My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In the past I was part of a cross-racial discussion where the term “white fragility” appeared. From the context I determined it meant a defensive reaction, a lack of listening. Learning that this book was the origin of the phrase led me to reading it. And I learned it meant much more than defensiveness. It includes denial along with defensiveness and has the effect of stopping the discussion/analysis of racism. It involves keeping the racist system we are socialized into in place. Or as Diangelo puts it, the mention of racism disrupts the system and the fragility response restores equilibrium.
Important to the discussion is an understanding of racism as systemic rather than individual acts; as a system, it is something we are socialized into, often unconsciously. Understanding that socialization divorces “racism” from something a bad person does. Being free of seeing ourselves as bad people when exhibiting racism frees us from the need to deny it. Rather we can listen, process the information, and work to change.
Because I had had previous exposure to concepts of social construction of identity and power structures and their perpetuation, I could quickly get into Diangelo’s argument. Someone not so exposed might have to work harder to understand and accept it. Might need more discussion, explanation, and examples. I had also previous understandings of a part being considered the norm from my studies of sexism–I especially remember a study where healthy male and healthy humans were the same; healthy women were defined differently. So it was easy to follow the discussion of how whiteness becomes normal human.
All of those concepts are necessary to understanding the rest of Diangelo’s discussion of “white fragility,” our resistance to seeing ourselves able to do and say things that have racist impact and to see the need to interrupt the perpetuation process.
I can only hope that in a real life situation, that if someone offers the comment that I’ve said/done something with racist impact I can remember to say , “Thank you” instead of resisting the information. And learn.