White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo

white fragility

“Race will influence whether we will survive our birth,  where we are most likely to live, which schools we will attend, who our friends and partners will be, what careers we will have, how much money we will earn, how healthy we will be, and even how long we can expect to live… My goal is to make visible how one aspect of white sensibility continues to hold racism in place: white fragility.”

I was debating for hours about which book I’ve read this year would best sum up my learnings from 2020 before I chose ‘White Fragility’.

This year has seen racism in politics, society, and our own homes being brought to light – some of it blatant, institutionalised and unapologetic, some unintentional and borne of ignorance.

I am by no means an expert on the impact of racism and how to fight against it, but I am learning, and books like this have helped me on my journey of understanding and self-development.

‘White Fragility’ is written by a white person, Robin DiAngelo, for white people, and while Robin prefaces the book by saying “I can argue that racism is deeply complex and nuanced, and given this, we can never consider our learning to be complete or finished”, she has done a great deal of research and learning for this book – it’s a great place to start.

As we near the close of 2020, we need to remind ourselves of two things: 

  1. Racism didn’t just pop up overnight, nor did the Black Lives Matter movement; and,
  2. The problem of racism isn’t solved because we took down a couple of statues.

We need to keep up this energy to combat racism and tear down its systemic roots. 

We, as white people, need to take responsibility for racism in our society, as it’s biased towards us.

Letting other people in doesn’t mean shutting ourselves out, and giving rights to others doesn’t mean taking our own away.

Robin’s book is a must-read for anyone who believes in equality or equity, and for white people who want to educate themselves on why the topic of racism makes them feel uneasy – you’re not alone.

One of my favourite parts of ‘White Fragility’ was Robin’s explanation of why a ‘color blind’ approach to life doesn’t work in practise: If you can’t see race, you can’t see racism.

Claiming that you don’t see the colour of someone’s skin (unless you have a visual impairment) is inaccurate – if you can see, you will see that someone is black.

“Pretending that she did not notice that he was black… denied his reality – indeed, it refused his reality – and kept hers insular and unchallenged. This pretence that she did not notice his race assumed that he was ‘just like her’, and in so doing, she projected her reality onto him… ‘I feel welcome at work so you must too’.”

Robin’s style of writing informs and educates the reader without being patronising – as someone who hasn’t had a negative experience of the impact of systemic racism, to another person with the same (or similar) experiences.

During 2020, I have been experiencing more of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicity) cultures, because for most of my life, I’ve not felt underrepresented due to my race – I switch on the TV and see blue-eyed, blonde people, like myself, smiling back at me; throughout my childhood, I read books by white people (Shakespeare, Jacqueline Wilson, JK Rowling); I listened to music by white people – and I can’t imagine what it’s like not to have that validation.

I’ve been reading more BAME books, watching more TV shows and films, listening to more music, because there should be representation – I don’t expect a medal for ‘Not being racist’, because there are underlying ways in which I either benefit from systemic racism, or I have unintentionally done, said, or thought things that were racist.

It’s about holding up a mirror to ourselves, both individually and as a society, and staring straight into those parts that make us feel uncomfortable – in that discomfort is something we need to change.

We need to do better and be better in the fight against racism, and this book is a good place to start.

‘White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism’ is available at October Books and at all good bookshops (RRP £9.99)

★★★★★

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