High signal digest #9
"White Fragility" by Robin Diangelo: raw notes + select quotes
est. reading time:
Today at a glance:
Book = “White Fragility” by Robin Diangelo. Diangelo is a professor, writer, and antiracist educator. In 2011 she coined the expression white fragility. This expression refers to the defensive behaviors that white people engage in when confronted with racism. These behaviors support current racial in-equilibrium and prevent meaningful dialogue.
No links from the web. Suspect all of us are consumed by similar things (ex. FTX, China, Twitter/Elon). And while there are many implications from each of these - unpacking each properly will take time and will take away oxygen from this book.
Why did I read this? I wanted to learn more after the murder of George Floyd. To attempt to understand I read several books (this was one of them) and went to many protests in San Francisco. I started to understand my ignorance and privilege.
So what? I am sitting here writing and rewriting this section for over an hour. This is a difficult and important matter. I won’t have the right words, but it is precisely because it is difficult and important that I need to share. If you read one section in this email - let it be the quotes from the book rather than my notes below.
Raw notes from the book:
Individualism and objectivity are western ideologies that make it difficult for people to come to terms with socialization of racism
Racism is a system. It is prejudice and oppression that is backed by institutions (see photo below). It is a system that: (1) becomes a societal default, (2) is reproduced automatically, (3) continuously creates advantages for whites and disadvantages for people of color.
Children are conditioned early that it is taboo to talk about race. All of us are socialized into this system. How can I do better?
I have blind spots on racism
Systems of oppression are hyper adaptive. They evolve with our time/societal changes and still maintain inequality.
Whiteness has psychological advantages that translate into returns (automatic self perpetuating system). I have to spend zero cognitive or emotional energy thinking about this problem because it’s not my problem, which means I get to spend more energy on other things. Energy is zero-sum.
Multiple patterns at the core of white fragility. These stand out: (1) i am an individual, exempt from the forces of racial socialization, (2) failure to understand that history matters, (3) assuming that everyone can have my experience, (4) lack of racial humility, (5) guilt that allows inaction, (6) defensiveness about suggestions that we are connected to racism, (7) focus on intentions over impact
Reductive thinking (definition of racism is extreme acts of prejudice and so if I am not that - then I am not racist) leads to inaction, exempts people from responsibility, and protects status quo. So what is the solve? Think of myself on a range and think deeper
Our system → racial insulation → reduced psychological stamina to have constructive difficult conversations → status quo
Select mental models to adopt: (1) i am not free of racism or i can be a good person and still be racist, (2) my learning is never finished, (3) i am not entitled to remain comfortable
There is a long set of implied rules for how we “should” have a conversation about race and for how we “should” give feedback about racism. These rules are nonsense and their function is to protect the broken status quo. Only 1 rule matters: give the feedback and if someone can’t handle it - it’s on them.
It takes courage to break white solidarity - how can I support those who do?
I am never finished with my learning on this topic. I regret that I started on this journey at 35 years old.
Select quotes from the book:
Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority…we become highly fragile in conversations about race. We consider a challenge to our racial worldview 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 unsettling and unfair moral offense
The racial status quo is comfortable for white people, and we will not move forward in race relations if we remain comfortable
Today we have a cultural norm that insists that we hide our racism from people of color and deny it among ourselves
The call to Make America Great Again worked powerfully in service of the racial manipulation of white people, diverting blame away from the white elite and toward various peoples of color - for example undocumented workers, immigrants, and the Chinese
A racist free upbringing is not possible, because racism is a social system embedded in the culture and its institutions
To put it bluntly, I believe that white collective fundamentally hates blackness for what it reminds us of: that we are capable and guilty of perpetrating immeasurable harm and that our gains come through the subjugation of others
White fragility is a cocoon of racial comfort
White fragility is a form of bullying; I am going to make it so miserable for you to confront me…that you will simply back off, give up, and never raise the issue again.
Stopping our racist patterns must be more important than working to convince others that we don’t have them. We do have them.
We must continue to ask how our racism manifests, not if
Niceness is not courageous