Transforming White Fragility Into Courageous Imperfection

Friday, June 26, 2015 - 7:18am
Photo by Win McNamee

Transforming White Fragility Into Courageous Imperfection

We were gathered around two round tables, covered in bright yellow and white gingham table cloths, picking at the remnants of our Saturday evening potluck, and talking about what it means to be white in America at this time of such horrific, racialized violence and such powerful uprising. People shared stories about their frayed familial roots, expressed anger and grief and confusion about how to act (especially locally), and yearned, together, for this moment to be one that our children might look back on and say, “That was when white people finally, really took a stand.”

Naïve? Perhaps, but it somehow feels like the only appropriate response to something as horrific as the shootings at the Emanuel AME Church last week in Charleston. Coupled with rigorous self-examination and strategy, we must be bold enough to aim for historic and incontrovertible change. We must cling to urgency. We must not settle for another breaking news moment that falls off of our radars and into the black holes of our white consciousness.

Black people, people of color in general, don’t have the luxury of forgetting, especially as long as white people, particularly the “good ones,” remain so fragile.

“White fragility” — it’s a term I had never heard before Saturday night. A friend uttered it in reference to how so many white people respond when challenged about racism, and I felt like someone had turned the lights on. It was one of those moments when you hear language that wraps around something you’ve experienced or witnessed, but found impossible to describe. What clarity. What relief.

White fragility is, at its essence, gut level pushback. It’s like the fight or flight response of white people who want to believe that they, and the world by extension, are less racially divisive than they really are. It’s when you feel like the wind has been knocked out of you when a person of color points out that something you’ve said seems rooted in a privileged experience of the world. It’s when you desperately want to defend why a well-intentioned institution that you’re a part of isn’t really racist. It’s when you evade talking about certain parts of who you are for fear that it will make you vulnerable for critique from people of color.

Ernest Branch (L) hugs a man carrying a Confederate flag (who didn't want to provide his name) saying that he respects the fact the guy likes the flag but that he is against the flag flying on the Capitol grounds in Columbia, South Carolina.

(Joe Raedle / Getty Images.)

Dr. Robin DiAngelo has done work for many decades helping people understand how to think, talk, and act on issues of race and privilege. She writes:

"It became clear over time that white people have extremely low thresholds for enduring any discomfort associated with challenges to our racial worldviews. We can manage the first round of challenge by ending the discussion through platitudes — usually something that starts with 'People just need to,' or 'Race doesn’t really have any meaning to me,' or 'Everybody’s racist.' Scratch any further on that surface, however, and we fall apart."

Where does this come from? You would imagine that white people would be stronger, not weaker, that they would be emboldened to take in new viewpoints from their position of privilege. But we are deathly afraid, even if unconsciously, of falling off the pedestal. Progressives who align with anti-racist organizing want to prove that we are the “good ones.” Our fragility is born of our desperation to be seen as morally flawless in the eyes of people of color and other white progressives. We reject white supremacy, and yet, we are emotionally invested in a variant of white purity — somehow believing that we can transcend the very system that has given us our privilege, the very system we purport to want to fight against.

I’m grateful for a framing that helps me understand my own fragility. Experimenting with how I use the power that comes from my privilege is a messy process. Sometimes I feel like I manage to do something really useful in the world, whether its recommending a brilliant person of color to speak at a conference and working with them to hone their transformative message for a broad audience or saying I won’t speak on a panel that I’ve been invited to because there isn’t a person of color on it. Interestingly, white fragility often shows up as talking a lot, a kind of flood of effortful explaining, or the equivalent of a peacock’s display of anti-racist sentiment — posting on social media with great fanfare or calling out other white people with a sort of zeal.

People of Madison, Wisconsin hold a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Charleston church shooting.

(Light Brigading / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).)

