Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism.
I read this book for a book club. I did not necessarily go into it with enthusiasm–more like puzzlement as I was only guessing what “White Fragility” is. Fascinating, fascinating book–real game changer. The premise of this book is that racism is a ubiquitous system which constantly and hugely benefits all white people in modern American society. White people are generally raised not to see racism as something they benefit from or as something they participate in–we are “color-blind.” But in actuality color-blindness protects and preserves the racist system that we all exist in and which benefits all white people everyday.
This book really opened my eyes to the shit that I have done and said and invested in that supports the racist system. Several things in particular blew me away:
- First, the idea that racism is something that white people may not “experience” because we live in “sheltered” existences where we don’t encounter people of color. I never thought before about how our societal segregation is exactly what makes me so deeply immersed in racism and exactly what makes me least sheltered from its insidious influence on my mind.
- Second, the fact that the actual direction of danger between white people and black people is inverted in our perceptions so that we imagine that we are in danger from a black person who is walking through “our” neighborhood when in actuality they are in much more danger from us, should we call the police or otherwise act on our fear of them.
- Third, the very fact that white people refuse to talk about race and difference, and the way in which that actually preserves the prejudgments we make. In an example the author discusses, if a small white child comments on a black person’s skin to their white parent in the supermarket, why does the parent shush the child? What are they communicating to the child about blackness and whiteness?
Another thing I took from this book is that if I want to make progress I need to accept that there will be discomfort. Discomfort is not the same as danger. I must confront my preconceptions and ask where they come from. I must be able to talk about these things, even if I mess up and say/do/think something “wrong.” There’s work to be done and I can’t just sit on my pretty lily white progressive bum. I need to get my hands dirty and read, learn, talk, and, most importantly, listen. So, more related book reviews coming as I work on my ignorance.