Social Justice Usage
Source: DiAngelo, Robin J. “White Fragility.” International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3(3), 2011: pp. 54–70, p. 61.
Because most whites have not been trained to think complexly about racism in schools or mainstream discourse, and because it benefits white dominance not to do so, we have a very limited understanding of racism. Yet dominance leads to racial arrogance, and in this racial arrogance, whites have no compunction about debating the knowledge of people who have thought complexly about race. Whites generally feel free to dismiss these informed perspectives rather than have the humility to acknowledge that they are unfamiliar, reflect on them further, or seek more information. This intelligence and expertise are often trivialized and countered with simplistic platitudes (i.e. “People just need to…”).
New Discourses Commentary
Racial humility is a neologism of critical whiteness educator Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility that she may have derived from the broader concept of “cultural humility,” which has been defined in the Social Justice literature since at least 1998 (see also, cultural competence, cultural sensitivity, and critical pedagogy). In short, the idea of cultural humility is that we should all regard ourselves humbly with regard to cultural issues, seeing ourselves as learners from people within those cultural milieus rather than as know-it-alls, know-it-alreadys, or people who are otherwise disinterested in cultural difference and sensitivity (see also, cultural relativism and multiculturalism). The term “racial humility” takes a specifying slant on this from critical race Theory, indicating that, to be as generous as possible, we should be racially humble in learning across lines of racial difference.
In particular, as this idea comes from the arena of critical studies of whiteness, it is implied—when not said outright—that white people especially have a need to increase their racial humility, which they are Theorized as lacking significantly due to their privilege. The doctrine of racial humility indicates that white people need to be willing to learn about race and racism from people of color (see also, antiracism, epistemic exploitation, shut up and listen, and standpoint epistemology). This means that they need to approach interactions across racial differences, especially about racism or white complicity in racism and white supremacy, as learners rather than people who know anything—in particular, that they, themselves, are not racist, when applicable (see also, good white).
In practice, the concept of racial humility means that white people have an obligation to assume that they do not understand race and racism because they don’t have to understand it, and this is a manifestation and advantage of their white privilege (see also, active ignorance, pernicious ignorance, willful ignorance, white comfort, white equilibrium, white ignorance, white innocence, colortalk, white talk, internalized dominance, and white silence). Another manifestation of this privilege—and a sure sign of a lack of racial humility—is defensiveness or emotional responses in the face of being confronted about one’s complicity in systems of racism (see also, antiracism, racial stress, white fragility, and white women’s tears). That is, it’s a way to make white people feel like they’re not living up to the obligations of being a good person (see also, progressive) if they don’t agree with the accusations of Theory about whiteness, racism, and white supremacy.
Active ignorance; Antiracism; Colortalk; Critical; Critical pedagogy; Critical race Theory; Cultural competence; Cultural relativism; Cultural sensitivity; Difference; Epistemic exploitation; Good white; Identity; Internalized dominance; Knower; Multiculturalism; People of color; Pernicious ignorance; Privilege; Progressive; Race; Racial stress; Racism (systemic); Shut up and listen; Social Justice; Standpoint epistemology; Theory; White; White comfort; White complicity; White ignorance; White innocence; White fragility; White silence; White supremacy; White talk; White women’s tears; Whiteness; Whiteness studies; Willful ignorance
Source: Gallardo, Miguel E. Developing Cultural Humility: Embracing Race, Privilege and Power. SAGE, 2013, p. 3.
Cultural humility has been defined as a lifelong process of self-reflection, self-critique, continual assessment of power imbalances, and the development of mutually respectful relationships and partnerships.
Source: Gallardo, Miguel E. Developing Cultural Humility: Embracing Race, Privilege and Power. SAGE, 2013, p. 145.
Humility. The second quality is humility—to see our own flaws and limitations, to move from the therapy session to the classroom to the community agency and gracefully negotiate the changes in our power and status across those settings. We can heed Paolo Freire (1970) and approach every situation as a learner and every person we encounter as a teacher. Self-righteousness has a way of rearing its ugly head in conversations about other people’s privilege—how they don’t get it—yet privilege is multidimensional, and it is a rare person who “gets it” across all of its many dimensions. We aren’t multiculturally competent if we already know everything. If we can’t tolerate our own limitations, we’ll probably try to cover them up with passivity, or overwhelming goodness, or arrogance.
Source: DiAngelo, Robin J. White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018, p. 14.
In light of the challenges raised here, I expect that white readers will have moments of discomfort reading this book. This feeling may be a sign that I’ve managed to unsettle the racial status quo, which is my goal. The racial status quo is comfortable for white people, and we will not move forward in race relations if we remain comfortable. The key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort. We can use it as a door out—blame the messenger and disregard the message. Or we can use it as a door in by asking, Why does this unsettle me? What would it mean for me if this were true? How does this lens change my understanding of racial dynamics? How can my unease help reveal the unexamined assumptions I have been making? Is it possible that because I am white, there are some racial dynamics that I can’t see? Am I willing to consider that possibility? If I am not willing to do so, then why not?
If you are reading this and are still making your case for why you are different from other white people and why none of this applies to you, stop and take a breath. Now return to the questions above, and keep working through them. To interrupt white fragility, we need to build our capacity to sustain the discomfort of not knowing, the discomfort of being racially unmoored, the discomfort of racial humility. Our next task is to understand how the forces of racial socialization are constantly at play. The inability to acknowledge these forces inevitably leads to the resistance and defensiveness of white fragility. To increase the racial stamina that counters white fragility, we must reflect on the whole of our identities—and our racial group identity in particular. For white people, this means first struggling with what it means to be white.
Revision date: 2/7/20