Wednesday, April 17, 2 PM – 4 PM. Everyone welcome. For your personal invitation and RIA’s address email firstname.lastname@example.org
This session follows the session on White Fragility (February 20) that was facilitated by Rob Snikkar. The first session was centered on what kind of art could articulate and communicate the privileged societal position white people find themselves in without realizing it.
Some of us thought that we could use more discussion on the texts that were on the table. I will moderate this session to discuss the two texts below.
I would like to follow Dawn Dale’s example (in the January session) and provide up to one minute (depending on how many people will be there) for each participant to express how she/he feels about the texts and/or bring up a point for discussion.
If anyone wants to be involved in an ongoing discussion about this topic on this site, please look at, and add, to the comments on this page, rather than using email. To do this, you need to become a “follower” of this page.
Required reading for the second session:
Robin DiAngelo – “White Fragility” an essay
Optional: my text, below, just venting an opinion to get the conversation going. Comments are welcome.
“White Fragility” – What’s in a word?
The essay (and the book by the same name) White Fragility is part of an ongoing discourse on race that consists of a flood of artistic expressions, academic debate, journalistic information, and opinions; a debate that remains contradictory and becomes quickly overwhelming. I have to admit that racism is not a topic that I am particularly well-read in; this is the opinion of a “two-week expert.”
Nonetheless, I agree with Robin DiAngelo that it is important for all white people to be aware of their own racist attitudes. There is a need for all Whites to spend the time to learn to understand their own part in the systematic racism that is still alive and well, in order to combat it. Her focus on the racial situation in the U.S. is a bit of a problem for me. It is true that there’s racism everywhere, but each country’s issues are specific, and for this reason, I am glad that Kathy sent us the CBC article.
DiAngelo’s book has been on the New York Times bestsellers’ list for some time, and I think that this may be, in part, because of the new term she introduces into the racism debate: “White Fragility.” If it makes more people read about this important topic, all the better, but I do have a problem with the term that I would like to talk about.
This is how DiAngelo explains White Fragility in her essay:
“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.
White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. 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.” (p.54)
I wonder if it was really necessary to introduce this neologism. What does it add to the existing term White Privilege? Thirty years ago, feminist scholar and race activist Peggy McIntosh, writing about White Privilege, already named the need for Whites to recognize their belonging to a race, and own the systemic racism all Whites remain a part of. Read a shortened version of this essay, published in 1990, “White Privilege, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,”
McIntosh wrote about Whiteness in terms that are similar to DiAngelo’s:
“In proportion as my racial group was being made confident, comfortable, and oblivious, other groups were likely being made unconfident, uncomfortable, and alienated. Whiteness protected me from many kinds of hostility, distress, and violence, which I was being subtly trained to visit, in turn, upon people of color.”
This made her question the term “White Privilege,” and she continues:
“For this reason, the word “privilege” now seems to me misleading. We usually think of privilege as being a favored state, whether earned or conferred by birth or luck. Yet some of the conditions I have described here work systematically to overempower certain groups. Such privilege simply confers dominance because of one’s race or sex.”
McIntosh noted many of the attitudes that DiAngelo also signaled, attitudes that she felt (as does DiAngelo) were not covered by the term White Privilege. McIntosh appeared to be leaning toward the word dominance, a word that has a rather opposite meaning to fragility, the word DiAngelo chose.
If “Privilege” usually indicates a favoured state, and misses the sense of criticism and need for change that this privilege should provoke, the word “fragility,” it seems to me, does not add any urgency to change either. “Fragility” usually indicates vulnerability, or as the Oxford dictionary says: “the quality of being easily broken or damaged.” As much as DiAngelo explains her use of the term, and I am sure she does much more of it in her book, we are still left with a word that evokes pity, which is not something us white folks need.
DiAngelo’s argument for the use of the term is academic, as she shows in her dense summary of Bourdieu’s concept of habitus. What the general reader is left with is the word “Fragility.” I would rather it was “Responsibility.”
Note: “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” first appeared in Peace and Freedom Magazine, July/August 1989, pp. 10-12, a publication of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Philadelphia, PA.
Some good finds:
George Yancy: “Dear White America.” (New York Times, Opinionator – A Gathering of Opinion from around the Web. December 24, 2015)
MTV News, Decoded:
Franchesca Ramsey: Why Does MTV’s Decoded Hate White People?!?
She mentions DiAngelo in her talk. It’s 5.22 minutes, but 10 minutes would have made it easier to follow for an oldie like me! Interesting note: the likes on this video are2.8k, the dislikes 27k! Anyone care to interpret?