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White Fragility

I am a fiction reader through and through, but I try to consciously read at least a few nonfiction books a year to challenge my brain. Well, I’m embarrassed to say that we’re halfway through this challenging year and this is the first nonfiction I’ve read. But I’m excited to discuss with book club next week!

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo is really a must read. And before you get all up in arms about race and racism, just give it an open-minded chance. Even if we tell ourselves and/or others we’re not racist. The truth is, all white people have racist tendencies (above and beyond prejudices) even if we don’t realize it. And there is a horrifyingly large list of societal norms that are not ok. DiAngelo shows that racism is not a simple matter of good vs. bad. There is a continuum and while none of it is good, not all racism is the white supremacist and physical attacks on black people. It’s good to admit that we are racist so we can recognize specific instances and take action to make changes in ourselves. After that, we should recognize it in other people and take action to constructively point this out to them, as well as take constructive criticism ourselves. Become an anti-racist. It’s not an easy thing for us to do and I am definitely not completely comfortable with conversations about race. But I want to be.

A big topic in the book is how white people react when they are told, be it constructively or aggressively, that they did or said something racist. I’ve never been in that situation, but I can admit that yes, my first instinct would probably be to defend myself, say I’m not racist, and try to justify what I said or did. That is what most people would do. And that is a problem. We shouldn’t have to be consoled because we feel bad about something we said or did, even if it was not intended to cause harm or offense. We need to do better to support and respect the people around us and the actions that affect them. And no, I don’t think we, as a society, becoming too sensitive. I would never venture to say that about something I will never fully understand.

The key to moving forward is what we do with out discomfort. We can use it as a door out – blame the messenger and disregard the message. Or we can use it as a door in by asking, Why does this unsettle me? What would it mean for me if this were true? How does this lens change my understanding of racial dynamics? How can my unease help reveal the unexamined assumptions I have been making? Is it possible that because I am white, there are some racial dynamics that I can’t see? Am I willing to consider that possibility? If I am not willing to do so, then why not?

Robin DiAngelo

If you’re looking for books about race and racism, this is a good one to start with. It is a little repetitive at times, but it’s not very long (not that that should matter). And I learned a lot. Just imagine what would happen if even each individual person just decided to change their own thoughts and actions towards racism. Then imagine what would happen if we held others accountable. Just start with a book/some research and a conversation with someone you trust that doesn’t necessarily have all the same beliefs/viewpoints.