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White Fragility, a book that will stay with me

white fragility

I just finished a wonderful book: White Fragility by Robin Diangelo. A book that will stay with me forever.

I practice Linguistic Empathy and I expect you to do the same. Please bear with me if my English is not perfect.

 

There are books that touch deep chords and engage you from page one. White Fragility, by Robin Diangelo, is one of them.

I cannot remember where and how I came to know about it, but I am so happy I did. White Fragility is so much more than the simple argument of an educator: It touches points that are deeply rooted within, challenges them, and forces us to be honest about our perceptions and experience.

Diangelo argues that racism is deeply embedded in white people’s minds and souls. This social construct is passed on to white people even before birth. With simple, efficient and terrifying examples, Diangelo shows with undeniable clarity, how the privilege of the white race is passed on from generation to generation.

The author refers mostly to her condition of white person born and raised in the United States, and the references she takes to make her point come from the US society. Also, many of the historical moments she cites talk about things happened in her home country. But the universality of facts and opinions is undeniable.

Diangelo argues that our Western societies are based on a deep race inequality which favours white people, whom, by consequence, do not have the same experience of “racial stress” the other races undergo from birth. What’s more, we have internalized the right to the advantages that racism brings us, and naturally expect them. This, coupled with the fact that we have not built any “racial stamina” (because we never had the need to), makes us fragile.

White Fragility

What Diangelo calls “white fragility” refers to the inability of white people to become aware, face and openly talk about how and how much racist they are. What is interesting – and what opens the path to a salvific scenario – is that no blame is placed on the fact that we are racist. The blame starts when we fight to oppose the evidence and consciously or not, do all we can to avoid confronting our racism and prejudices.

She knows what she talks about

The author has given countless workshops as a diversity trainer, and she brings highlighting examples of her points all through the book. It is interesting because she makes unconscious racism come alive, and shows how defensive the reactions of white people are when made aware of what drives their behaviours. She draws a list of attitudes, reactions and statements she has been collecting all through her work, which is appalling in its guilty naiveté  and which we have certainly repeatedly heard (if not said or done ourselves).

Illuminating for my own experience

As I was reading White Fragility, episodes of the past started emerging. And while thinking of them, I realised what Diangelo said is really true: white fragility makes us ashamed when we realize how deeply embedded in us racism is. I had never been able to think back of those episodes without feeling a pang of shame. Now I see them under a different light, and this allows me to go a step further.

What this book does

By going a step further I mean that White Fragility has given me energy and motivation to work on my innate racism, to look at it under a different perspective and to understand that feeling guilty does not help. As Diangelo says:

[…]stopping our racist patterns must be more important than working to convince others (and ourselves, I would add, my note) that we don’t have them. We do have them, and people of color already know we have them; our efforts to prove otherwise are not convincing. An honest accounting of these patterns is no small task given the power of white fragility and white solidarity, but it is necessary[…]

There are books that entertain you, books that inform you and books that change you. White Fragility belongs to these last ones. Written with humility and compassion, it gives the immense gift of realising that we can work to improve ourselves, and the world. It gives hope and scope.

Claudia Landini
February 2020

 

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