White Fragility: Living in a Bubble and Also Being in Everyone’s Business
Dr. Robin DiAngelo, a White critical racial and social justice educator who created the term “White Fragility,” breaks it down like this: White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress 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, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium. […]
“White Fragility” is the newest of these terms, and I chose to frame this piece around it because while it’s new and flashy, it’s not so sweet. It positions whiteness as weak and lacking instead of “privileged” or “supreme” while acknowledging the damage and violence this “fragility” has the power to cause.
“White supremacy” is a system that prioritizes whiteness regardless of the presence or absence of racial hatred, but a “white supremacist” is a person who embraces overt racial hatred. It’s like a spectrum. By default, all White people are on the spectrum of complicity in upholding a system of White supremacy, but we only give the negative label of “White supremacists” to the really hateful people at the far end. This allows the rest of us to say “we’re not them.”
White privilege is a term popularized by Peggy McIntosh, a White women’s studies professor at Wellesley in the late 1980s. While “white privilege” is the term that stuck, many scholars and feminists of color – bell hooks, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Patricia Hill Collins – had been discussing the same ideas, particularly in the context of intersectionality. […] The term “white privilege” is an extremely gentle way of easing White people into awareness. The use of the word “privilege” conjures up images of wealth, something Americans typically associate with merit. As I mentioned earlier, the term easily could have been something like “White undeserved advantages” but that would only serve to shut down conversation if the listener is a fragile White person.