I’ve been reading, learning, listening over the last several months. I’ve watched while Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility flew off the shelves with the recent uprisings against systemic racism. I saw the article where it was exposed that she owns 3 homes and the charities she had supported or claimed to support related to fighting systemic racism hadn’t heard from her in years at least. This is disturbing but I rarely get pissed about people getting what they earn. I do question what she is actually DOING for Black liberation? The donations from the proceeds of the book like she suggested would be excellent to see. However, besides money, what is she doing for Black liberation? Is she marching? Is she donating time to school districts or other agencies wanting to engage this work? Is she throwing her weight around at the university to bring about racial equity in the faculty, staff, and student ranks? Is she agitating for racial equity in her neighborhood or local school district? Money is a lazy cop out, however necessary, action is more important. And it is disappointing. But this is not the main reason why I’m no longer suggesting white people read her book. Just for transparency sake, I haven’t read her book, I’ve read her book with Özlem Sensoy, Is Everyone Really Equal? That was a good book. Well organized with excellent explanations for many things related to racism, discrimination, prejudice. In some ways it’s elementary but in other ways it is really a perfect intro for just about anyone wishing to understand. All of that to say, I’m familiar with her work.
Something about the term, white fragility, always rubbed me the wrong way. Then I read some posts from Catrice Jackson in a Facebook group I’m in and it bent my brain and wrung out the truth. The fragility is a weapon of whiteness wielded against Black people and all people of color to criminalize us, to guilt us, and to murder us. The idea of fragility has slowed down equity and progress on every front. The idea of fragility has prevented open and honest conversations to happen. And that fragility has helped this country circumvent the truth and reconciliation needed to move forward and become a more cohesive, humane, and equitable nation. The fragility is feigned as was caught n camera when Central Park Polly pulled the attempted code lynching of Christian Cooper in May, 2020. We saw in real time, a woman being asked to bey posted park rules become irate and aggressive and when Christian firmly and kindly held his ground. She told him what she was going to do do and then flipped a switch into that feigned fragility. White people aren’t fragile.
Further, there has never been a time in the history of the modern world that white people have been fragile. They have dreamt up the most heinous, debased, and reprehensible atrocities against human beings the world over. They are busy at work devising the next, more depraved cruelty to heap upon people of color right now. White people are not fragile. To allow them to continue to believe their behavior is fragility, is irresponsible at the least and nefariously negligent at the worst. the horrors white people have devised are the things made of nightmares and have been significantly downplayed. Those horrors persist. They are just less obvious, they are obscured.
This is the primary reason I am no longer suggesting white people first turn to this particular book. I continue to suggest Tim Wise’s White Like Me as a place to begin to understand what white privilege is, how to work to identify and think differently about white privilege and the action. Further, he does a lot of work with school districts and local activist agencies.
The next book I recommend is Carol Anderson’s White Rage. First, Dr. Anderson is Black. Second, she analyzes various moments in history from Reconstruction forward, demonstrating with clear historical evidence about how every moment of Black progress has been met with white backlash, or rather, white rage. This is what we saw in Central Park Polly’s attempted code lynching, white rage that a Black man dare politely ask a white woman to follow park rules. The sheer audacity of a Black person claiming their rights, provokes a kind of visceral, violent rage, in too many white people. And that rage isn’t always so loud. Sometimes it is quiet. Often it is, in fact.
Take the Black employees pushed out because of weak bullying and harassment policies. The Indigenous employees passed over for promotion by an individual or a board. Every student of color being shoved out of school, into the school to prison pipeline, or passed though for athletics without care for their education. Or our front line employees in the lowest paid jobs, with no benefits, who are more likely to catch COVID-19. Silent racism is still racism. And it is still white rage.
It isn’t fragility to starve communities of resources, makes it harder for people of color to move up and out, to amass generational wealth, concoct some of the stupidest stereotypes – what the hell do you think the stereotypes of laziness levied at Black, Native, and LatinX communities is? We built this motherfucking country! It is out blood, sweat, and tears in the dirt. It was out labor stolen from us, our lives ripped from us, and our backs that built this entire fucking country. Because of the myth that white people were to fragile for the hard labor. It is LatinX people working dangerous, backbreaking labor, in all weather feeding us. And yet we are all lazy. We are all on welfare (when it is white people who are disproportionately on public assistance – and that isn’t the point. How is it humane that in the wealthiest country this world has ever known that some people work multiple jobs and still can’t make ends meet, still can’t feed their families, still struggle to keep a roof over their heads while the super wealthy continue to amass more wealth than any person can spend in one lifetime? How does public assistance exist and why do we allow politicians and the media to malign the people who need help and not the super wealthy thieving their labor and lives?). That’s the most idiotic stereotype to construct about people. It is transparently false and easily verifiable to be false. And yet, this is the narrative that is pulled out time and again. White people are not fragile. They are cruel. This is white rage.
White people need to understand this. They are capable of white rage. Ah be not all white people but I’d bet it’s the vast majority. When white people have to take the lead from a Black person, what happens most of the time? Resistance and a weird type of questioning that works to undermine the credibility of the Black leader. The employment gaps we see in every industry is not because there are not enough brilliant, highly qualified (and often way more so), highly talented Black people for these top positions. It is white rage that continues to construct and reinforce barriers. It is white rage that works over time even in white people we might least expect, or perhaps least expect themselves from behaving in racist ways.
And for white women, specifically, who are moving along their journey, I’m recommending Dr. Catrice Jackson’s Antagonists, Advocates, and Allies. Where Carol Anderson’s book gives a rich and well supported history to illustrate what white backlash is, Catrice Jackson’s book is where white women can begin the work of learning how to behave less violently toward women of color. Working through this book can help white women learn how to show up more productively and less harmfully.
While I think perhaps thinking about white fragility was maybe important to advance our thinking, I have come to understand this terminology and the concept to be more damaging to the work that needs to move forward. I’ve come to believe this word gives white people an convenient out to actually doing the hard and painful work of reckoning with a history of racist violence as their inheritance. If white people get to benefit from and freely build generational wealth, then they must deal with the generational debt. Rather than deal with that generational wealth, they devise more atrocities to visit upon Black, Indigenous, and LatinX people, specifically. However, no people of color are spared. We are all cannon fodder for the next round of horrors.
White people are not now, nor have e they ever been, fragile.