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Is white fragility real? Show more Show less
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In July 2020, "White Fragility" topped the New York Times Bestseller list. Though two years had passed since its publication, protests following George Floyd's murder thrust its controversial theory of race back into the mainstream. Written by University of Washington Professor Robin DiAngelo, the book claims that white people sustain racism by refusing to engage with it. The idea assumes that white people consider themselves the "default" race, and actively avoid and undermine challenges to this worldview. As the thesis has gained traction, it has also come under criticism for being reductive and choosing to see entire populations based on race. So, who are the groups forming around this debate, what do they believe and why?

No, white fragility does not exist Show more Show less

This group sees white fragility as a flawed thesis that undermines meaningful conversations about race.
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White fragility prevents meaningful dialogue

The idea legitimises, and even promotes, dismissing white concerns. In that, it actively denies people the opportunity to debate racism and its wider contexts.

Context

Author and workplace racial sensitivity trainer, Robin DiAngelo' s best-selling novel "White Fragility" defines the phenomenon as "the state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves [in white people, including] the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviours such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviours, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium. Racial stress results from an interruption to what is racially familiar."[1] In the current political and social climate with the Trump presidency, Black Lives Matter protests and police brutality, racial discourse is the order of the day and white voices are often silenced as privileged and lacking understanding by virtue the widespread left-leaning woke rhetoric. But does this strategy actually aid in achieving the aims of the movements and progressing the discourse?

The Argument

It is not controversial to say that social movements aim to create a collective awareness of injustice, actual or perceived, and this means that there are aggressors and victims. The issue with the concept of white fragility is that it homogenises all white people as being aggressors based on a pseudoscience - the notion that implicit biases are so pervasive that white individuals cannot help but be racist. [2] Raluca Bejan points out why this is pernicious as a major issue in racial justice movements in the understanding of intersectionality and not blanketing the victims - for example, black women experience racism differently as they navigate the world, not just as black individuals but also as people who have to contend with the patriarchy. The logic should also hold in the converse that not all white people are privileged, or at least not to the extent that they are all perpetrators of racism that makes them a part of the problem, justifying the dismissal of their grievances. [3] Secondly, the idea of white fragility is heavily US-centric, particularly as argued by DiAngelo. It lacks nuance and posits that all white-passing individuals have privilege by their external appearance. This brushes over the fact that European immigrants, for example, may still have strong ethnic and cultural experiences which would distinguish them from a white American. Given the above, the notion of white fragility is harmful as it antagonises otherwise sympathetic individuals with legitimate grievances from the movement by promoting an exclusionary and racialised approach to social justice. Categorising everyone of a pale complexion as inherently problematic distracts valuable time and energy towards an oppression olympics instead of targeting the gatekeepers of inequality. Although well-intentioned, the discourse becomes overshadowed and a critical mass of support is rarely achieved.

Counter arguments

White fragility is important in highlighting the degrees of injustice. While not all white individuals are actively racist or grossly privileged, the notion is important in focusing attention solely on the injustices which people of colour exclusively or disproportionately face, such as police brutality. White fragility does not advocate for not involving white people in the fight for social equality; instead, it aids in educating them on how to productively contribute as an ally. Take, for instance, the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests - in that highly charged environment there is no use in pointing out that not all white people are racists or in expressing sentiments of white guilt. Both detract from the sense of justice and catharsis the African American community were seeking with the protests and make the white individual and their feelings the focal point.

Proponents

Framing

Social movements require both sides to have airtime in order for any progress to be made.

Premises

Opinions of white people are legitimate and valuable in progressing the movements. White people expressing their views does not take away from the minorities or trigger and re-traumatise them.

Rejecting the premises

White fragility enhances the participation of sympathetic white individuals by highlighting the ways in which they can be better allies to the cause.

References

  1. https://newdiscourses.com/tftw-white-fragility/
  2. https://newdiscourses.com/2020/06/flaws-white-fragility-theory-primer/
  3. https://theconversation.com/robin-diangelos-white-fragility-ignores-the-differences-within-whiteness-143728
This page was last edited on Wednesday, 16 Sep 2020 at 16:06 UTC

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