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With the recent uproar of protests and awareness after the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, people are turning to the streets to say enough is enough. Many people on social media have expressed surprise towards the recent murders of innocent black people, but are these deaths new? Will Smith very accurately said, “Racism isn’t getting worse. It’s getting filmed.” So why are many people still questioning whether racism exists? It all stems from the days when we were told the beige pencil crayon, is the “skin tone” color.
We have all experienced a white co-worker, friend, or classmate who hides away when the term “racism” comes up in conversations. Many individuals shy away and counter any possibility of accepting their racial biases. But why do they react so defensively? It all stems from a term called white fragility, coined by Robin DiAngelo.
White fragility largely addresses the discomfort white people feel when confronted with racial issues. It is a concept that has grown from the inherent segregation in society that allows them to insulate themselves from the truth and claim tall tales such as “I don’t see color.” But the very notion that they do not see color raises the issue of ignorance, rather than acceptance.
This idea of color blindness denoting that race should not even be a factor that allows them to overlook its very real existence. Phrases such as “not all white people” are used to help blanket themselves and maintain their white fragility, while also reinforcing racist systems.
When this blanket is pulled away, even momentarily, it is often met with defensive maneuvers such as emotional extremes and actions such as silence, leaving the situation or argumentation. These outbursts stem from the insulation they receive from race-based stress to a point where even the slightest poke or racial discomfort, sends them spiraling.
One of the largest issues allowing white fragility to exist is the coded language used in workspaces and other professional environments that enable them to stay comfortable. For instance, even during cultural competency training workshops, many individuals will still use terms such as “disadvantaged” or “urban” that place the onus on racialized individuals. This reinforces the blanket.
Rather than bringing to light the privileges and advantages, many white people confer due to these imbalances in society. Those who see themselves as liberals will instead go on to say they understand racism and have already taken courses on the matter, or that they have a “brown friend” or “black friend.” What they fail to realize when making these claims, is that their reluctance to analyze their privilege critically and how that reinforces these racial imbalances further hurts those “friends.”
I am sure we have all heard the phrase “blue lives matter” or “reverse racism.” These terms should not and do not exist. They again are terms created to insulate privileged individuals from facing the harsh reality that those who are racialized face every day. A piece by Aamer Rahman perfectly summarizes the absurdity of reverse racism. Unless we get a time machine to go back in time, allow people from previously colonized countries to colonize western countries instead, and systematically oppress their people forcing them into assimilation; reverse racism will not exist.
We need to continue to question our privilege in different domains and ask ourselves why we think the way we do. With the Black Lives Matter movement, educate yourselves, and critically analyze your thoughts and actions.