Sometimes I feel like my good intentions don’t lead to great results. I recommend that person of color and then end up feeling like they have a tokenizing experience that further isolates them and their brilliant ideas. In these moments, I sometimes feel the fragile part of me rear up. I swear off these kinds of efforts, both because it wasn’t a positive experience for the person I recommended, but also because I don’t want to risk feeling like I’ve messed up. When fragile, I don’t trust the resilience of my relationships or the power of speaking plainly about the failures and moving on. I have been revealed to be imperfect within a system that I am all too happy to point out is imperfect. I have been revealed as part of the mess of traumatized, grasping, healing humanity.

It can be subtle stuff, I admit, and yet I’m convinced it’s related to the anything-but-subtle violence in places like Charleston, like Cleveland, like George County. If white people want to belong to the beloved community, if we want to be part of the tide that is turning thanks to people of color-led movements like #BlackLivesMatter, then we have to show up as bold and genuine and imperfect. We have to be weary of our fragility. We have to be intolerant of our own forgetfulness.

If it feels difficult, and it does to me, you’re probably on the right track. Dismantling centuries of dehumanizing institutions and practices — both in the world and within ourselves — can’t be a simple process. The good news is that transforming your fragility into courageous imperfection is the beginning of a lot more joy. It’s the beginning of a lot more connection. It’s the beginning of the end of racism.

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Courtney E. Martin

is a columnist for On Being. Her column appears every Friday.

Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, explores how people are redefining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at

Courtney has authored/edited five books, including Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women. Her work appears frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Courtney has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and The O’Reilly Factor, and speaks widely at conferences and colleges. She is the recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and a residency from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre. She lives with her partner in life and work, John Cary, in Oakland, and their daughters Maya and Stella. Read more about her work at

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Beautiful exploration of a topic very difficult to put into words. Thank you.

I read every word. As a white man, living in Mississippi, I agree that we cannot go on with business as usual. The conversation must begin NOW! Thank you for your words of insight; however, I would like to continue the conversation with you about "dismantling centuries of dehumanizing institutions and practices." Can you be specific? Also, is it all about dismantling? Could it not ALSO be about improving and/or providing access where access has been denied in the past? Could it not be both? I look forward to hearing your thoughts as we continue this conversation. :-)

The following are examples of the centuries of dehumanizing institutions and practices:
-Jim Crow
-the war on drugs
-the prison industrial complex
-systematic racism that is found everywhere: our vocabulary, our educational institutions, our business practices, respectability politics, pretty much everything in all honesty. Just google these and I'm sure you'll find a lot of wonderful reading material.

Dismantling is a must because our justice system is built on a foundation of white supremacy. It is made to work against those who do not fit into the narrow definition of whiteness. The whitewashing of the American experience is a detriment to everyone--everyone does not experience America in the same way us White folks do--until we begin to acknowledge the different but still very true and authentic experiences of POC, we will not have progress.

i never miss reading Courtney, Parker, or Omid. I find they almost always give me something profound to ponder. I feel fragile, Courtney!

Thanks to the author and the publisher. This is a wonderful expression of what I have tried to say, but far more awkwardly.

Growing up, I never thought about racism. I was always taught to be polite to people of all colors and especially to never use the N word. It was only recently, when someone whom I love dearly accused me of being racist, that I stopped to think about it. Much to my disgusting surprise, I realized I am...not like the gun toting, white sheeted, flag carrying steriotypical person one sees on national TV, but a more subtle, ignorant and maybe ostrich-like racist. I've lived my life selfishly, not thinking or caring about racism.
However, in the past year or so, something didn't "feel right" and I have been doing a lot of soul searching and praying. I have been so stupid (my definition of knowing better but doing or allowing it anyway)! I am ashamed of myself and of how I, as well as other well meaning Southerners, have been sitting around, complacently allowing the world around us to fall apart and not care or get involved..."It's THEIR problem, not mine!" This IS OUR problem and everyone else,too. Jesus taught us to love one another not love only the people of your color. And, by the way, Jesus was from the Middle East, so chances are, He was of a darker color, so think about it!!!

