Robin DiAngelo On White People's 'Fragility'
JENNIFER LUDDEN, HOST:
Why is it so hard for white people to talk about racism? That's the question author Robin DiAngelo tries to answer in her latest book "White Fragility." For more than two decades, she's delved into issues of social and racial justice as an academic, trainer and consultant. And she joins us now. Welcome.
ROBIN DIANGELO: Thank you.
LUDDEN: First, since we are on radio here - no one can see us - let's just point out that you, Robin, are a white woman.
DIANGELO: I am very clearly a white woman.
LUDDEN: As am I. OK, you actually - in the book, you have a list of these predictable responses that you said you got over and over in these diversity training workshops. Can you give us an example of a few?
DIANGELO: Yeah. And I think of them as the evidence that white people will give when the topic of racism comes up to basically establish that we're not racist. So the evidence - probably the classic one is I was taught to treat everyone the same. I don't see color. It's focusing on race that divides us. Oh, I'm not racist. I marched in the '60s. I was in the Peace Corps. I was in Teach for America. I took a trip to Costa Rica. I have multiracial grandchildren.
You know, the list goes on. And as you noticed, some of those I think of as colorblind - I don't see it. And some color-celebrate - I embrace it. And all of them basically exempt the person from any further engagement and close the conversation - take racism off the table.
LUDDEN: So they're like, this doesn't apply to me. I don't need what you're here to...
DIANGELO: Nothing to see here, let's move on. And let's take that number-one narrative, which is I was taught to treat everyone the same. You know, actually no one was - or could be taught to treat everyone the same. We can't do it. We don't do it. We don't even want to do it in the sense that people have different needs.
And I can tell you though when people of color hear white people say, I was taught to treat everyone the same when racism comes up, they're usually rolling their eyes. And they're definitely not thinking, oh, right, I'm talking to a woke white person right now. They're usually thinking this is a dangerous white person. This is a white person who has no self-awareness and is not going to be able to hold and affirm my reality, which is fundamentally different than theirs in a society which is deeply separate and unequal by race.
LUDDEN: And you actually, in this book, very specifically target white progressives. You say that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color. What do you mean?
DIANGELO: Yeah. First, let's define a white progressive. In my mind, it's any white person who thinks they're not racist - thinks they get it, thinks they are less racist, who's listening to the show right now thinking of all the other white people that really should be listening to this show right now.
LUDDEN: Right. It's never us.
DIANGELO: Right. And we are most likely to be in the lives of people of color on a daily basis. I don't know anyone who would march in Charlottesville, right? And those are terrifying examples - that people of color have to navigate knowing that they exist in our society. But I'm likely the person, day in and day out, they're around. And to the degree that I think, I've already arrived. I'm just not going to engage. Why should I engage? My vote already arrived. It's not my problem. I'm not part of the problem.
And when the issue comes up, I'm going to put my energy into making sure you understand that I've already arrived. And none of my energy on what I really need to be doing for the rest of my life, which is ongoing education, relationship-building, risk-taking, mistake-making and ultimately actual strategic action to interrupt racism. A white progressive generally believes niceness is all that it takes. As long as I'm nice and friendly, I'm finished. And niceness not only is not courageous. But niceness is not going to get racism on the table.
LUDDEN: So if being nice is not the answer - if being, you know, confident that we're not racist is not the answer here, what is the solution? What should people do differently?
DIANGELO: Start from the premise that, of course, you've been impacted by these forces. There's no way that I wasn't impacted by the forces of racism in a country in which it's embedded and infused. And so just start there. And then try to figure out, OK, how have those forces shaped me and how are they manifested in my life and my relationship. That's a very different question. That's a question of how rather than if I've been impacted.
LUDDEN: You've been doing training in workplaces on racial issues for a long time. But it feels like, at this point in time, we're living in a time when there's so much racialized language. It's in the news it seems like every week - sometimes, you know, prompted by a presidential tweet. What do you think all of this is doing to this concept, to the label white fragility, this sense of defensiveness among white people about racism?
DIANGELO: Well, one thing that has been useful about the current political moment is we're done with the post-racial, right? I mean, during Obama's presidency, there was a kind of, you know, we're done. We're all finished. A black man is president. We are post-racial. That thin veneer has definitely been stripped away. But all of these feelings and resentments and outrage have been just barely below the surface.
You know, you've always been able to manipulate the white populace through racial animus, right? The Southern strategy has always worked effectively - kind of what's been called dog whistle, right? Don't come out and say it. But, you know, raise up the specter of racial resentment. And we're well beyond dog whistle. And so it definitely has fueled the flames and, I would say, reinforced the divisions. And it's hard to imagine that we're going to be able to bridge those anytime soon.
LUDDEN: From listening to you there, I don't really hear anything about a teachable moment.
DIANGELO: Well, what I can say is that there's a kind of denial that has also been broken through. And my work is actually easier now than it was before. And I think people are desperate. There's a kind of urgency. There's a kind of shock for people who really didn't have to see or think about this - and kind of a help us. What is happening? You know, I mean, people of color have expressed their irritation with why we're shocked. But nonetheless, we are shocked. We haven't really had to know or see. And now it's really clearly in front of us. And so many more people are more open and more receptive.
LUDDEN: Robin DiAngelo is the author of "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism." Thank you very much.
DIANGELO: Oh, you're so welcome.
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