If White Fragility Is a Myth, Why Do We Keep Proving It?

If White Fragility Is a Myth, Why Do We Keep Proving It?


Say what you will about Robin DiAngelo’s best-selling book White Fragility.

You can hate it if you wish.

I, too, have some critical differences with DiAngelo, whom I consider a friend.

But whatever you may think of her or her overall analysis, one thing you cannot say is that the phenomenon she identified in the book isn’t real.

Because however much white folks love to deny how brittle we are when challenged about issues of racism in America, by our overwrought reactions to those challenges, we demonstrate proof of the thing almost daily.

The current meltdown over anti-racist curriculum is peak fragility

If we understand white fragility to include the tendency for whites to become defensive and angry when confronted with information about racial inequality in America, then the current backlash to anti-racist education is a perfect example of it.

Although conservatives insist they are only opposed to “Critical Race Theory” — which they falsely accuse of teaching that all whites are oppressors — when you look at the materials they’re actually seeking to restrict or ban, it becomes apparent that they don’t want students learning the truth about racism at all, whether in the past or present.

For instance, consider Robin Steenman, founder of the Franklin, Tennessee chapter of Moms for Liberty, one of the leading groups challenging anti-racist curriculum around the country.

Apparently, Black kids had been old enough to face those firehoses, but white kids are too young to learn about them

Recently Steenman explained to CBS News her group’s opposition to teaching elementary school children about the civil rights movement by noting that the material was too heavy for kids. Why?

Because it showed police blasting children with fire hoses in Birmingham in 1963.

In other words, the book is inappropriate because it shows students what actually happened, in some cases to kids who were the same age as they are now.

Which means Black kids had been old enough to face those hoses, but white kids are too young to learn about them.

That’s fragility, and specifically, an attempt to keep children so sheltered from the truth as to transmit that fragility to the next generation.

According to Steenman, the teachers “can teach history, but let’s not teach racism.”

It remains a mystery how one might teach the history of the civil rights movement without teaching why it was necessary.

But to Steenman, none of that matters. What matters is protecting children from the horrors of history until they reach the age of 16 — yes, she says this — at which point they will finally “have the bigger picture” and be able to “contextualize” things like enslavement or segregation.

In other words, we can feed kids the rosy, flag-waving version of history for the first ten years of school, and then they can be introduced to the bad stuff.

In Katy, Texas (just outside of Houston), parents were so confident that children’s book author Jerry Craft was pushing Critical Race Theory they had his books pulled from their schools and an author event with Craft canceled.

According to parents who challenged his books — centered around a Black 7th grader who is the only kid of color in an otherwise white school — Craft introduces Marxist concepts to students with his stories.

After the books were reviewed, they were placed back in the schools — and Craft’s sales actually shot up after the controversy — but the point is, only fragility of a most profound nature can explain why a parent would assume any book by a Black author featuring a Black kid, navigating what it means to be Black, is somehow a divisive and destructive piece of literature.

North Dakota: the poster child for brittle whiteness

In North Dakota, the legislature has just passed (and Governor signed) a new law banning Critical Race Theory, which defined that concept so broadly as to encompass virtually any discussion of racism as an institutional force in America at all. To wit, its definition of the concept:

For purposes of this section, “critical race theory” means the theory that racism is not merely the product of learned individual bias or prejudice, but that racism is systemically embedded in American society and the American legal system to facilitate racial inequality.

In other words, racism can only be taught as an individual phenomenon, synonymous with prejudice, and not as something with institutional or structural roots.

North Dakota’s new law commits the state’s schools to ignorance as a positive virtue

But how can one teach American history and not explore racism as something systematically embedded in the society and legal system?

And if it wasn’t embedded there to “facilitate racial inequality,” what was its purpose?

How can one discuss enslavement as merely a matter of personal prejudice? It was systematized and enforced by laws.

How can one discuss segregation as merely a matter of personal prejudice? It was systematized and enforced by laws.

How can one discuss lynching as merely a matter of personal prejudice? It was a practice facilitated by law enforcement officials, and it was a legally protected activity for most of our nation’s history.

How can one discuss the Naturalization Act of 1790 — the first law passed by Congress after the ratification of the Constitution — which limited citizenship to whites, except as an example of systemically embedded racism?

The answer to all these questions is the same: you can’t discuss them honestly without violating the new North Dakota law — a law that commits the state’s schools to ignorance as a positive virtue.

