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White Fragility

I had never heard of “white fragility” until a student mentioned it in class…a term defined by Robin Di Angelo as “a state in which even a minimal amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-induced situation” (54). I read the article for our Alter/Native Anthroplogy class, thinking that it had something similar to do with “white privilege” I thought that I had somewhat of a background that I was coming to the article with. Now that I look back, I am more aware that I read through the article quite disembodied from my own whiteness. The article pressed the topic further than I had been exposed to and I believe I was tuning out my own uncomfortability that is inherent when white people engage in conversations about their own position within the hierarchy of a white culture that continues to systematically discriminate and racialize people of color. I had not realized that we were going to break out into small groups to discuss the article.

Even writing now, the awkwardness about it, makes me uncomfortable. It seemed that breaking into the conversation took a little bit of time. Two white students and two student of color stepping into the discussion of “white fragility”…we took small turns sharing. My identification as a white person in this setting made me feel self-conscious in relation to the topic. I tried to stay engaged and objective but I felt the pressure of the topic as it was directed at my whiteness, however because I didn’t want to feel or be associated with the realities of oppression, my self-protection kicked in and I said “it sucks being white…and being associated with such terrible things” or something to that affect. One of the students called me out, giving me feedback as to how my words were offensive. I tried to back pedal to explain what I meant, but it was clear I was out of touch with the reality of my peers and their experiences in a system where “white privilege” such as my own oppressed them. The selfishness and distancing that my white privilege spoke to those I had grown to care about disrupted their wellbeing, our relationship, my heart, and sense of identity. It would be a loss that is important for me to carry as a valuable reminder of the growth that I still have to attain if I am to be a person that loves and cares for people of color.