White Fragility and Nonviolence

What is “white fra­gi­li­ty”? — you might won­der. Why would fra­gi­li­ty be spe­ci­fic to white people? 

The sci­en­ti­fic method often uses the deduc­ti­ve method — loo­king at spe­ci­fic obser­va­tions — try­ing to come up with a theo­ry to exp­lain the­se obser­va­tions in a way that ser­ves some pur­po­se (under­stan­ding, effi­ci­en­cy, cla­ri­ty…) — then dedu­cing inter­pre­ta­ti­ons or pre­dic­tions from the theo­ry back to the spe­ci­fic obser­v­a­bles in the world. A term such as “white fra­gi­li­ty” could be seen as a micro-theo­ry, that was crea­ted with this sci­en­ti­fic approach to the world.

White fra­gi­li­ty is a recent con­cep­tu­al addi­ti­on to the canon of a gro­wing scho­l­ar­ly work on “racism”, that I find litt­le hel­pful in crea­ting social chan­ge on the basis of true heart con­nec­tion. In fact, I fear that this kind of work will lead to more divi­si­on and more vio­lence, affec­ting actual­ly the oppo­si­te of what the likely inten­ti­on is.

Scholar Robin DiAngelo — she has writ­ten a mono­gra­phy “White Fragility” — is likely the creator of this term in the judg­men­tal under­to­ne vari­ant of “wrong­ness-fra­gi­li­ty­/­co­py­right-white-peop­le”. In the below video pre­sen­ta­ti­on of 3.47 minu­tes she exp­lains the gist of her idea — “debun­king a myth”. 

Posted in 2018 the video has more dis­li­kes than likes and I can make out a cou­p­le of rea­sons for that.

When I lis­ten to her spea­king of what it means to be white to her, I do not get a sen­se of authen­tic sharing. I won­der if she feels a slight sen­se of dis­gust, when she is spea­king. She seems to judge the situa­ti­on she is describ­ing in despe­ra­te need of chan­ge, as she descri­bes the racist and socia­liz­a­ti­on of “white peop­le” in gene­ral. Aside from genera­tiz­a­ti­on being an inaf­fec­ti­ve method of crea­ting con­nec­tion with indi­vi­du­als, she seems to lack awa­reness of how the soviet sys­tem hand­led race and that inclu­ded the white por­ti­on of the popu­la­ti­on in the sta­tes of the Soviet system. 

I want to share one pro­mi­nent examp­le from her to illus­tra­te my findings.

In the begin­ning of the abo­ve video pre­sen­ta­ti­on she descri­bes a white per­son say­ing in a work­shop on race led by a black trainer: 

I don’t see color.

And the trai­ner replied: 

So how are you going to see racism? Because I am black. I do think you know that. And I have a dif­fe­rent expe­ri­ence than you do. And you are not going to be able to under­stand that and you are not going to be able to sup­port the parts of that expe­ri­ence that are real­ly pain­ful and pro­ble­ma­tic, if you refu­se to ack­now­ledge my rea­li­ty.

DiAngelo con­clu­des:

I don’t see color — means — I refu­se to ack­now­ledge your reality.” 

I hear this phra­se as an inter­pre­ta­ti­on of the inner moti­va­ti­on of the white person. 

DiAngelo is ana­ly­zing, dia­gno­sing, gues­sing intel­lec­tual­ly what the state­ment of the white per­son means. 

I do not see her asking what the inner moti­va­ti­on of the white per­son is. Asking would be a prac­ti­ce in har­mo­ny with non­vio­lent com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on, whe­re we want to value indi­vi­du­al dif­fe­ren­ces and whe­re we want to respect the inner life of each person.

Deep human needs such as choice and respect may likely go unful­fil­led, when faced with such an inter­pre­ta­ti­on from a per­son out­side of us — espe­cial­ly when they talk about us without even asking how this is for us.

I can also see how peop­le who value inclu­si­vi­ty and tole­ran­ce might enjoy this way of approa­ching the sub­ject of race. A new and stron­ger ver­si­on of poli­ti­cal cor­rect­ness for the 21st cen­tu­ry? My hope would be that this tole­ran­ce would extend to peop­le who hold a dif­fe­rent view than this.

I can also see how peop­le who value tra­di­ti­on and safe bor­ders for them­sel­ves and their friends would not enjoy this approach, see­ing her approach as an examp­le of an anar­chism, com­mu­nist or worse. I would hope that they might find an open door for hea­ring some of the needs of the group above.

Making gene­ra­li­zing state­ments about groups of peop­le is not in har­mo­ny with my under­stan­ding of com­pas­sio­na­te com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on and its spi­ri­tu­al basis. The best way of hea­ring this would be to hear requests in it.

That said, per­so­nal expe­ri­en­ces from peop­le of all walks of life on skin color or other discri­mi­na­ting ele­ments of out­ward or inward rea­li­ties can help us to learn about the suf­fe­ring that all peop­le expe­ri­ence on an indi­vi­du­al level, to tru­ly feel con­nec­ted to uni­ver­sal human longings. 

I sug­gest to stay curious about the human being bey­ond the dif­fe­ren­ces and lea­ve gene­ra­liz­a­ti­ons about peop­le to the realm of science. 

I would con­nect empa­thi­cal­ly to the black trai­ner, who sta­tes his fee­lings and needs in terms of what does not work for him in the atti­tu­de or words of the other person. 

Do you want to trust that your rea­li­ty is appre­cia­ted and ful­ly unders­tood?
What do you need? 

Connection befo­re correction.

Robin DiAngelo mixing up empa­thic sen­sing and intel­lec­tu­al gues­sing (KD 25) .
She even seems to “know” what is ali­ve insi­de the other per­son, clai­ming the white per­son is not wil­ling, is refu­sing.
A ques­ti­on to try out for her might be: “Would you be open to hear how my expe­ri­ence of race is?”

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