In recent years, some folks have boldly tackled the topic of white fragility. If you are at all concerned with racial justice and are not familiar with this term, start HERE.
In this post, I just want to talk about how white fragility affected my political consciousness. Although my personal experience may not be generalizable, I think it likely has implications that extend beyond me.
Over the past few years of my life, I have intentionally distanced myself from people who can’t engage conversations around race without a high emotional cost to me. I have distanced myself from people who lack a robust, historically-grounded, and systemic understanding of racism. I have distanced myself from people who lack the ability to hear my experience compassionately. As a result, my up-close-and-personal experiences with white fragility are increasingly rare.
But every now and then…someone slips through the cracks. A few months ago, I made a comment on Facebook about an incident of a police officer killing an unarmed citizen. My comment triggered a response from an acquaintance I have from college. It was an antagonistic comment, and my Facebook friends took him to task in an epic, social media fisticuffs. Meanwhile, in a private conversation with him, he got all in his feelings about the way people were talking to him. He avoided discussing the actual incident with me and instead focused on how he felt mistreated by the way my friends called him out, etc. It was fucking textbook white fragility (and probably also gaslighting). After attempting a constructive dialogue to no avail, I very candidly explained my disinterest in convincing him, bridging the gap with him, or remaining Facebook friends with him. And then we were done. Just like that.
There was a time in my life, though, when I would have expended much more energy on him. Why? Because I would have seen his white fragility as a personal indictment of my civility and diplomacy. I would have seen his white fragility as an impetus to disprove the “angry black woman” trope and an opportunity to display my humanity, humility, and care for others. And I think one of the most dangerous things about this dynamic is the way that it quickly makes race issues interpersonal instead of structural and systemic. I have awakened to this danger, and it’s an ongoing process to abandon this pattern of behavior.
It’s true that we experience discrimination, prejudice, aggression, and micro-aggression at the interpersonal level, but that is not ultimately the level at which racism needs to be addressed. When white people make a societal conversation into interpersonal disagreement, I find myself having to defend my character and prove something to them. This is an insidious interaction wherein I am (yet again) subordinated. These interactions take the wind out of my political sails and re-route me into conversations that are not dealing with root causes. In other words, they are not radical in the truest sense of the word. And a diversion or preoccupation with something other than root causes would, over the long term, depoliticize me.
I no longer devote energy to dealing with white people’s discomfort or fragility concerning race. Doing so drains my limited internal resources and sterilizes my political vitality. I do think there are serious interpersonal issues that need addressing. However, if the interpersonal becomes the primary focus (largely in response to white fragility), then we are not having a radical conversation. And a conversation that’s not radical is a conversation that’s not dealing with power. And if we’re not dealing with power, then we’re not dealing with politics.