Kathy,thanks. Great input. I am black and my friends are all white. I was raised in the south. My mother and dad were great parents and never discussed the issue of race differences. Thanks to them. I remember at age14, my momwas preparing dinner,she said these words; "know who you are and let no one defineor tell you,who you are. If you do, I will kick your behind." Ihad no clue why she spoke those words. I thought she was a coconut. Today, I get it,those words are rich to my ears and apart of my life. It is this,I refuse to allow social designator become apart of my identity. I love who I am. My identity was ascribed by God and nothing can change that. You are right, this is our problem and we must create change within ourselves and break the barrier of negative stereotypes.

Thank You!

The ego doesn't want the facade lifted to expose the workings behind it. And specific issues must be faced to challenge the ego's tenacity to maintain the status quo. The "everybody's racist" rationalization quoted from Robin DiAngelo is probably true in some measure, but it's an attitude that wants to normalize racism to prevent having to act to change it. This is a moment of opportunity for major change because we have a fundamental human failing that manifests itself in ways involving tribalism, resistance to change, longing to preserve a cherished image of ourselves, and evaluations of who's deserving. What these elements have in common is a desire to keep things the way they are, and a lack of initiative to push human consciousness and ethical functioning to a new level. It's also a moment of opportunity because it involves critically important issues, of respecting the Other, and of learning to work through a particular barrier to growth to advance a universal process of growth. The particular, specific, concrete problem is absolutely necessary to the process. And, it needs individual people with new and determined attitudes. I'll work on my own fragility.

I am thankful for Courtney's writing on white fragility. It is useful to have a word or phrase to frame a concept, or in this case, a mixed up bag of emotion and fear.
I believe that one contributing fear comes out of our collective past.
By and large, immigrants to this continent, or any immigrants, for that matter, are not the wealthy nor the comfortable. It is hard work and much is forever lost and left behind.
My name, both family and given, belies my Scotch and Irish ancestry. Answers are vague at best when children of the family ask why we are not still on those lands. Religion, persecution, land & death are ghosts behind those less than satisfactory tales.
When the questions are closer to home, the ghosts are given names like the Hatfields and the McCoys, to explain why the families left the mountains of West Virginia for the mountains of Eastern Oregon.
Most immigrant families have ghosts of persecution past that are the source of fear. These fears of oppression and insecurity, I believe, lie behind the fragility that Courtney describes.
My hope is that I may recognize the source of my fear. I have no desire to give them to others.

"We reject white supremacy, and yet, we are emotionally invested in a variant of white purity — somehow believing that we can transcend the very system that has given us our privilege, the very system we purport to want to fight against." Thank you for this article. The sentence above stood out for me. I know so little about how racist I am and how racist the progressive society I move in actually is. But now I want to know, and I'm old enough to not care much about how uncomfortable I get and how uncomfortable I may make other white folks with what I say. It is time for the white folk to sit at the feet of the wise elders of color and learn from them.

Good insight into the problem for whites is given here, and it's up to us whites to figure out how it can be put into improved pracdtice.

This is excellent. Thank you for making such a cogent and clear contribution to the discussion. It provides a useful frame for each type of privilege as well, i.e. class, gender, etc. In fact, it would be very interesting to look at how privilege and fragility correlate. I know that, as a biracial male, it's been a complex effort to resolve my experiences on various sides of oppression, dealing with not only with white fragility, but with my own as an upper middle-class man. I suspect that the more power and privilege one enjoys, the more fragile one may be with regards to that particular dynamic.

Here's what I struggle with-as a white woman who was raised in a fairly white part of the country I know very few black people. My best friend from childhood is biracial, and my mother did her best to bring us up with exposure to many cultures and explore our own racial diversity, but still where I live is just plain segregated and lacking diversity of colors and cultures. I desperately want to connect and talk with people of color about their experiences, about what it feels and looks like for them living in this same environment, but I was brought up to be "color blind" and I'm actually terrified of acknowledging that someone else may have a different experience from me. I don't want to offend or assume that they are different, but it also seems that the word on the street is that we can't pretend like everything is equal. So, how do I start the conversation?

