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. 1–2.
White people in North America live in a society that is deeply separate and unequal by race, and white people are the beneficiaries of that separation and inequality. As a result, we are insulated from racial stress, at the same time that we come to feel entitled to and deserving of our advantage. Given how seldom we experience racial discomfort in a society we dominate, we haven’t had to build our racial stamina. Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority that we either are unaware of or can never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race. We consider a challenge to our racial worldviews as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people. Thus, we perceive any attempt to connect us to the system of racism as an unsettling and unfair moral offense. The smallest amount of racial stress is intolerable—the mere suggestion that being white has meaning often triggers a range of defensive responses. These include emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and withdrawal from the stress-inducing situation. These responses work to reinstate white equilibrium as they repel the challenge, return our racial comfort, and maintain our dominance within the racial hierarchy. I conceptualize this process as white fragility. Though white fragility is triggered by discomfort and anxiety, it is born of superiority and entitlement. White fragility is not weakness per se. In fact, it is a powerful means of white racial control and the protection of white advantage.
New Discourses Commentary
Racial stress is a term used by critical race educator Robin DiAngelo to indicate what people experience as a result of confronting or experiencing the systemic power dynamics attached to race by the Theory of Social Justice. Under Theory, white people are generally insulated from racial stress as a result of their privileged position in society. People of color, on the other hand, are forced to be acutely aware of it as a result of their minoritized status. Antiracism work is posited as a means to generate racial stress in white people by making them aware of their privilege and internalized dominance, which can be uncomfortable, triggering defensive responses (according to Theory) like white fragility and privilege-preserving epistemic pushback (see also, active ignorance, colortalk, pernicious ignorance, racial contract, white comfort, white ignorance, white innocence, and willful ignorance).
According to DiAngelo, racial stress results in white people when having to confront their own “positionality” with regard to race and racism in society (see also, epistemic friction). The capacity to endure racial stress in order to do one’s antiracism work and overcome white fragility is called racial stamina, which is roughly the cultivated capacity to be called a racist and white supremacist and believe it while not letting it generate any response or defensive emotion.
Active ignorance; Antiracism; Colortalk; Complicity; Critical; Critical consciousness; Critical race Theory; Dominance; Epistemic friction; Internalized dominance; Minoritize; People of color; Pernicious ignorance; Position; Privilege; Privilege-preserving epistemic pushback; Race; Racial contract; Racial stamina; Racism (systemic); White; White comfort; White fragility; White supremacy; Whiteness; Willful ignorance; Woke/Wokeness
Source: DiAngelo, Robin J. White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018, pp. 103–104.
Thus, white fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress in the habitus becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, reinstate white racial equilibrium. Racial stress results from an interruption to the racially familiar. These interruptions can take a variety of forms and come from a range of sources, including:
- Suggesting that a white person’s viewpoint comes from a racialized frame of reference (challenge to objectivity)
- People of color talking directly about their own racial perspectives (challenge to white taboos on talking openly about race)
- People of color choosing not to protect white people’s feelings about race (challenge to white racial expectations and the need for, or entitlement to, racial comfort)
- People of color being unwilling to tell their stories or answer questions about their racial experiences (challenge to the expectation that people of color will serve us)
- A fellow white disagreeing with our racial beliefs (challenge to white solidarity)
- Receiving feedback that our behavior had a racist impact (challenge to white racial innocence)
- Suggesting that group membership is significant (challenge to individualism)
- An acknowledgment that access is unequal between racial groups (challenge to meritocracy)
- Being presented with a person of color in a position of leadership (challenge to white authority)
- Being presented with information about other racial groups through, for example, movies in which people of color drive the action but are not in stereotypical roles, or multicultural education (challenge to white centrality)
- Suggesting that white people do not represent or speak for all of humanity (challenge to universalism)
In a society in which whites are dominant, each of these challenges becomes exceptional. In turn, we are often at a loss for how to respond constructively.
Revision date: 1/31/20