In 2019, I began working on a church's racial equity council. Wishing to do some background reading, a friend suggested "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism" by Robin DiAngelo.
Truth be told, I expected to encounter information I mostly knew, find action steps I had mostly taken and find affirmation that I was not part of the problem.
That's not what happened.
What is white fragility? For DiAngelo, who has more than 20 years of experience as a trainer and consultant in racial and social justice issues, it is seen in the reactions of many white people who have their assumptions challenged when discussing racism: anger, defensiveness, outrage or tears.
Consider how society and culture operate out of white privilege. Statistics from the last five years show white people overwhelmingly lead our government, teach in our classrooms, and make decisions about our news coverage and media entertainment.
"Racism — like sexism and other forms of oppression," the author writes, "occurs when a racial group's prejudice is backed by legal authority and institutional control."
It is not merely the erroneous assumption that racism should be defined merely by racist acts or language alone.
And for DiAngelo (who, yes, is white), many of the difficulties people of color face come from unexpected sources. She believes "white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color."
This can be seen in the erroneous assumptions we make with color-blind statements ("I don't see color") or color-celebrate assertions ("I work in a diverse environment"). Both types of declarations can be used to excuse the speaker's responsibility. Or, dealing with stronger reactions may result in soothing the complainer at the expense of addressing injustice.
Ultimately, either strengthens the status quo.
You might say "White Fragility" was a moving experience because it certainly made me squirm. On occasions where I disagreed, where I raised objections or asked "But what about ?" DiAngelo seemed to anticipate my reactions and addressed each objection.
Reading this book was a deeply personal experience. If you are willing to approach it with an open mind and a willing heart, it has much to teach us.
Librarian Ken Satterfield works every service desk at the Missouri River Regional Library.