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Monday, 8 June 2020

Robin DiAngelo: How 'white fragility' supports racism and how whites can stop it


If you're a white person in America, social justice educator Robin DiAngelo has a message for you: You're a racist, pure and simple, and without a lifetime of conscious effort you always will be.

You just can't help it, you see, because you've been swaddled in the cocoon of white privilege since you came sputtering out of your mother's womb, protesting the indignity of it all.

You may be indignantly sputtering right now at this insult to your humanity -- for how can you be a racist? You have black colleagues you consider friends; you don't see skin color; you never owned slaves; you marched in the 60s; you even protest today against the uniformed "bad apples" that use the power of their authority to smother minority lives and minority rights.

"How dare you say I am anything like them?" you grumble, as you pull the cloak of your bruised and fragile feelings around you.

And there -- with that simple act -- you personify the theme of DiAngelo's best selling 2018 book, "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism."

What started as an essay written in 2011 on racial and social injustice has become an international sensation, flying off the internet shelves into the homes of those horrified by recent events.

CNN sat down with DiAngelo to ask her thoughts on the conversations around today's protests, how they fit into the history of the civil rights movement, and what white people need to do now. The conversation has been edited for flow and clarity.

Q: Is this a "Me Too" moment for racial equality or is the conversation going to fizzle and fade as it's done in the past?

DiAngelo: There are a few things that I think are different about this moment. First, it's being sustained. It's not one march, one protest. They are ongoing and spreading around the world.

There is discourse in the mainstream media that I didn't think I'd ever hear in my life. Those of us who have been beating this drum for years are finally hearing phrases like "systemic racism" used in the mainstream media.

The number one and two books being sold in the world right now are both on racism, one written by me, a white person, and one written by Ibram X. Kendi a black person. You can google "What can white people do right now?" and you wouldn't be able to keep up with all of the excellent lists of resources and guidance.

We're hearing a discussion of reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans on the Democratic debate stage. For the first time ever in history, I think, a recent poll showed that more white Americans believe that there are advantages to being white than don't believe that.

These are huge breakthroughs. But it needs to be sustained, and I'm a little worried about what happens when the cameras go away. This is where I remember Malcom Gladwell's  tipping point theory: You only need 30%. And when I feel discouraged, I remember that because I think "We got 30%. Let's keep it going."

I do want to put some thoughtfulness around saying that there is a difference to this moment. I'm devastated that this is the price that it took: Watching one more -- not just one -- but one more black man murdered in the most callous and public way. That's what it took.

I hope to God that isn't wasted in the sense of what it has ignited.

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