Social Justice Usage
Source: Dewan, Angela. “Indians are being held up as a model minority. That’s not helping the Black Lives Matter movement.” CNN. June 29, 2020.[D]uring a panel discussion in Toronto earlier this month on “Brown complicity in White supremacy,” Canadians of South Asian origins came together to talk about issues such as brown silence, brown fragility and the continuation of the model minority myth.
Herveen Singh, an education administration expert from Canada now working at the Zayed University in Dubai, said: “Essentially, the model minority myth was created to take attention away from the enslavement of Black people and replace it with ‘you’re just not working hard enough,’ not taking into account the hundreds of years of slavery, the eugenics project, that firmly puts White people at the top of the hierarchy and gives them license to dehumanize Black people, who are firmly at the bottom of this racial hierarchy,” she said, adding that brown people were usually placed “somewhere in the middle.”
“When Black communities are under siege, where are we? Where is collective brown solidarity for Black lives? Till now, the silence has been absolutely deafening.”
New Discourses Commentary
In the Theory of Critical Social Justice, it is believed that privilege induces a state known as fragility, in which one is incapable of enduring identity-based stress or exhibiting the kind of identity-based humility that is said to be necessary to “do the work” of critical engagement. The most explicitly Theorized form of privilege-based fragility is “white fragility,” which was described by the critical whiteness educator Robin DiAngelo in a 2011 paper and subsequent bestselling 2018 book (see also, whiteness studies and critical pedagogy). More recently, a somewhat unlikely parallel concept called “brown fragility,” which is rooted in “brown privilege,” has appeared on the scene to describe not the personal and moral failures of white people in confrontational conversations about race, racism, and anti-racism, but that of brown people, i.e., people of color who are not black (see also, BIPOC), especially when “white-adjacent” or “model minorities.”
There’s a lot going on here all at once. To unpack it, we should begin with a quick review of white fragility, which serves as the conceptual basis for all of the privilege-based fragilities in Critical Social Justice Theory. According to Robin DiAngelo, who created the concept, white fragility is a set of rhetorical strategies deployed by white people when they lack the racial stamina and racial humility to critically engage with the alleged realities of race and racism (according to Theory). White fragility is exhibited by becoming emotional (see also, white women’s tears), lashing out, disagreeing, arguing, denial, or refusing to engage by either remaining silent or leaving the situation (see also, white silence). Anything short of fully accepting an accusation of one’s racism and need for a “lifelong commitment to an ongoing process” of anti-racism work in which “no one is ever done” on the spot, without showing any negative emotion, is deemed a “rhetorical strategy” that reveals white fragility.
According to DiAngelo, white fragility arises because of white privilege. White privilege is believed to afford a person the luxury of remaining willfully ignorant (see also, white ignorance) and “racially innocent” (see, white innocence) and thus not cultivating the necessary character to confront and understand race and racism honestly (according to Theory)—specifically by being incapable and unwilling to acknowledge and begin to critically challenge their de facto complicity in systemic racism and white supremacy (see also, white complicity and white ignorance). That is, white privilege provides a state of white comfort and white equilibrium that white people find upsetting to have disrupted in any significant way, and having this comfort and equilibrium challenged results in a state of “intolerable racial stress” that manifests as white fragility.
Brown fragility is a concept that exists in parallel to this, rooted in the similarly parallel ideas of brown fragility, brown silence, and brown complicity. According to critical race Theory, whiteness intrinsically exhibits a trait called “anti-Blackness,” and brownness also carries this trait by virtue of being outside of Blackness and relationally privileged above Blackness (see also, positionality, intersectionality, and Matrix of Domination). In this state of brown privilege, while brown people may in fact experience anti-brown racism from whites and whiteness, they are also simultaneously Theorized to be anti-Black and willfully ignorant of their anti-Blackness. When confronted with their anti-Blackness and, often, their alleged complicity in white supremacy, they, like white people, lack the racial stamina and racial humility to accept their brown complicity and react with a predictable set of rhetorical maneuvers designed to protect and preserve their privilege (see also, privilege-preserving epistemic pushback). These rhetorical strategies, which are identical to those for white people, and the failure of character in which they are believed to be rooted are referred to as “brown fragility.”
The fact that brown people may experience their own anti-brown racism from white people or other (relationally privileged) brown people changes the nature of brown fragility slightly from that of white fragility by making it a greater offense than white fragility. Theory maintains that brown people should know more about racism than white people and should thus be more inclined to allyship and solidarity than white people are, so their failure to recognize and critically interrogate their own complicity in anti-Blackness is considered even less tolerable than the (more naive, according to standpoint epistemology) racial ignorance of white people. That is, brown fragility reveals not only a character failing (and proof of anti-Black racism) but also a kind of racial treason (though not identical to the sort classified under the term “race traitor”).
In practice, the concept of brown fragility is used for the same purposes as white fragility while being applied to a target that might normally escape its manipulations. White fragility is a rhetorical strategy known as a “kafkatrap,” which is when denial of guilt is treated as proof of guilt. These are used to convince people that they are wrong or guilty even when they are not by turning a rejection of accusation back onto the accused through associating it with moral or character failures or some pernicious form of ignorance. That is, brown fragility, like white fragility, is an emotionally manipulative tool used to convince some guilty and relatively many innocent people that they need to adopt a particular way of thought (critical consciousness under critical race Theory) and defer to certain bullies (critical race Theorists) who apply it.
Of note, this term, along with brown privilege, brown complicity, and other similar terms, sprang suddenly into existence in the summer of 2020 in the rush of critical race Theory activism that erupted in the wake of Black Lives Matter protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
See also, white fragility, brown complicity, brown silence, and brown privilege.
Ally/Allyship; Anti-Blackness; Anti-racism; BIPOC; Brown complicity; Brown privilege; Brown silence; Complicity; Critical; Critical consciousness; Critical pedagogy; Critical race Theory; Cultural humility; Denial; Disrupt; Engagement; Interrogate; Intersectionality; Matrix of Domination; Model minority; Pernicious ignorance; Positionality; Privilege; Privilege-preserving epistemic pushback; Race; Race traitor; Racial humility; Racial stamina; Racism (systemic); Realities; Social Justice; Standpoint epistemology; Theory; White; White-adjacent; White comfort; White complicity; White equilibrium; White fragility; White ignorance; White innocence; White silence; White supremacy; White women’s tears; Whiteness; Whiteness studies; Willful ignorance; Work, the
Revision date: 11/17/20