Listening to White Fragility

7:00 a.m. I get in my car.  I turn on the ignition. I plug in my phone.  I wait for the bluetooth to engage. I press play on my phone.   I pull out of my driveway. I’ve entered my literary bubble.

 I made a new year’s resolution to not listen to the nonsense sports radio that I sometimes revert to out of boredom.  I’m listening to books now. It feels like it’s better for my mind. Today, I’m halfway through a book that my wife recommended.  It’s called White Fragility – Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, and it’s a hard listen.   

Like each of the mornings for the past week, I grip the steering wheel, stare straight ahead, and try to process the growing realization that I just might be a racist.

It’s a challenging way to start a day.  In today’s chapter, Robin Diangelo says this to me:  One reason that we don’t make progress with the race problem in this country is that white people don’t reflect on their participation in the problem.  You have a binary view about racism. It goes like this: Racist people are bad people. The rest of us are good people.

I stare out the windshield and nod my head.  You’re right, I do think that way.

She continues.   In your binary view, you see racists this way:  they’re mean; they’re old; they’re southern; they’re uneducated.  The rest of us, you think, are good people. We’re kind, young (well, young-ish),  northern, educated. You’d probably add enlightened and progressive, right? 

She knows me well.  I reluctantly nod my head. I pull up to a light.  I scan the people in the Dunkin’ parking lot. What are they thinking about right now?

She continues.  But here’s the problem with your binary view.  If someone ever tries to tell you you’re acting in a racist way, supporting a racist system, benefitting from a racist culture, perpetuating a racist construct, you will get very defensive.  

That’s true, I think to myself.  Go on.

She continues  That’s because you’ve been taught that racist means all the things on that bad list. If I imply that you harbor any racist beliefs or that you’ve said something that betrays a racist view, that means you think I’m lumping you with those “bad” people.  Naturally, if that’s your understanding of the word, you’re going to fight back.

You’re probably right.

Once you get defensive, of course, you lose any ability to be reflective about your blindspots, your ignorances, your prejudices, or your privilege.


She continues.  But racism ISN’T binary. It’s not simply bad guys and good guys. This is what you need to understand.  It’s complex. It’s nuanced. It’s subtle. It’s smart. And in many ways it’s kept invisible.

I stare through the glass in front of me.  I’m stuck behind a slow-moving transit bus.  It carries people of color into and through my town.  I need to change lanes. I turn my head to check that blind spot.  It’s clear. Where I live, everyone in my lane is white. The only people of color I see on my commute are the ones waiting for the bus, the ones coming to and leaving from their jobs.  I live in a segregated community. I work in a segregated school. I’m part of a segregated system in my state. Yes, you could argue that I benefit from that system. I’m a participant. That at least makes me complicit.  And if I knowingly go along, doesn’t that actually mean I’m racist?

I pull into my school’s parking lot.  It’s 7:15. I have 45 minutes to let these thoughts settle in. Not nearly enough time.  Soon, it will be time to teach. My students are learning about how our country was founded, formed, and shaped.  Soon it will be time to say our pledge, finishing with the lines, “with liberty and justice for all.” I step out of my bubble. I’m different from when I entered, but I’m not sure what to do with that difference.

8 thoughts on “Listening to White Fragility

  1. I joined a book club to read this book. I never made it. Never read it. I even loaned it to a friend. I am reading How to Be an Antiracist now. It’s also a hard read. I connected to what you wrote here because in the book I’m reading, Ibram Kendi, says you’re either racist or antiracist…working against racism. It isn’t enough to be a good person like you describe here. That gets me thinking a lot lately. Maybe we should swap books when we’re done and find some time to chat.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m putting this book on my list to read for sure. Thank you for this honest and thoughtful post. I recently listened to a podcast entitled “How Not to (Accidentally) Raise a Racist.”
    It was hard to listen to in some ways because I heard myself in the well-meaning-ed but racist-reinforcing adult answers to children’s questions. There’s so much work to still be done around this topic, and white people have to do a lot of the heavy lifting.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Isn’t that how this deep kind of thinking goes at the end-what now? I love the ending here, “I’m not sure what to do with that difference.” I think anyone who is asking themselves these difficult questions about racism is feeling the same way. Thank you for your honesty and transparency here. I’m definitely putting this book in my queue.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a hard slice to respond to. Books like White Fragility disturb us because we are not accustomed to thinking deeply about the issue. We (at least that’s the case with me) are not accustomed to thinking of our complicity in institutional racism. No wonder we don’t know “what to do with” the thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is a thought provoking slice. I live and work in a pretty diverse community, but I must admit that I don’t often stop to think deeply about this issue. I look for books that respect the diversity of our society for my students; however, I will be downloading and reading this book. for me, tonight,

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “Once you get defensive, of course, you lose any ability to be reflective about your blindspots, your ignorances, your prejudices, or your privilege”. This line hit home. It is going to make me aware of when I and others get defensive. I agree with so other comments as well as your slice that this is hard. Hard to look at ourselves, at history and begin to make sense of it. Thank you for putting yourself and the book, White Fragility, out there. Definitely one to read/listen to.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I listened to White Fragility this summer and it upended my thinking. I feel like a completely different person than before I read it. Now I’ve read So You Want To Talk About Race, I’m almost done with Stamped and I’m nibbling away at How to Be an Antiracist. I didn’t set out to do this – I was comfortable in my white (read: white supremacist, aka racist) ways. But now that I see it, I can’t stop seeing it and I can’t be still. It’s nerve-wracking and important. I’m glad you are listening to the book.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. WOW, I am currently reading White Fragility and struggling through these complicated concepts. I formed a book group and really wish you were in it! You clarified content while keeping me engaged in your story. Jess Carey was right about your gift for writing!

    Liked by 1 person

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