White Fragility Themes

The main themes in White Fragility are individualism and objectivity, racism and morality, white solidarity and silence, and white discomfort.

  • Individualism and objectivity: The notions of individualism and objectivity both allow white people to maintain self-images that are not “racialized.”
  • Racism and morality: A false “good/bad binary” allows white people to assume that only fully “bad” people commit racist acts.
  • White solidarity and silence: Silence among white people about racial issues allows them to maintain the status quo and white supremacy.
  • White discomfort: Talking about racism can be difficult for white people, but active anti-racist work is crucial.

Themes

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Last Updated on July 30, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 999

Individualism and Objectivity

According to DiAngelo, two key aspects that form the basis of white fragility are the beliefs in individualism and objectivity. Both of these beliefs are often held by white people as a result of their lack of “racialized self-image.” Unlike Black people and other people of color, white people are not accustomed to seeing themselves in the context of race, as whiteness has been made to seem “unremarkable.” Due to this, many believe that individualism (being unique) and objectivity (being free of bias) are possible.

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Throughout the book, DiAngelo argues that the opposite is true: all people are socialized in a culture of white supremacy and relentlessly exposed to racial stereotypes. As a result, no one can claim that they are “color-blind” or “were raised to treat everyone the same.” The author makes clear that these claims, however well-intentioned, demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of racial prejudice (which everybody has) and attempt to absolve white people from racial responsibility.

Toward the end of the book, DiAngelo explains that it is more helpful to realize that people can be neither objective nor individual when it comes to race. Everyone, in fact, is on a lifelong journey of improvement. By thinking of herself on a “continuum,” DiAngelo is able to approach challenges to her racial views with humility and openness, rather than pretending that she is not constantly shaped by race.

Racism and Morality

The most obvious discussion of morality in White Fragility is the exploration of the good/bad binary. DiAngelo explains that this false dichotomy of good/not racist versus bad/racist ignores the realities of socialization and unconscious bias. In doing so, it is “the most effective adaptation of racism in recent history.” This mentality is shown to be why white people find themselves “on the defensive” in conversations about race, rather than engaging with inner reflection. The belief that racism can only take the form of isolated, intentional, and extreme acts of prejudice dismisses the very real harm done at a less extreme and often unconscious level. By removing the “morality” aspect of racial engagement, DiAngelo attempts to empower people to feel comfortable with their imperfections and actively try to work on them, rather than becoming afraid and shutting down the conversation.

Throughout the book, DiAngelo tries to emphasize that “white fragility” and the behaviors associated with it are not harmless or benign. Rather, the discomfort and distress of white people can pose real dangers to people of color—and have done so many times throughout history. For example, when discussing white women’s tears, DiAngelo makes reference to the murder of Emmett Till and points out that white people (and specifically white women) “bring those histories with them” when engaging in cross-racial discourse. The historic murders of Black men as a direct result of white female distress cannot be separated from the reactions of white women today, and what those situations feel like or signify for Black men and other men...

(The entire section contains 999 words.)

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