Good question. Definitely need help there. Thanks for asking. :)

One place we can start is to look at our whiteness. I too was raised "color-blind". By seeing our whiteness, we will start to see all the intersections where other peoples' experience is different because of it. That awareness will inform you of all the ways privilege and institutional mechanisms of racism work to oppress each of us in different ways. In awareness, asking ourselves, "In what way can I be different now that I know_____________""How would it be if I___________?" we can start to shift our thinking and model that for those around us too.

Part 2 of this is to be willing to go THROUGH fear and pain in confronting our perceived deficiencies. Because that is what it takes but joy will be there too, as we grow. Inclusion is expansive. And for me, I've needed lots of patience with myself. It is very frustrating to root out a new aspect of one's racism/other -ism when something is so ugly, one just wants to be "done". It's insidious and this is why it's paramount we start where we are right now to address and dismantle it.

Amen sister!

Our fragility is fear-based. Deep in our selves, we know what slavery was, what Jim Crow was. We KNOW how profoundly wrong our people have been. If we acknowledge it, as we must, fear arises -- what does that mean? What are the next steps? How do we atone? Is there a process? Fear of the unknown is overwhelming. White people need to create a process of atonement, a way of acknowledging, that is compassionate and full-hearted and just. We don't know what that looks like. White leaders need to show us a way forward that is somehow both gentle and just.

Thank you Courtney for a really eloquent use of my work. Warmly, Robin

I like your "transforming your fragility into courageous imperfection"! However, I must admit I am still troubled by the way "white privilege" is bantered around. As someone who grew up in a working class neighborhood of Eastern European immigrants, I watched my grandparents "prove" their whiteness by giving up their language and culture. I understand the "privilege" gained by "passing" is not possible for people of color, but I sometimes feel as I imagine poor and black women felt in the feminist movement . . . middle class whites want ALL whites to support their way of dealing with racism. The experience of the white poor and working class is not the same experience as middle class whites, and while our skin color does give us privilege, we have little access to the privilege that aids in navigating getting into the "right" college, or the job market. Do we need to create the equivalent of "womanism" for discussions on privilege? In "Class Matters" bell hooks writes of the common experience in college she shared with the white daughters of recent immigrants. It is not that I feel "fragile", but more that I don't recognize the "white person" described by Frances Kendall in "Understanding White Privilege". I find it easier to connect with bell hooks who recognizes that someone like me is as bewildered as she was when introduced into white middle class culture!

Hi Linda- your writing made me think of this article I had seen awhile ago:

Thank you for this. Thank you for your courage and your willingness to be vulnerable. It's hard, I know, but hopefully we can begin to affect change. Please let me know how I can support you and lend my inadequate voice to your cause.

I didn't think that after many years of adopting the idea of the black people as equal in rights with whites we will face the problem again. Indeed this question is still open and it needs to be resolved.

I recently met an African-American man in Madison, Wisconsin and he said they had monthly meetings where everyone was encouraged to ask any kind of question they wanted to. You know, 'Why do white / black / hispanic" people do this or that?' It wasn't perfect but it allowed for some basic discussion where fear was dispersed. Has anyone heard about this or how someone would go about setting this up? Thanks for the read.

