The astronomer Carl Sagan once said, “It is not surprising that people have prejudices. What is surprising is that people want to do something about them.” For many of us this means stepping into conversations about “whiteness” and racial inequality and injustice. This can be scary because difficult emotions can be activated around authentic cross-racial dialogues — fear, anger and guilt. Often, the rules of engagement are unclear and a common language for engagement is missing.
Robin Diangelo’s recent book, “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People To Talk About Racism (2018),” is a readable, clear and compassionate tool for societal change through constructive social and intimate relationships. The author is a white antiracist educator who admittedly speaks as an “insider.” She speaks to the white experience with a caring clarity that is hard to ignore by us white folk.
Diangelo notes that her work is not just for the white community: “My hope is that you may gain insight into why people who identify as white are so difficult in conversations regarding race and/or gain insight into your own racial responses as you navigate the roiling racial waters of daily life.”
Our society has been separate and unequal in terms of race. We whites have often benefited from inequality. We have an unconscious, internalized feeling of superiority. Our white fragility occurs when our world or identities are seen as racist since we want to be good and moral people. To become aware of our whiteness and its entitlements is stress inducing. We get defensive. We go silent, get argumentative or distance from the situation. These reactions reinstate white equilibrium as they repel the challenges posed by racism and white superiority. White fragility protects white control and advantage.
We who live in the Tri-State area are fortunate that there are a number of communities in which multiracial encounters, dialogues and collegiality occur daily — within the Marshall University communities and sports, within the medical facilities where medical and nursing staffs as well as patients are ethnically diverse, within our public schools where faculty and students come from diverse backgrounds, and within many congregations that attempt to be inclusive.
However, racism is a complex and nuanced cultural and social reality. Our learning about it is never finished nor complete. This particular New York Times No. 1 Bestseller can be a useful resource in addressing the white fragility that protects persistent racial inequality and injustice.
David J. Dalrymple, Ph.D., is affiliate minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Charleston, a pastoral psychotherapist and Jungian psychoanalyst, and has been adjunct faculty teaching Religious Studies at Marshall University.