long ago if the jews weren’t protecting and propping up their worthless black asses. Jews have no particular love for blacks, they promote blacks out of spite to stick it to whitey. Blacks are used by jews as a weapon to degrade and destroy all that is White, clean, safe, secure, prosperous. Look what blacks have done to every single US city, school, neighborhood– without exception. If the jews took their stranglehold off greedy, sell out white politicians we would take care of the black problem in 2 days. Ungrateful blacks ought to kiss the jews asses because they are what keeps negroes breathing on this earth.

        • May 20, 2015 - Reply

          @DiversityIsDeath

          No, “dear.” I am no honey of yours.

          The one issue here is your limited intellect, which caused you to have trouble understanding my comment. Your response to me is not truly a response to me, for it bears only superficial resemblance to what I wrote. You didn’t process, analyze and address my individual points, because you lack the ability to think in depth and nuance, and can only regurgitate generic ramblings written by someone else (we both know this bland, yawn-inducing rant has not one thought originally yours).

          I made no false equivalency. What I did was provide one example of one group empowering itself, but the same strategy to self-empowerment has been used throughout time by a wide variety of conquered groups and groups who are a minority in number. I don’t care what Jews do or don’t do beyond my impartial observations and analyses.

          Whether YOU respect Jews, or respect me, is irrelevant, so I laughed at your need to share this with me as if you thought it would mean something. I was discussing group power dynamics, not the “respect” of a laughably powerless, bitter male who sobs on Disqus that not even white women respect or want him LOL. You are a nobody, my dear sir, a social joke, and not even relevant in the eyes of other white people. Teasing women on this blog, trying to stir fear here with threats, all of your pompous windbaggery and showboating will not ease the hurt of being called “white trash” by your peers. You have failed at life, dear, and your one hope and prayer is for white people to overlook the fact you’ve achieved nothing, and simply give you credit for being born with white skin. I can see the source of your obsession. Hmm…somebody here needs an e-hug. Have a nice week, dear.

        • May 20, 2015 - Reply

          @DiversityIsDeath

          No, ‘dear.’ I am no honey of yours.

          The one issue here is your limited intellect, which caused you to have trouble understanding my comment. Your response to me is not truly a response to me; it bears only superficial relevance to what I wrote. You didn’t process, analyze and address my individual points. You lack the ability to think in depth and nuance, and can only regurgitate generic ramblings written by someone else (we both know this bland, yawn-inducing rant has not one thought originally yours). Dear.

          I made no false equivalency. I provided one example of one group empowering itself, but similar strategies to self-empowerment have been used throughout time by a wide variety of conquered groups and groups who are a minority in number. In case there’s any lingering confusion, look up the word ‘example’ in a dictionary. I don’t care what Jews do or don’t do beyond my impartial observations and analyses. I’m indifferent.

          Whether YOU respect Jews, or respect me, is irrelevant, as well, so I laughed at your little declaration of whom you do and don’t ‘respect’, as if you thought it mattered. I was discussing group power dynamics – not the ‘respect’ of a laughably powerless, bitter male who has yet to master grammar and punctuation, and sobs all over the internet that not even white women respect or want him LOL. You are a nobody, my dear sir, a social joke, not even relevant in the eyes of other white people. Teasing women on this blog, trying to stir we women here to fear with threats, and showboating with this pompous windbaggery, will do nothing to ease the hurt and pain you feel of being called “white trash” by your white peers. You have failed at life, dear, and your one hope and prayer now is for white people to overlook the fact you’ve achieved nothing of worth, and simply give you credit and acceptance for the ‘achievement’ of being born with white skin. I understand and can see the source of your obsession. Hmm…somebody needs an e-hug…

  5. March 17, 2015 - Reply

    Excuses….Excuses…

  6. March 17, 2015 - Reply

    this is just subterfuge to distract people from the fact that blacks can’t take responsibility for their actions.

    • March 21, 2015 - Reply

      @jackson freebeer

      Lol! White fragility never fails…even on a black blog. Just simply hilarious!

      • October 20, 2015 - Reply

        @Guest

        The hilarity lies in the fact that you just proved my point.

  7. March 17, 2015 - Reply

    Well how much of an educator can she be? It’s patently obvious she needs some more education spewing this drivel

  8. March 18, 2015 - Reply

    I see the situation differently: the instructor is saying white people’s feelings are so easily hurt over ANY mention of race that she came up with the “white fragility” term in order for them to receive her message. The white fragility term is not for black/non-white people…the white fragility term is for WHITE people. We already know what time it is. We as non-whites don’t need to be concerned or disturbed by the term “white fragility”.

    • March 19, 2015 - Reply

      @Town

      Precisely!

  9. March 22, 2015 - Reply

    Whites are privileged by NATURE. Whites have the privilege of being better looking, having higher intelligence, and being most creative, innovative of all races, and, of developing Western Civilization which every minority wants to be part of. That right there is proof of racial superiority. This is our privilege– to be the best, by nature. Ask any bitter non-white spewing his sour grapes white-hating spiel, to look around and admit that everything of value he sees and uses was invented by a White man. (Yeah, dig it you ungrateful pests. You know it’s true!)

    As for Whites having a sense of entitlement– entitled to WHAT? To support the spreading plague of unwanted minorities who are forced on us against our will? Who demand free everything constantly, and even when they are given it by “entitled Whites” continue to make demands for more, more, more? But the Whites who are forced to put up with racial aliens, and support them and pay ever more $$$$$ to feed/clothe/house/educate these growing populations of dangerous racial enemy parasites, of course are the ones with a “deep sense of entitlement”, right? Yes, Whites are “entitled” to get raped/assaulted/slaughtered by these subhumans? To have our White children assaulted by violent negroes in public schools, where they are brainwashed to be ashamed of their European ancestry? DiAngelo– why don’t you move to Zimbabwe or Detroit, you psycho, sell-out, race-traitoring phoney white liberal?

    • April 5, 2015 - Reply

      @DiversityIsDeath

      And hear we have it. A classic example of white fragility at its finest. The irony of when a comment displays it so well.

      • April 25, 2015 - Reply

        @gg

        Nice rebuttal dimwit. You obviously disagree, but you are unable to articulate why, aren’t you? You simply voice a sour, emotion-based resistance to an unpleasant but obvious truth that the White race is the superior of all races, and blacks the inferior of all races. Thanks for confirming my observations!

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