I live in Alabama, and while I have friends of many cultures and backgrounds, none are here, and I would love to have something similar to this where I am. I'd love info on this as well. It's a tough place to have this conversation, but it needs to be done.

white fragility

Good essay. We are going to use it for discussion in our first Anti-Racism Working Group for White People, meeting for the first time next week. Many people are newly interested in grappling with how racism is embedded in our culture and institutions. Not only do we lack knowledge about the impact of racism on people of color. We do not understand the conditioning that inhibits identification and empathy with them, and how to change that. I would ask us to understand the nature of what is being called "fragility". I think it is related to our sense of identity, belonging, power, our understanding of how the world works, and our stable place in it. I think the discomfort has to do with uncertainty caused by a shift in orientation. I think this phenomenon is similar not only for any member of a privileged section of society (adults v. children, male v. female, etc.) when they have the shock of perceiving from the other's point of view. (similar to Gene Shin reply) But also those entering an unfamiliar culture with a different language--unless the privilege of their position enables them to surround themselves with those who negotiate the unfamiliar as a buffer for them. The fear of offending, missteps, imperfection, is part of recovering from a driven, demanding, competitive system, exacerbated by the past 30 years of rigging the system to create economic instability. So while we are becoming more sensitive, we also learn to understand and change ourselves with compassion. Developing genuine relationships with other whites seeking change as well as people of color is key.

"we must be bold enough to aim for historic and incontrovertible change." Let that be our North Star to steer by, Our feelings, habits and conditioning we can learn to unpack, and to make new choices. If we aren't willing to be in charge of our internal reality, we have no hope of acting with agency on the external realities. Gene Shin said rightly the fragility is common for all people in privileged positions that involve separating people for oppression. I would say also people finding themselves in any situation--like a foreign culture that requires new perspective and behaviors that impact identity, meaning, power. The important thing is focus on changes to the system--stop the killings, make the case and build majorities that result in justice. We are not fragile--it's the conditioning to which we have been habituated--the internalized structure of our role in oppression that's fragile. Be brave enough to re-focus identity and agency based on our diverse human community. We feel more, including the shame and feelings of being wrong that have held us in place so long--a sample of what has been imposed on people of color as a group for centuries. Own it, find other whites to share with; use the released energy to change our lives, institutions, laws, culture.

I also want to continue this conversation - and am looking for the places to do that.
There must be people in other countries watching us and thinking how naïve we are.
I agree with other commenters that Courtney found and blessedly shared a constellation of words to help describe that oh so unprepared feeling - unprepared for being relevant to the young people in our nation who see what a botch we've made of all of this. It is only the most important conversation there can be; unprepared because we are just who we are...these are words that encourage me to keep looking for my white, single, female, middle class, hard working entry point. Courtney, please keep talking and help us find places and ways to share what we know in our hearts.

"Sometimes I feel like I manage to do something really useful in the world, whether its recommending a brilliant person of color to speak at a conference and working with them to hone their transformative message for a broad audience..." Why is it better that the brilliant person be of color?

"...or saying I won’t speak on a panel that I’ve been invited to because there isn’t a person of color on it." If what you have to say needs to be said what difference does it make if no one of color is on the panel? Perhaps that's the very audience you should be talking to.

I am white and therefore privileged. I am from the south and therefore carry the sin of slavery, or rather I should say, the sin of fighting for it's preservation.

I grew up in the south, and am of an age to have seen segregation change to desegregation. I have seen many other forms of institutional racism fall away, and I am wondering as I read this an many articles like it, how will we know when racism is no longer? Who gets to say? I say I am not a racist, you say I am. How do I prove I am not? You would say that my denial proves that I am. So there is no room for forgiveness, no opportunity to change. I can only be a recovering racist counting the days since my last offense, which by the way I may not even be aware of.
Some will say that clock just got reset.


I understand your questions, because I've had them myself when I was first introduced to the idea that our entire society was built on white supremacy. It was a shock to my system. It still is sometimes. But I can see the truth in it as I learn more about the actual history of our country, rather than relying on the very sanitized version that was taught in the schools I attended as a child.

Courtney Martin wrote: "Sometimes I feel like I manage to do something really useful in the world, whether its recommending a brilliant person of color to speak at a conference and working with them to hone their transformative message for a broad audience..."

You asked: "Why is it better that the brilliant person be of color?"

