Now, let me explain white fragility to you.
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.
I am a white woman. I am standing beside a black woman. We are facing a group
of white people who are seated in front of us. We are in their workplace, and have
been hired by their employer to lead them in a dialogue about race. The room is
filled with tension and charged with hostility. I have just presented a definition
of racism that includes the acknowledgment that whites hold social and institutional power over people of color. A white man is pounding his fist on the table.
His face is red and he is furious. As he pounds he yells, "White people have been
discriminated against for 25 years! A white person can't get a job anymore!" I
look around the room and see 40 employed people, all white. There are no people
White Fragility • 55
of color in this workplace. Something is happening here, and it isn't based in the
racial reality of the workplace. I am feeling unnerved by this man's disconnection
with that reality, and his lack of sensitivity to the impact this is having on my cofacilitator, the only person of color in the room. Why is this white man so angry?
Why is he being so careless about the impact of his anger? Why are all the other
white people either sitting in silent agreement with him or tuning out? We have,
after all, only articulated a definition of racism.
White people in North America live in a social environment that protects
and insulates them from race-based stress.1
Fine (1997) identifies this insulation
when she observes "… how Whiteness accrues privilege and status; gets itself
surrounded by protective pillows of resources and/or benefits of the doubt; how
Whiteness repels gossip and voyeurism and instead demands dignity" (p. 57).
Whites are rarely without these "protective pillows," and when they are, it is
usually temporary and by choice. This insulated environment of racial privilege
builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the
ability to tolerate racial stress.
For many white people, a single required multicultural education course
taken in college, or required "cultural competency training" in their workplace, is
the only time they may encounter a direct and sustained challenge to their racial
understandings. But even in this arena, not all multicultural courses or training
programs talk directly about racism, much less address white privilege. It is far
more the norm for these courses and programs to use racially coded language such
as "urban," "inner city," and "disadvantaged" but to rarely use "white" or "overadvantaged" or "privileged." This racially coded language reproduces racist images and perspectives while it simultaneously reproduces the comfortable illusion that race and its problems are what "they" have, not us. Reasons why the
facilitators of these courses and trainings may not directly name the dynamics and
beneficiaries of racism range from the lack of
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