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14 February 2015 @ 10:12 am
on white fragility  
Apparently my post here has recently turned up on Making Light, BoingBoing, and Metafilter.

(Which of course makes me wish I'd written it better! And as one commenter on BoingBoing TOTALLY correctly points out, I left out college-educated in my listing of what makes the prototype. Which is not a coincidence at all; we tend not to think about the ways in which we ourselves are prototypical/default.)

But it also means I'm filtering non-friend comments now. Because we get gems like this: [edit to add: so far this is the only one. It's just of a type I've seen frequently elsewhere.]

"As a non-academic cis white male of 54 who knows he's benefitted from this subconscious categorical thinking but who - I SWEAR - has always been a skinny long-haired "weirdo" not accepted by authority figures and who has followed closely the work and books by Boroditsky, Lakoff, and Feldman, I read this and sigh: what can I possibly say, except I AM A FUCKING ASSHOLE whose made everyone's live worse by being who I look like?

Nice work."

To which I replied:
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. This paper explicates the dynamics of White Fragility. - Robin DiAngelo

I did not bother noting on the comment that this sort of defensive response is a form of oppressive behavior - an attempt to silence the speaker of unpalatable things. But I will note it here, as a thing not to do.

I won't be unfiltering any other such comments; this one can stand in as a token for the lot. If I get too many for my spoon level, I'll just close comments. But I would prefer not to be silenced - and to have worthwhile conversations in comments silenced - by oppressive behaviors.
Sovay: Rotwangsovay on February 14th, 2015 07:19 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm sorry you're getting gemlike defensive pseudo-apologies, but I'm glad the post is being seen!

Thanks for the link to DiAngelo's paper; I had not heard the term before and it is useful to have a name for it.
shweta_narayanshweta_narayan on February 14th, 2015 07:34 pm (UTC)
I should edit & clarify that it's only the one so far, this round :)

I haven't read all of DiAngelo's paper, but what I have read of it is really eye-opening yeah. Not that I expect that poster to read it. It's more the sort of response that exists for people reading along.
Nathanielelsmi on February 15th, 2015 06:01 am (UTC)
This is somewhat tangential, but I wanted to share: for me an exciting moment spurred by that paper was the realization that this kind of fragility is the single unifying force behind all the weirdly disparate groups and policy ideas that the come together in the modern Republican party. Suddenly it makes sense why rich white people, poor white Southerners, evangelical Christians, etc. can find common cause in oppressing women and so forth, even though they seem like in many ways they ought to have totally contradictory goals. The dominant middle-class white liberal analysis of this is that ugh, poor white Americans are inexplicably unable to understand their own self-interest, or maybe they're just vindictive and nasty enough that they don't care about their own self-interest so long as someone else is even worse off. But this is wrong -- it's the very specific, widespread, explicable kind of threatened-fragility reaction that DiAngelo describes, that's grounded in the dynamics of privilege and oppression. Which is why the dominant white liberal perspective finds it inexplicable -- it doesn't like thinking about privilege and oppression (which is another fragility reaction!). Similarly, commentators bemoan how congress used to be adversarial-but-collegial but now has become gratuitously dysfunctional; the dysfunction is the same that DiAngelo describes in that paper on a smaller scale.
shweta_narayanshweta_narayan on February 15th, 2015 07:51 am (UTC)
right & the collegial of course was the result of mutual agreement to continue full steam ahead with the kyriarchy, esp the antiblack racism. Which comes back to the fragility once that assumption falls apart even the tiny bit it has.

was that a sentence IDK what is grammar it are bedtime
Nathanielelsmi on February 15th, 2015 08:08 am (UTC)
Yeah, and the antiblack racism in particular was VERY DIRECTLY the genesis of the whole modern Republican party. I kinda knew this (something something "Southern strategy"), but this article gives a good description of how incredibly sharp and deep the change was, and how it was exactly in response to the Civil Rights Act (the 1956/1964 maps are amazing): http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/09/race-and-the-modern-gop-111218_full.html

Part of what I find so neat about the fragility analysis though is that it captures the racist part, and also the evangelical Christian fragility at having their religious privilege challenged, and also the rich businesspeople fragility at having their class privilege challenged. Of course racism is woven into all these things too in complicated ways, privilege is intersectional just like marginalization. But part of what frustrated me about the analyses I'd seen before is that it didn't seem like racism *alone* could really explain all the weird things about how the politics worked out.

Probably this was obvious to other people before me but :-)