My thoughts: Only because historically and to this day, the voices of people of color have been ignored and marginalized. Sociological studies of unconscious and/or subconscious biases show that without even knowing it we raise up the voices of white and male humans in our society-- they carry more weight. So, the idea is to combat this tendency by consciously choosing to raise up the voices of those that have been marginalized. It's not that we should ignore the brilliant voices of those who are male or white, just that we should be aware of an unconscious tendency to elevate them higher than the rest and make a conscious effort to elevate those who have been and are still being ignored. If we make the mistake of ignoring brilliant voices of people of color, we impoverish our own knowledge base, in my humble opinion.

Courtney Martin wrote: "...or saying I won’t speak on a panel that I’ve been invited to because there isn’t a person of color on it."

You asked: "If what you have to say needs to be said what difference does it make if no one of color is on the panel? Perhaps that's the very audience you should be talking to."

My thoughts: I don't know if this forum will allow me to post a link, but if you google "Jon Stewart, Jessica Williams, Jordan Klepper Cosplay" or "Daily Show Cosplay" you can see a skit of just how this phenomenon works. It's about how when a woman of color says a thing that is true in her experience and true about society, the white man next to her writes her off as angry or whiny or some other derogatory thing or just plain ignores her, but when another white man says the very same thing, he suddenly and magically agrees and falls into line. It not that we shouldn't say the things that need to be said, it's just that it would be better for all of us if we could learn to hear those things when they are said by the persons who are most affected by them. It's about learning to listen to the voices of the marginalized and learning to believe them about their own experiences-- insisting that society let them speak for themselves, not needing a white or male translator to speak for them before we listen.

You wrote: "I grew up in the south, and am of an age to have seen segregation change to desegregation. I have seen many other forms of institutional racism fall away, and I am wondering as I read this and many articles like it, how will we know when racism is no longer? Who gets to say? I say I am not a racist, you say I am. How do I prove I am not? You would say that my denial proves that I am. So there is no room for forgiveness, no opportunity to change. I can only be a recovering racist counting the days since my last offense, which by the way I may not even be aware of.
Some will say that clock just got reset."

My thoughts: I have so much compassion for these words of yours. I often wonder how we can call each other in, rather than calling each other out. In my mind we ARE all one. I don't think we need to prove we are not racist. I think we need to do our best to listen to the experiences of those who have experienced racism or sexism or other -isms directed at them. We will know that racism is no longer when the people who have been experiencing it say that they are no longer experiencing it. If someone else calls you racist or says that you did a thing that is racist, why not consider the action and ask what you could do differently next time? There is always room for change. The fact that you read this article and asked your questions means, to me, that change is happening within you. Maybe not needing to prove that you are "good" or "not racist" is part of the transformation. Maybe not needing to be perfect is part of the process. I think this article is about having the courage to go to the uncomfortable places, being willing to try a new thing, a new way of being, a new way of understanding the world. When learning to walk, we all fell down a zillion times, but we got back up and tried again. Rather than count the days since our last offense, why not celebrate that we are still trying? But we also didn't need someone else to cheer our efforts each time we got up again... we did it because we were driven to learn to walk. Also, we did need some nurturing -- children who are not nurtured at all become listless... so finding a supportive community of people who are trying to learn this new way of being.... that could be a great way to stay motivated and not become listless.

I've been listless, confused, hurt, frustrated, disillusioned, and inspired since I was first introduced to the idea of institutional white supremacy and racism.... I resisted the idea that I had been given any unfair or unearned advantages based on my skin color. I was upset by stereotypes of white people. I pushed back... no one likes to be reduced to a stereotype. And if I'm not supposed to do it, why should I put up with someone else doing it to me? My answer is still evolving.... I think, the greatest lesson I learn from seeing how white people are stereotyped is that visceral discomfort and my own knee-jerk reaction, "but not ALL white people!" and the anger at not being able to escape the stereotype that someone has laid on me in that moment. Reflecting -- how must it feel to be born with a skin color that has long been more virulently and viciously stereotyped that mine? That is a powerful lesson to take away. It reinforces my commitment not to assume I know anything about anyone based on how they look, how they dress, or where they are from.

