I mentioned yesterday that I was already familiar with the idea of White Privilege, but the title of the book I am reading is White Fragility, a rather baffling idea. In the Forward to the book, Michael Eric Dyson explains that fragility refers to the tendency of white people to “react defensively to being called to account for how (their) whiteness has gone under the radar of race for far too long.” Just think about how people react when they are told they are being racist in some way – total denial as though they were accused of being child beaters. You might hear someone say they don’t see color. Fragility refers to one’s fragile ego. We witness it in other ways, such as when we point out a mistake someone made and rather than thank you for giving them the opportunity to fix it, they go into denial and blame.
Racism, Dyson says, is a condition like original sin is the condition of what it means to be human in a fallen world. This is especially true in America, as the author points out, where our roots began with the genocide of the Indigenous people who first owned the land and then created an economy built on forced labor of black slaves shipped in from other lands. Racism is part of the American character, whether white people want to admit it or not.
Beyonce Knowles is quoted as saying, “It’s been said that racism is so American that when we protest racism, some assume we’re protesting America.” Think of Colin Kaepernick who first took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality. People condemned him for his disrespect for the flag and betraying America itself. The actions against which he was protesting was dismissed. They insisted that he was unpatriotic or even a traitor worthy of punishment.
What I found interesting is the idea that whiteness is somehow equated with what it means to be an American. Recently I watch on the news a woman losing control as she ranted against a group of Hispanic construction workers who were speaking Spanish as they worked. She was screaming that they are suppose to assimilate now that they are in America and assimilation means speaking English, the only language real (white) Americans speak.
Author Robin DiAngelo says that it has fallen upon black Americans to try to understand white Americans because they are the race with the power to make the changes that would bring equality to our nation. In order to understand this, she pointed out that when women sought the right to vote, they needed the voting men to come over to their side because they were the only ones who had the power to change the law. So far, there has been no real need for white people to change laws because laws tend to bend in their favor. Why change something that is working for you? This is why I believe we as whites need to act, to share our power. Legislators care about our vote in a different way than they do black people. We have a power the black community does not have.
I believe that if DiAngelo is correct about Black Americans understanding more than White Americans, then it behooves us to listen. Here in Minnesota where George Floyd was taken down, I was startled every day as I listened to black leaders and how thoroughly they had examined systems and discussed solutions. This was my first written message after Floyd’s death to my Minnesota representatives. “Listen to them,” I wrote. “They have thought these problems through backwards and forwards. They can tell you exactly where in this country cities are solving the problem of police brutality. They have the solutions that will work.”