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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.
Lenora Roselenora_rose on February 15th, 2015 04:47 am (UTC)
I have to say, as a very white person, I *don't get* why any reference to the fact that white people have some rather obvious advantages in society must immediately be responded to by knee-jerk defensiveness and some version of "You hate us all!"

(And I see it all the time from the other side, from men who insist that ANY reference to a behavior practiced almost wholly by males, no matter how small a minority of males, is obvious tarring all men. You can darn well write "If you don't commit the behaviour, you're not being referred to" across the sky and some men will still feel they're somehow included.)

I HAVE at times found some discussions of race by certain PoCs to be uncomfortable for me. I can't say I was always this smart, but my reaction now is to do 2 things. 1: Breathe, say "If I don't commit the behaviour, it's not about me. If I do commit the behaviour, I should look at why this is hurtful even more closely." 2: Breathe. Think, "Is my uncomfortable feeling half what hers* is likely to be dealing with this issue from the other side?"

So far, these two thoughts have meant I almost always come away with less discomfort in what I'm reading, and a lot less immediate defensiveness. The times I feel more uncomfortable, it's because I went, "Oh, crap. I do that." And I usually consider that a worthy discomfort, and not something to get defensive about.

*Or his, or theirs, or pronoun of choice, but so far it seems most of the people I've seen waxing wise on racial issues identify themselves as women of colour.
shweta_narayanshweta_narayan on February 15th, 2015 05:03 am (UTC)
Well, I hope you're ready to deal with some more discomfort, because what you just did is a problem.

What use is it coming into a post about something bad that a white person did to go "I don't understand HOW white people do that, I a good white person NEVER do that"? Who is that for?

What do you want in response? Because what you're pressuring me to provide is a cookie. And that is not cool.

It *is* a useful guide for other white people to go by; please note that my issue is not with the content but with the placement. Because if it's for white people, surely the place to put it is somewhere other than a POC's personal space.
Lenora Roselenora_rose on February 15th, 2015 05:25 am (UTC)
Er. Yeah. Good point. I'm sorry.

I actually meant the main paragraph to be a suggestion how other people might choose to react instead of leaping to "You all hate me" but I started off entirely the wrong way, and yes, put WAY too much of myself into the "Good" side.

I'll have to think hard about how to phrase the useful tidbits amid the dross I DID say for next time.

If you want me to remove it, I will, but I think I should let it stand as something worth calling out.
shweta_narayanshweta_narayan on February 15th, 2015 05:34 am (UTC)
I really don't think the problem is the content, it's the placement. These are fine and important suggestions for other white people, possibly in an independent blog post that (optionally) links back.

But having said that - in this case it's fine to leave it - I'm mainly pointing this out so you (& others) will know better than to do it again, especially in a more marginalized POC's space.
Lenora Roselenora_rose on February 15th, 2015 04:19 pm (UTC)
having reread, I still do think the content is also far too self-congratulatory to get the point across even if posted elsewhere. But yes, it being in your space is indeed the worst of it. Again, apology.
shweta_narayanshweta_narayan on February 15th, 2015 08:05 pm (UTC)
Fair enough, and thank you.