ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
This is NPR's LIFE KIT. I'm Ari Shapiro. White people are taught not to think of our race.
ROBIN DIANGELO: You know, we live in a society that turns race over to people of color. They have a race. We're just people. And so we see ourselves as outside of race. And that's problematic for many reasons.
SHAPIRO: That's Robin DiAngelo, the author of "White Fragility." One goal of her book is to have white people examine their own whiteness. She says white people have some go-to excuses, like I already get racism is bad, or I marched in the '60s, when people push them about racism. But DiAngelo says that kind of thinking not only misses the point, it often shuts down any opportunity to grow.
DIANGELO: There's so much potentially rich insight that we can gain from deeply reflecting on our own racial experiences.
SHAPIRO: In this episode of LIFE KIT, I talk with DiAngelo about the specific steps we as white people can take to better see our own personal biases and not get defensive when looking at the ways we're complicit.
So how do you define racism in a way that incorporates both the overt and the insidious aspects of it, more specific than just I know what when I see it?
DIANGELO: Oh, I would actually challenge anyone who - any white person who says I'll know it when I see it. I would say actually all of the racism I've perpetrated is nor intentional but harmful to other people nonetheless. Racism is what happens when you back one group's racial bias with legal authority and institutional control, when you have overwhelming homogeneity at the tables where decisions are made that affect the lives of people who aren't at those tables. So when you back one group's collective bias with that kind of power, it is transformed into a far-reaching system. It becomes the default. It's automatic. It's not dependent on your, you know, agreement or belief or approval. It's circulating 24/7, 365. So racism is the foundation of the society we are in. And to simply carry on with absolutely no active interruption of that system is to be complicit with it. And in that way, we can say that nice white people are racist. We are complicit with that system. There is no neutral place.
SHAPIRO: What are some specific steps that white people can take to see and start understanding our own biases and our own complicity and our own role in these inherently racist structures and systems that you're describing?
DIANGELO: You know, it's a little bit like saying I want to be in shape tomorrow, right? You're not going to be in shape tomorrow if you're out of shape. This is going to be a process, and there are going to be multiple parts to that process. So I would start with some very deep reflection on what it means to be white, how your own race shapes your life. We will never understand racism if we only listen to or talk to white people. I mean, our voices, our part in this, has been missing for all too long. But, again, we're never going to understand this if we don't listen to black, Indigenous and other peoples of color. So start reading what they're writing, listening to their videos, attending their talks and educating yourself.
And then, there are two really excellent resources that I offer. One is Dr. Eddie Moore's "21-Day Racial Equity Building Challenge." You know, it'll walk you through a daily practice. And Layla Saad's book, "Me And White Supremacy Workbook." That's a book you do rather than read. That will start us on what is a process, not a moment or an instant. For me as a white person, it's been a bit like water dripping on a rock. You know, I didn't get it the first, second, third, fourth time that I heard it or was challenged around it. And even today, every moment that I push back against this socialization, it's coming right back at me. So we can never be complacent about that.
And that leads to the need for humility. You just can't know all you need to know. And so be willing to consider that maybe your opinions are not as informed as you think they are.
SHAPIRO: How do you get past the defensiveness that so often comes up in these kinds of conversations?
DIANGELO: I actually think that when you change your understanding of what it means to be racist, you will no longer be defensive. That mainstream definition of individual conscious malintent across race not only beautifully protects the system of racism by exempting virtually all white people from that system because who among your listeners right now would ever say they're consciously, intentionally mean across race? I think that definition is the root of most of the defensiveness. And when you change your definition, it's actually liberating.
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DIANGELO: And you can start getting to work actually trying to identify - all right, it was inevitable that I was socialized into this system. It's inevitable that I will have blind spots. And so I'm going to focus my energy on how I've been shaped by the system but not if. We have to change our question. If our question is if I've been shaped, the answer will be an easy no. And then what further action is required of us? Nothing. When the answer is how - well, that sets you on a lifelong process.
SHAPIRO: So we've been talking about awareness and understanding. Let's talk about actions. I mean, just to take one specific example, how do you suggest white people can help normalize checking each other when they see racism?
DIANGELO: Well, the first thing - you know, there are two top questions I get when I give a talk, and actually, what you just asked me hits both of those. So the first one is, what do I do? When I get that question, I offer one back, and that is how have you managed not to know? How have you managed to be a full-functioning, likely an educated adult in 2020 and not know the answer to that question? And that's, you know, meant to challenge that person. That's on you. The information's everywhere. Why haven't you sought it out up until this moment? Take out a piece of paper and jot down your answer to why you don't know what to do or how to get started, and there will be your map. Everything you write on that piece of paper can be addressed. None of it will be quick or easy. But begin with that list.
The second top question that I get is, how do I tell or talk to other white people about racism? And I'm going to ask a question back before I answer it. And that would be, well, how would I talk to you about your racism? You notice that that question assumes that it's not us. We're good to go, we're down. Now let's go out and change the world. It is us. We can never take ourselves out of that equation. And I think actually the more we work on our own conditioning, the more effective we will be at helping others see theirs.
SHAPIRO: How do everyday interactions like the ones that we are talking about fit into what we're seeing globally right now - people marching in the streets against state-sanctioned violence against black people?
DIANGELO: Well, we've seen these moments before. We thought we were post-racial after the civil rights movement. We thought we were post-racial after Obama's presidency. We are so not post-racial, and we have never been. I do see these protests being sustained and different kinds of demands coming out of them. That is hopeful. But the key is what will happen when those cameras go away and when it's no longer, for lack of a better word for white people anyway, exciting or righteous to go down and protest? In some ways, that's the easier kinds of actions. What are we going to do to sustain it when we no longer have that kind of pressure, when we're back into our racial comfort zone - the status quo of this society that is racism? And I, as a white person, live in that society in comfort. We've got to start making it uncomfortable and figuring out what supports we're going to put in place to help us continue to be uncomfortable because the forces of comfort are quite seductive.
SHAPIRO: What specific steps would you recommend white people take to begin the journey?
DIANGELO: Google is your friend. There are so many good lists of things that you can do. I highly recommend Dr. Eddie Moore's "21-Day Racial Equity Building Challenge," Layla Saad's book "Me And White Supremacy Workbook." Take every seminar and workshop you can. Watch the movies and videos. So many black people are publishing and putting out really excellent lists. We have to break with the apathy and seek those out.
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SHAPIRO: Robin DiAngelo is author of "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard To Talk To White People About Racism." Thanks for joining us today.
DIANGELO: Thank you for having me.
SHAPIRO: For more NPR LIFE KIT, check out our other episodes. There's one on how to manage microaggressions and another on what to say when a friend is struggling. You can find those at npr.org/lifekit. And if you love LIFE KIT and want more, subscribe to our newsletter at npr.org/lifekitnewsletter. This episode was produced by Clare Schneider, Mallory Yu and Sarah Handel. Meghan Keane is the managing producer, and Beth Donovan is our senior editor. Our digital editor is Beck Harlan. I'm Ari Shapiro. Thanks for listening.
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