The more I read, the more I understand how little I know. Many books have taught me this, but few as starkly as this one. And in this moment in our history, I feel it is imperative for all white folks to be reading books like this one – at the very least this one. Because racism is our problem.
Robin DiAngelo, through trainings and lectures on racism and working with people of color, has helped both herself and many others become aware of the phenomenon of white fragility. Because the power of white folks over black folks is so fundamental to the structure of our society, white folks have the luxury of being able to tune it out while black folks cannot. What DiAngelo focuses on in this book is the responsibility of us white folks to do our own work and to take responsibility for our own part in the perpetuation of this power differential, which is racism.
One of the first steps is to separate the notion that being racist or committing racist acts falls into the binary of the good/bad person. As DiAngelo points out, our images of racists are generally from the 1960’s, when we see white people brutally attacking black people, and we equate all racist acts with those people. On the other hand, we have to realize that we as white folks inadvertently commit acts of racism frequently, and while our intentions may not be bad or hurtful, it does not mitigate the fact that the impact of our actions or words may still be. This does not make us bad people – but it does make us racists and it does still mean we’ve committed racist acts. We are still responsible for having committed them and are still responsible for changing our behavior and avoiding these acts in the future.
What are we to do? As I am continuing to learn here, we are responsible to learn about the history of racism, the systemic ways in which white folks have had power over black folks since 1619 in the U.S., and how we need to get over ourselves. We have to learn to let down our defenses, be open to criticism, and be curious and honest about learning how to be better and more just. It’s not about being nicer, but more sensitive and responsive to the other. As DiAngelo states in the book: “Stopping our racist patterns must be more important than working to convince others that we don’t have them.” And this is hard. We will make mistakes. But if we don’t try, we will not make any progress toward achieving a more equitable space for others and a more just society.
And everybody benefits from a just society.
Let this book be the beginning of our work.