In her ninth chapter, “White Fragility in Action”, Robin DiAngelo lists feelings white people experience when it is pointed out to them that something they said or did is racist. She also lists behaviors, claims they typically make that will tend to exempt them personally and finally, assumptions. DiAngelo has been presenting the facts about racism to white audiences for years and I would guess she has seen and heard everything. I am going to mention just a couple of ideas that I relate to here, as we might if you and I were participating in a book club discussion.
If I were at a workshop on racism and the leader suggested that something I said was racist, I would feel singled out, first of all. I consider myself a pretty open and educated person when it comes to race, so I guess I would also feel humiliated. I would get defensive and try to figure out if this person was right or if she was mislabeling me. I might even agree with her that my words were racist but inside myself I would probably think, “I am not really racist. That was just a slip of the tongue.”
Typical behaviors of those feeling attacked or accused might be withdrawal, denying, or focusing on intentions. I think I would probably withdraw or cover-up. I might go overboard a bit in trying to sound more open. I wouldn’t likely say, “Wow, that stung!” I am capable of being honest but usually, honesty with myself comes after the fact.
DiAngelo listed many of the claims people make in her previous chapters and I have addressed these. I am in a different place today than I was years ago. I know that I am privileged, I know that my experience with people of different races is limited. I am not likely to make any claims to being considered non-racist. I am likely to work on my behaviors as I go about my life. I shared in a past blog my decision to fight my fears when walking in a primarily black neighborhood. I can’t do much about my feelings but can do something about my behaviors.
DiAngelo has a long list of assumptions behind reactions. The one that stands out for me is, “Racism is a conscious bias. I have none, so I am not a racist.” I have been dealing with the idea of biases for years. It is an important concept for a writer. I am convinced that there is no such thing as being unbiased. Bias, to me is simply how you look at a problem. What part of the elephant are you looking at? Bias has a lot to do with what we were taught and what we experienced as children. We usually hold on to our biases until some new truth comes along and pokes a hole in our bias. This is happening for me right now in regards to racism. I hope that it will keep happening throughout my life. It is the life of a learner.