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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.
TGStoneButchtgstonebutch on February 15th, 2015 01:15 am (UTC)
My experience gels with your read of willful misunderstanding. In my experience (and I've definitely been similarly jerky at points in my life), it is often willful and rather intensely (and emotionally) entrenched misreading that's main aim is to once again center the privileged self, to make it all about me again because it is too damn scary/uncomfortable to be challenged.

I'm glad to have a link to the paper on white fragility (a term that resonates but with which I was not familiar); it's now at the top my to-read list.

I found the original post very useful myself, and am also glad others are seeing it. It sucks that this jerk has sucked some of your spoons and that you are (rightly) anticipating more of the same as the post gets shared more widely.
shweta_narayanshweta_narayan on February 15th, 2015 02:04 am (UTC)
Yeah that sounds exactly right to me, and that's how I have felt when being similarly jerky myself. It's not necessarily consciously wilful misunderstanding but responding to deep discomfort without being willing to face/deconstruct it.

So far it's been just the one jerk & most of the conversations have happened in those other spaces. For which, yay.