Let's don't insist on perfection from ourselves. Let's insist on willingness to grow and learn and collaborate in making this whole world a more egalitarian place.

I bow to your courage in posting your questions and contributing to this conversation. I know it takes courage. I bow to your willingness to learn and grow.

~ Dawn

And I bow to you Dawn, for such grace to be able to both respond in truth and value to all of David's questions, and also to present your own positions in such clarity and steadfastness. This concept of NOT needing to be "perfect", but to accept the status of courageous growing and learning is itself enormously supportive. How curious -- a deliberately non-fixed definition IS indeed a firm, solid basis on which to stand and move forward.

I am motivated to do anything possible to vitiate racism; my problem is that I don't know where my mistakes are in my implementation. All I know to do is to keep on trying, and correcting myself when I am corrected. The effects of privilege are too subtle to know what they are when one had been encapsulated in privilege.

I have to say this article is shameful. You talk about doing good by inviting a person of color to speak on a panel for helping them home their message etc. Why do you look at their color in the first place? I'm white and I honestly don't care versus color because I have seen good and bad in all the colors we come in.

I don't know what privilege you're talking about either. I'm white and I feel I have no more privilege and a pack men my age who has endured the same struggles and challenges that I have. Let me ask you this: two black men both come from the same neighborhood same environment one succeeds in business and the other succeeds in a legal business and the other chooses a life of crime. Why does one seem to succeed and achieve the American dream while the other does not? Is one more privileged than the other? If they both come from the same environment and they're both black, white privilege does one hold over the other?

White privilege is nothing more than an excuse for lazy people to keep on being lazy. That goes for whites blacks Hispanics – you name it. Lazy is lazy no matter what color the person is.

You know, I have two brothers both older and both of which came from the very same background that I did. One is an alcoholic and the other one is a drug dealer. I sue the life as a firefighter, helping people in leading are you going to play my success on my privilege? No, it's not about privilege it's about self direction. It's about making the decision to be better than your circumstances around you would normally allow. It's a matter about can yourself up, doing the right thing in doing the thing that most people around you will not do. That is what leads to success

As you talk about white privilege you do nothing but make people feel bad about themselves and make them question themselves.

Is it so wrong for a white person to want to be a better person than their ancestors or other whites before them? Why do you want to defecate all over that good intention? If more people did that then maybe we wouldn't have people like yourself casting blame and accusations in making us feel bad about trying to be better people .

And the people of color who become indignant when we do try to do that or the very same people usually who say they want reparations and because their grandfather's grandfather was a slave that they are entitled to more respect. These are the same people make excuses for why they are not in a better place then perhaps they could be if they had worked a little harder. Everything I've written here will fall on deaf ears, I know. I write this full well knowing how futile it is, but I hope those cause you to think about the silliness of your idea.

White privilege isn't what you think it is. It is the fact that you can go to any store and not be immediately looked at with suspicion because of what you look like. It is having your application considered first because your name is Brian and not Javon. It is not having a woman clutch her purse when you pass her on the street. It is having someone listen to your ideas without someone assuming you are on welfare. It is the ability to hang out in a public place without authorities suspicious of alterior motives. No one doubts you have worked hard to become accomplished. Acknowledging that these things happen to people of color every day in no way diminishes the struggles you have had to go through to accomplish your goals. I don't know why talking about these things should cause you to feel bad about yourself. People should question themselves in order to learn and grow and become better versions of ourselves.

Thank you for this article. I've been wrestling with this issue for a while as a white guy who was originally skeptical but has been generally persuaded.

I absolutely agree with the premise that white people in America often have a hard time talking about their own race and racial privilege. But if we want to get white America to respond positively to criticism and deconstruct its own privilege, we might first convince the majority to at least acknowledge that racial disparities exist in our social institutions.

Labels like "white privilege" and "white fragility" are inflammatory to a population that feels like it is being assaulted for something it was born into: its whiteness.