And all to protect the fragile white egos of the state’s conservatives.

Such as Doug Sharbono, a North Dakota resident and parent who wrote in favor of the just-passed law and specifically complained that his son had learned in school how whites had “stolen the Black Hills from the native tribes.”

According to Sharbono, “this kind of polarizing teaching is unnecessary and untrue,” because as he put it, “I did not steal the black hills, nor did my ancestors.”

First, of course, the information provided to his son in class is correct. The Fort Laramie Treaty, signed in 1868 by the U.S., the Sioux (Lakota/Dakota), and the Arapaho nations, designated the Black Hills as territory “set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians.”

But of course, the United States violated the treaty.

According to the Supreme Court, the U.S. “illegally appropriated” the Black Hills by force to benefit those seeking gold and land there.

More to the point, the Court held, they had never been justly compensated for that taking of land. And what, pray tell do we call taking something without paying for it?

I’ll give you a second to Google it.

Ah yes, theft — the very thing Doug Sharbono denies happened.

But more to the point, note the fragility implicit in Sharbono’s complaint.

No one accused him or his direct ancestors of stealing anything. Nobody knows or cares who the fuck Doug Sharbono is.

The lesson taught to his son was not that you and your daddy and his daddy are to blame for the theft of the Black Hills. The lesson was simply that white folks did indeed take them from those to whom they were promised.

That is not debatable. It happened. The land was stolen and the people who took it were white.

Presuming that an accurate description of the thieves implicates him and his ancestors tells us more about Doug Sharbono and his fragility than it does about the lessons being taught in North Dakota schools, against which he seeks protection.

Sadly, Sharbono is not alone in his fragility.

During debate on the anti-CRT bill, state representative Jim Kasper introduced written testimony from a constituent who complained about the pernicious influence of CRT in the schools his children attend.

For instance, he noted, after the verdict in the trial of the officer who killed George Floyd, school officials made an announcement in which they mentioned the name of George Floyd and implored students to “respect everyone’s opinion” about the verdict.

So, now mentioning Floyd’s name and calling for respect of all opinions is CRT?

He further complained about Gay Pride and Black Lives Matter shirts being worn in the school and the fact that the principal lists his pronouns on his emails.

And he was mightily concerned that 9th graders were assigned “Dear Martin,” an award-winning best-selling young adult novel, about a teen who writes letters to the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. after his own experiences with mistreatment at the hands of police.

Oh, and he also testified that kids who get in trouble are getting to choose when they do detention — this too, apparently, has something to do with Critical Race Theory.

And by Critical Race Theory, he means his own white fragility.

Black folks don’t get to be protected from reality — fragility is a privilege of whiteness

Meanwhile, as conservatives seek to protect their children from the knowledge of racism in America — past, present, and a combination of the two — Black and brown kids keep having to live with it.

But apparently, the right doesn’t care about those Black children.

They don’t care that Black children and other students of color are far less likely to be identified and placed in gifted and talented programs, even when they demonstrate the potential to succeed in them.

They don’t care that Black students are often misperceived by teachers as angry and then disproportionately disciplined — a disparity highly correlated with observable racial prejudice in the communities where they attend school.

They don’t care that Black boys as young as ten years of age are routinely viewed as older and less innocent than comparable whites — subjected, as a result, to less favorable and more hostile treatment by police.

Even as white parents demand that we protect the innocence of white children, they say nothing about the innocence of Black children — an innocence that too often is presumed not to exist in the first place.

Or one that is snatched early by a system that has always viewed them as a problem to be managed.

The right says nothing about any of this, even as the research has made clear the health effects of racism and discrimination on Black bodies from an early age.

While Black people, and other folks of color, deal with the actual stress of mistreatment, white folks seek to manage the stress of information.

The stress of facts.

The stress of coming to grips with history.

Which leaves me with the following helpful tip for conservative whites: If you want people to reject the theories of folks like DiAngelo, it might be advisable to stop telling on yourself and proving those theories true every day.

This post was previously published on AfroSapiophile.


You may also like these posts on The Good Men Project:

White Fragility: Talking to White People About Racism Escape the “Act Like a Man” Box Why I Don’t Want to Talk About Race What We Talk About When We Talk About Men

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The post If White Fragility Is a Myth, Why Do We Keep Proving It? appeared first on The Good Men Project.

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