Why was White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo my exact experience in grad school? I’m about to expose my MSW program real quick.
When I started my program, I thought my cohort were all about social justice and intersectionality like me. Some of them were social justice-oriented, just not very intersectional, and some were definitely that stereotype of not knowing what to do with their lives. I thought you had to care about people, all people, to want to help those in need. Boy, was I wrong.
Every concept in White Fragility I experienced first-hand. No one wanted to talk about their privilege. I have three very salient examples. Names have been changed because I respect people enough to anonymously talk shit about them on the internet
My first example was in one of my Human Behavior in the Social Environment class. My professor was one of the very few professors that I felt prioritized intersectionality. We did this exercise where we stood on a continuum of how we felt about certain statements. I can’t remember the prompt, something about boot-strap mentality, but most of the class was on one side and two other people were on the other side. I get why one lady was on that side, she was speaking from her very limited personal experience, but this other girl, Karen! Karen came from the military and she started spouting off BS. Allow me to paraphrase:
“I don’t understand why some people get out the military and want to spend all their money on expensive cars and shoes. We all come in the military and receive the same treatment and we all leave with the same amount of money. Why can’t they just save their money instead of wasting it and becoming broke. They just don’t know how to handle their money.”
Now this… young woman (trying really hard not to call her out her name) is the same girl that felt discriminated against for being republican. I had to check Karen real fast about how oppressed people aren’t taught about money the same way as people with privilege and that she shouldn’t condescend to think that she knows better about how these people should spend their money!
For my second example, I wasn’t in the class, but I heard about the incident and the two people were in my other class and had a very tense relationship.
In a diversity class different from my own (the most contentious in the program), they were talking about race. An older, outspoken black woman in the program said something that probably was taken more aggressive just because she was black and a white girl started crying and saying “Why do y’all hate us so much?”. Well Becky, white people have stolen black people from their lands; beaten them, raped them, and forced them to generate wealth for white people without paying them a cent; then systematically oppressed them by restricting their basic human rights, dehumanizing them, and protecting those exerting mob violence. Slavery is over but not its legacy.
Becky made that situation about her feelings and her tears, because obviously they are more important than the overly sensitive experiences of black people. I’m sorry you feel guilty for something “you didn’t do”. Maybe you should take your guilt out on other white people instead of people of color.
My final example had me the most shaken up. One of the few people in my program I would call a friend said something so messed up. So our cohort was so divided and cliquey, those who had more radical views and weren’t afraid to call people out were often demonized. One white guy in particular, I will admit, overdid it a bit with the call-out culture. He was very vocal on social media and it sometimes annoyed people. He was still a good racial justice ally and thought about intersectionality a lot.
My friend, Sawyer, said one day that “He is so annoying that sometimes I actively root against his causes.”
Just because someone brings up race a lot doesn’t mean you should wish things like racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia would remain in our society! How f’ed up is that! Sawyer is still my friend, but I’ve never told her how much this has bothered me. I’m sorry if she reads this instead of me talking to her in person…
I could go on and on about examples, but those were the ones that I frequently think about.
Anyway, I feel like all white people should read this book. If it makes you feel any better, it’s by a white, so you don’t have to feel like “we all hate you”.