Social Justice Usage
Source: DiAngelo, Robin J. White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018, pp. 59–60.
As a white person, I can openly and unabashedly reminisce about “the good old days.” Romanticized recollections of the past and calls for a return to former ways are a function of white privilege, which manifests itself in the ability to remain oblivious to our racial history. Claiming that the past was socially better than the present is also a hallmark of white supremacy. Consider any period in the past from the perspective of people of color: 246 years of brutal enslavement; the rape of black women for the pleasure of white men and to produce more enslaved workers; the selling off of black children; the attempted genocide of Indigenous people, Indian removal acts, and reservations; indentured servitude, lynching, and mob violence; sharecropping; Chinese exclusion laws; Japanese American internment; Jim Crow laws of mandatory segregation; black codes; bans on black jury service; bans on voting; imprisoning people for unpaid work; medical sterilization and experimentation; employment discrimination; educational discrimination; inferior schools; biased laws and policing practices; redlining and subprime mortgages; mass incarceration; racist media representations; cultural erasures, attacks, and mockery; and untold and perverted historical accounts, and you can see how a romanticized past is strictly a white construct. But it is a powerful construct because it calls out to a deeply internalized sense of superiority and entitlement and the sense that any advancement for people of color is an encroachment on this entitlement.
The past was great for white people (and white men in particular) because their positions went largely unchallenged. In understanding the power of white fragility, we have to notice that the mere questioning of those positions triggered the white fragility that Trump capitalized on. There has been no actual loss of power for the white elite, who have always controlled our institutions and continue to do so by a very wide margin. Of the fifty richest people on earth, twenty-nine are American. Of these twenty-nine, all are white, and all but two are men (Lauren Jobs inherited her husband’s wealth, and Alice Walton her father’s).
Similarly, the white working class has always held the top positions within blue-collar fields (the overseers, labor leaders, and fire and police chiefs). And although globalization and the erosion of workers’ rights has had a profound impact on the white working class, white fragility enabled the white elite to direct the white working class’s resentment toward people of color. The resentment is clearly misdirected, given that the people who control the economy and who have managed to concentrate more wealth into fewer (white) hands than ever before in human history are the white elite.
New Discourses Commentary
In Social Justice, “the good old days” is a racist, sexist, heteronormative/homophobic, cisnormative/transphobic, fatphobic, or ableist coded term for when white, male, straight, cisgender, thin, and able-bodied supremacies were considered the standard and were able to be exercised openly instead of behind a mask. As such, using the phrase is a microaggression against any historically minortized, marginalized, or oppressed group. It is a nostalgia not for a genuinely simpler time but also for one when open bigotry was accepted as the norm. You’ll notice, perhaps, that this understanding of the concept reads an awful lot into it that might not be there (see also critical, critical consciousness, and close reading).
Ableism; Cisgender; Cisnormative; Close reading; Code; Critical; Critical consciousness; Fatphobia; Heteronormative; Homophobia; Marginalized; Mask; Microaggression; Minoritize; Norm; Oppression; Patriarchy; Social Justice; White; White fragility; White supremacy; Woke/Wokeness
Revision date: 1/31/20