Posts Tagged With: bias

White Fragility: How to spot it and what to do about it

White fragility includes fragility of all privileged individuals. Onset fragility is experienced when privilege is threatened or taken away, and we see symptoms of fragility appearing in cis-gendered, male, straight, able-bodied people because “white” (tracing the history of the term when applied to people) merely means privilege.

Early onset fragility can be cured with critical thinking focused on social hierarchy. But acute fragility in adults might only be able to be treated. Sadly, we might only be able to make these people feel more comfortable.

Below, I will explain how to diagnosis fragility by analyzing recent statements concerning current events. These statements are symptoms of white fragility and not, as commonly assumed, misapplied logic or an inability to see reality.

White Fragility?

White fragility is the inability to deal with stress brought on when societal structures are understood to provide unearned privilege for certain individuals — individuals who thought their position in society was the product of “hard-work” or “clean living” — while other people suffer the blight of second class citizenship.

White people feel stress when they encounter the growing consensus that egalitarianism can be reached through the efforts of organized people. Actions such as taking down symbols that perpetuate harmful myths or striking down laws designed to discriminate against minorities can result in early onset fragility in white people.

The stress caused by events like these result in stress for white people because, as Dr. Robin Diangelo has pointed out, white people often mistake comfort for safety. A white person might feel uncomfortable in situations where they have to face their own socially constructed identities, but they will say they feel unsafe. They want a “safe environment” in which to explore notions of race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, class, and body diversity.

This really means they don’t want to discuss these things unless they are allowed to pontificate about them with others who share their own race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, class, and body type. They don’t want to encounter a different opinion or even a different set of facts from the ones they have internalized because doing so makes them feel unsafe.

Ironically enough, white people suffering white fragility are suffering less stress in their current encounter with, say, race than the people they complain about. Some people are forced to face their racial identity on a daily basis by partaking in actions as simple as turning on the TV. And this is usually not a pleasant experience because their racial identity is usually presented as inferior to the identity of the privileged. Ironically, white people are usually presented as heroic or dynamic people. So in most cases white people can escape stress by doing the thing that causes stress for others. White people can turn on the TV and not even think about it.

Because they are so often presented as heroes in popular media, whites are often driven to bust into ongoing conversations in a misguided attempt to fix things.

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Because white people mixup safety with comfort they will act as though their very lives are at stake when they see a loss in unearned privilege. You might hear them apply war terminology to the discussion with phrases like “War on Christians/Christmas” or “Social Justice Warrior.”

Faced with the irony of this situation, you might be compelled to react in a manner something like this:

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Please don’t roll your eyes, doing so will only exacerbate the situation. The same goes for when they accuse the person or persons in the minority position of being “overly sensitive” or “whining.”

I know. I know.

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White people suffering from White Fragility will be better served if you simply help them relax. You can start by reminding them that there are still several things remaining in the world that they like.

What to do about White Fragility

Reminding them of things like Target Supercenters can relieve the imaginary stress they suffer from the thought of gaining very real advantages over real people because of imaginary identities that are largely constructed by people other than themselves merely so others can suffer indignity.

Target Supercenters are perfect because they can help remind them of so many others things — things like: $1 bargain bins, tiny shampoo, and designer towels. Help them imagine themselves strolling the aisles of a Target Supercenter, where everything they could ever want is neatly categorized and shelved.

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You would never find buffalo wings in the CD section next to the Greatest Hits of Genesis, would you? No. Not at Target. And there’s a Starbucks right there in the same store!!!

So, when you or someone you love suffers white fragility because of the rise of “special rights.” Don’t try to explain to them that special rights is a misguided understanding of what is going on because minorities simply want the same rights that everybody else says they were born with. Instead, help them chant:

There’s still Target. There’s still Target. There’s still Target. There still…

If things really get bad, help them lie back and think of Sam’s Club.

Whatever you do, don’t tell them about the coming socialist insurrection. If they feel this way about losing invisible privilege, there is no telling what will happen when they learn about the myth of the invisible hand of the market.

One final tip: if you are still having trouble understanding white fragility, it helps to think of Captain Hammer from Doctor Horrible’s Sing A-Long Blog. Remember when he was zapped and lost his powers of invulnerability, leaving him unable to do anything but  writhe in pain and whine and whimper?

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Yeah. It’s like that.

Having never had their safety put in jeopardy by forces beyond their control based on arbitrary placement of their sense-of-being along a social hierarchy that only serves to de-legitimize claims of victimhood in the first place, white people feel they are in real danger when they face the possibility that their advantage is imaginary.

White Fragility can be treated. But it will take collective action, and we are talking about people who think they are special, unique snowflakes so…

The best thing to offer is a knowing nod and a helping hand. They can get through this. And once they see only harm can be gained through social hierarchy, things will get better for everyone.

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Resistant Student

I need help. I have a student that will vocally resist the feminist Cracked articles I want to discuss in class for textual analysis next week. Lately he has been fist-bumping his friends when he attempts to undermine my introductions to class activities. This week we were trying to see what economic class analysis can bring to textual analysis–he was very vocal, I was flustered and incoherent (resulting from over-correcting my punk tendency to shut him down)–needless to say, I don’t want that to happen again.

But, I also don’t know what to do. I don’t want to dump the unit because I think it is important and I worked hard planning it, and I don’t want to alienate the student or allow him to shut down others that might have something to add to the discussion. And I really don’t want to argue against him as though I am the only voice for equal-rights in the universe–I don’t want that responsibility. And to be honest I don’t feel like my passion for this political angle in rhetoric and composition does me in favors in the classroom. It helps my research, but I think it hinders me in the classroom because I know how to respond to attempts to undermine political theory, but then the ‘class’ becomes two dudes debating (very problematic when discussing feminism), and everyone else shuts down.

His favorite thing to do is call anything he disagrees with bias. I have tried to make students think more carefully about what they mean by that word because most just mean “thesis” when they say “bias.” It is not working with him. How do I get him to see that feminism is a response to systemic bias and not merely the favoring of women over men or an attempt to bash men or make him feel bad for being a man? More importantly, how do I turn his attempt to undermine the theory into a proper class discussion that everyone can participate in?

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