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I recently finished listening to the audiobook of White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. A traditional, analytical review felt as though it would somehow detract from the invaluable messages that are at the core of DiAngelo’s work. With that in mind, I am instead going to list the 5 most important lessons that I took away from reading White Fragility.
These are the lessons that were most impactful to me personally, but the experience of reading this thought-provoking book is very individual. Other readers are likely to find their own resonances, so I would highly recommend taking a look for yourself!
Lesson #1: Emphasise impact over intention.
People with white privilege are inevitably socialised into a white supremacist society, with institutions and social structures that benefit us and subconsciously reinforce the status quo. Therefore, however much effort we make to be kind and treat people equally, we cannot avoid racism playing a part in our lives.
With that in mind, acknowledging and taking responsibility for the harm that we may cause in cross-racial interactions even without intention is an important anti-racist step.
Lesson #2: We bring our history with us…
…and this makes ‘reverse racism’ an impossibility. Historically and in modern-day Western society, only people with white privilege hold the power to oppress other racial groups. Since racism is not just a matter of individual prejudice but structural power, white people in these contexts cannot be the victims of racism.
Lesson #3: The message is more important than the messenger.
Focussing on the messenger, rather than the message they are trying to convey to us about our racist behaviour, is a mechanism of white fragility that protects us from racial stress.
It’s particularly harmful because it often leads to ‘tone policing’ people of colour, refusing to listen unless they articulate themselves in the exact way we find desirable and comfortable. Learning to focus on the message instead creates a space for us to reflect on our own assumptions and behaviour, so we can better practice anti-racism.
Lesson #4: Emotions are political.
I’ve always thought of emotions as apolitical, as an expression of our common humanity. Yet White Fragility proves this is not the case, most notably through the example of white women’s tears. Historically, the distress of a white woman could literally mean the difference between life and death for a black man.
In cross-racial interactions today, white women’s tears often disrupt the important conversations taking place and draw attention away from people of colour. Although empathy is vital, DiAngelo makes it clear that we need to keep overt emotional displays in check.
Lesson #5: Racism is a continuum, not a binary.
Of all the concepts in White Fragility, the idea of a spectrum with ‘racist’ at one end and ‘anti-racist’ at the other is the one I found most valuable in its simplicity. Not only does it hold us continually responsible, since we can never ‘finish’ our anti-racism work, but it made me feel positive that I can keep progressing in the right direction.
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For more anti-racism education, take a look at my book recommendations to support black authors.
Have you read White Fragility? If you have any other recommendations for anti-racism reading, please do drop a comment below. Take care of each other X x x