Why You Should Read White Fragility and Recognize Your Own

At this moment, communities across the country, and our country itself, is reckoning with a storied history of racism. Protests continue daily as people demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, the list (unfortunately) goes on. Communities are continuing to call for police reform and an end to racism. With this, it’s important to elevate the voices of those that need to be heard the most. One of those voices is that of Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility.

White Fragility is a book that explains why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism (Disclaimer: I am a white female who grew up in a predominantly white, upper-middle-class bubble, with the privilege to live my life without any restriction due to my race). Skillfully written by Robin DiAngelo, a consultant and trainer on issues of racial and social justice, the book is a bestseller in the U.S. and has played an important role in provoking uncomfortable conversations on what it means to be white in this country. She uses her over 20 years of experience discussing race and analyzing people’s reactions to inform the concept of what she calls white fragility.

Essentially, the concept of white fragility is discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and justice. DiAngelo found that when white people are called out, we have very predictable responses – usually anger, denial, guilt and behaviors like argumentation and silence.

We can do things to recognize what white fragility looks like and identify alternative ways to react.

The first step is deconstructing and understanding the definition of racism.

From speaking with my community of friends and family, I think there’s oftentimes an outdated consensus that racism is this ‘thing’ that happens when you’re an amoral person acting with the intention to hurt someone based on the color of their skin. By that logic, if you don’t intend for your actions or words to be harmful, then you are not racist.

DiAngelo flips that idea on its head and essentially says that it doesn’t matter what your intentions are – it’s the impact that matters. If a Black person feels offended by a comment you said or an action you made, it’s problematic. And if you’re a white person in America, you have racist tendencies, if for no other reason, because of the institutions in place in the U.S. that we benefit from.

That’s a hard pill to swallow, and it’s supposed to be.

So, how can real change begin? And what can you do when you inevitably slip up and do or say something racist?

It’s critical to understand that this is an ongoing effort that starts with a lot of internal work.

DiAngelo encourages us to assess our individual racist tendencies and where they come from – because we all have them. Acknowledging that we all have these tendencies doesn’t mean that we’re admitting we’re all awful people. It just means we have things to learn.

Lean into your feelings of discomfort and dig deeper. Why did I think it was okay to laugh at that joke? Where does my defensiveness come from? What does it truly look like to support the Black community, and not just on social media? How can I use the knowledge of my white fragility to react differently?

In the words of DiAngelo, “We won’t ever be free of racism or finished learning, but there are things white people can do when their fragility surfaces: breathe, listen, reflect, return to the list of underlying assumptions, seek out someone with a stronger analysis if you feel confused, and take the time you need to process your feelings, but do not return to the situation and the people involved until you’re ready for feedback.”

 White Fragility is an uncomfortable, but eye-opening and essential book that everyone should read, especially now. However, reading one book doesn’t cancel out the rest of the work that you need to do. Continue learning, continue having important conversations, and learn how you can be the best ally for our Black neighbors because it’s past due, and they deserve it. Join me in this life-long work.