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, p. 125.
White solidarity—the tacit agreement that we will protect white privilege and not hold each other accountable for our racism.
Source: DiAngelo, Robin J. White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018, p. 57.
White solidarity is the unspoken agreement among whites to protect white advantage and not cause another white person to feel racial discomfort by confronting them when they say or do something racially problematic. Educational researcher Christine Sleeter describes this solidarity as white “racial bonding.” She observes that when whites interact, they affirm “a common stance on race-related issues, legitimating particular interpretations of groups of color, and drawing conspiratorial we-they boundaries.”10 White solidarity requires both silence about anything that exposes the advantages of the white position and tacit agreement to remain racially united in the protection of white supremacy. To break white solidarity is to break rank.
Source: DiAngelo, Robin J. White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018, p. 58.
People of color certainly experience white solidarity as a form of racism, wherein we fail to hold each other accountable, to challenge racism when we see it, or to support people of color in the struggle for racial justice.
New Discourses Commentary
It isn’t enough in Social Justice to Theorize that dominance, oppression, power, and (here) racism, in particular, are systemic. It also takes pains to paint these systems in terms of tacit, unconscious, implicit, or willful conspiracies maintained by the powerful to justify their privilege and rationalize the oppression of those they marginalize. Thus, we get concepts like white solidarity from critical race educator Robin DiAngelo (author of White Fragility), white complicity from another critical race educator Barbara Applebaum, and the racial contract from yet another Theorist, Charles Mills.
White solidarity is, as described by DiAngelo, an “unspoken agreement among whites to protect white advantage and not cause another white person to feel racial discomfort by confronting them when they say or do something racially problematic” (see also, critical and problematize). This “unspoken agreement” would be the result of socialization into white privilege, which is to say that by virtue of growing up white in a white culture, white people would learn from social pressures, not explicit instructions, how to behave in order to maintain their power and privilege over other minoritized races. That is, white people learn that part of being white is not holding other white people accountable for their racism, especially when it’s not too overt, as a means of being polite, keeping the peace, or other excuses that ultimately mask a cultural “agreement” to keep white privilege and white supremacy in place.
In practice, the concept of white solidarity (like its cousin, the “racial contract”) serves to justify an increased need and urgency where it comes to calling out “racially problematic” behavior and speech, wherever the critical theorist can find it (which can be literally anywhere). More than that, it is to justify calling it out everywhere it can be found (which is anywhere), anytime it can be found (which is always), because to do otherwise is to participate in white solidarity, which is a form of (systemic) racism.
Notice something key here: first, it isn’t about calling out racism, per se, not even in the vague systemic sense, but “racially problematic” behavior and speech, which is much more interpretive (see also, close reading and discursive analysis). Indeed, finding ways to interpret circumstances as containing the racism (or other problematics) that the critical theorist assumes from the outset are ever-present is the purpose of critical methods (see also, critical consciousness and wokeness). As you can read in the examples below, racism and “white solidarity” are easily read into circumstances that have far more charitable and reasonable explanations.
Antiracism; Call out; Complicity; Critical; Critical pedagogy; Critical race Theory; Critical theory; Dominance; Justice; Marginaliation; Mask; Minoritize; People of color; Position; Privilege; Problematic; Problematize; Racial contract; Racism (systemic); Social Justice; Socialization; Theory; White; White fragility; White silence; White supremacy;
Source: DiAngelo, Robin J. White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018, pp. 57–58.
We see white solidarity at the dinner table, at parties, and in work settings. Many of us can relate to the big family dinner at which Uncle Bob says something racially offensive. Everyone cringes but no one challenges him because nobody wants to ruin the dinner. Or the party where someone tells a racist joke but we keep silent because we don’t want to be accused of being too politically correct and be told to lighten up. In the workplace, we avoid naming racism for the same reasons, in addition to wanting to be seen as a team player and to avoid anything that may jeopardize our career advancement. All these familiar scenarios are examples of white solidarity. (Why speaking up about racism would ruin the ambiance or threaten our career advancement is something we might want to talk about.)
The very real consequences of breaking white solidarity play a fundamental role in maintaining white supremacy. We do indeed risk censure and other penalties from our fellow whites. We might be accused of being politically correct or might be perceived as angry, humorless, combative, and not suited to go far in an organization. In my own life, these penalties have worked as a form of social coercion. Seeking to avoid conflict and wanting to be liked, I have chosen silence all too often.
Conversely, when I kept quiet about racism, I was rewarded with social capital such as being seen as fun, cooperative, and a team player. Notice that within a white supremacist society, I am rewarded for not interrupting racism and punished in a range of ways—big and small—when I do. I can justify my silence by telling myself that at least I am not the one who made the joke and that therefore I am not at fault. But my silence is not benign because it protects and maintains the racial hierarchy and my place within it. Each uninterrupted joke furthers the circulation of racism through the culture, and the ability for the joke to circulate depends on my complicity.
Revision date: 1/31/20