I'm not sure it's wise to imply that the facts of social justice and injustice are the consequence of racial deficiencies in white people. Rhetoric of this particular caliber is useful for people already aligned with the cause, but inhospitable to skeptics. It will probably cause unnecessary kickback and resistance from people who already know, deep down, that they really do get nicer treatment from policemen, businesses, and banks because they are the color of privilege.

Thank you Courtney and On Being for finally entering into the conversation on race (John Powell included). I am a faithful listener but also have woven into my spirituality the necessity to cultivate an awareness of my own racism and racism around me for years now, being a white blue blood southerner encountering the spiritual freedom of the less racist DC environment now for 2 decades. At any rate - I read the White Fragility article and commented on it at the time of its release. Today in response to your article, I am thinking about the book Racecraft by Fields and Jennings' article on Racial Faith - the Fields book calls into question the "magic" around even using the term "white and black" that sustains the inequality and feelings of superiority and inferiority of slave and master. In response to that book, our race table decided we would try thinking of ourselves and not truly white or black.....the second article, Jennings, brings up the point that being white is NOT a race, ethnicity, nationality but an "accomplishment" - a symbol of getting to a place of having privilege - whether born into it or working to pass into it with money and education - and beyond that whiteness has not reality, no root. Jennings might be a good guest to have? Check out his article -

Thank you again. If you are in the DC are on Tuesdays, we have the race table at 1:30 at the Potter's House on 1658 Columbia Road NW. Check out the homepage link for more details.

Just more pandering to the "grievance industry".

June 18, 2015

When asked where I’m from
I used to answer,
“Lexington, SC,”
until today
when I looked down,
cheeks burning,
stomach in turmoil,
and struggled to find
the words to reply.
The name of the place
where I played with friends,
went to school,
grew up
has now become associated with
the alleged shooter
of nine people
who gathered
on June 17, 2015
at Emanuel A.M.E. Church
on Calhoun Street
in Charleston, South Carolina.
Nine people
because they were Black,
because they were there
in an historic church
once burned to the ground
then rebuilt.
A church—
stark white outside—
and love
and forgiveness
all who enter.

I'm white. Part of the White Flight of the 50s in Chicago.

Reparation. Now! Long over due. What are we waiting for? Don't we know what we were guilty of? And still are?

I'm currently living in NC - the South. But I'm not OF the South - I'm a PNW person regularly amazed and appalled by the South. I've read a lot in the wake of Charleston, and some of the local issues here in DurhamNC. One of the very best and thoughtful pieces which I recommend highly is
The reason I really liked this article is the way he identifies the hidden topic no one must discuss - the violent racist past. It resonates with me as a social justice activist. I do phonecalling for a local nonpartisan group, Democracy NC. We've been calling folks with a simple survey that tests their political stance, and it is simply amazing to me the verbal acrobatics that people go through not to identify racist acts.

the first photo of the article scares me ...

Annie Parsons's picture

Perhaps knowing the context of the image would help. You can read about it here:

Though I do think we need to be "courageous" (as the title of this article says) to own our fragility and imperfections, I don't know how helpful it is to talk about our own bravery. The fact is, our friends of color have to be braver, in more ways, all the time.

The entire premise of the DiAngelo's "white fragility" theory is racist because it attempts to apply a condition upon an entire group of people based on skin color. That is the most fundamental definition of racism. Not all white people are the same just as all people of any ethnicity are not all the same and do not experience any condition "en masse". Thus, to claim to not be a racist yet believe the premise of "white fragility" as a condition of all white people, is to practice a double standard and indeed be a racist,

In the sixties I had a black friend, I am white, we were both young mothers. We decided to invite each other to our own respective churches, of course, white and black. She said after her visit-my church didn't have enough soul. When I visited her church I was met with as much shock as she received from my church, but oh, the delicious food at the after-church potluck! Racism exists and lurks without overt awareness. Friendship, one person at a time, can end racism.