A Sociologist Examines the “White Fragility” That Prevents White Americans from Confronting Racism

Robin DiAngelo has noticed that white people are sensationally, histrionically bad at discussing racism.

.. their reactions form predictable patterns: they will insist that they “were taught to treat everyone the same,” that they are “color-blind,” that they “don’t care if you are pink, purple, or polka-dotted.” They will point to friends and family members of color, a history of civil-rights activism, or a more “salient” issue, such as class or gender. They will shout and bluster. They will cry.

.. In 2011, DiAngelo coined the term “white fragility” to describe the disbelieving defensiveness ..  particularly when they feel implicated in white supremacy.

.. Why, she wondered, did her feedback prompt such resistance, as if the mention of racism were more offensive than the fact or practice of it?

.. In a new book, “White Fragility,” DiAngelo attempts to explicate the phenomenon of white people’s paper-thin skin. She argues that our largely segregated society is set up to insulate whites from racial discomfort, so that they fall to pieces at the first application of stress—such as, for instance, when someone suggests that “flesh-toned” may not be an appropriate name for a beige crayon.

.. racial hierarchies tell white people that they are entitled to peace and deference

..  they lack the “racial stamina” to engage in difficult conversations. This leads them to respond to “racial triggers” .. “emotions such as anger, fear and guilt,” DiAngelo writes, “and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and withdrawal from the stress-inducing situation.”

.. “I have found that the only way to give feedback without triggering white fragility is not to give it at all,” she remarks wryly

.. She finds that the social costs for a black person in awakening the sleeping dragon of white fragility often prove so high that many black people don’t risk pointing out discrimination when they see it.

.. And the expectation of “white solidarity”—white people will forbear from correcting each other’s racial missteps, to preserve the peace—makes genuine allyship elusive. White fragility holds racism in place.

.. “I believe,” she writes, “that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color.” Not only do these people fail to see their complicity, but they take a self-serving approach to ongoing anti-racism efforts: “To the degree that white progressives think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us as having arrived.”

.. white people cling to the notion of racial innocence, a form of weaponized denial that positions black people as the “havers” of race and the guardians of racial knowledge. Whiteness, on the other hand, scans as invisible, default, a form of racelessness. “Color blindness,” the argument that race shouldn’t matter, prevents us from grappling with how it does.

.. assumptions that prop up racist beliefs without our realizing it. Such ideologies include individualism, or the distinctly white-American dream that one writes one’s own destiny, and objectivity, the confidence that one can free oneself entirely from bias.

.. To be perceived as an individual, to not be associated with anything negative because of your skin color, she notes, is a privilege largely afforded to white people;

.. although most school shooters, domestic terrorists, and rapists in the United States are white, it is rare to see a white man on the street reduced to a stereotype.

..  DiAngelo draws heavily on the words of black writers and scholars—Ta-Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison, Ijeoma Oluo, Cheryl Harris

.. Like a mutating virus, racism shape-shifts in order to stay alive; when its explicit expression becomes taboo, it hides in coded language. Nor does prejudice disappear when people decide that they will no longer tolerate it. It just looks for ways to avoid detection.

.. “The most effective adaptation of racism over time,” DiAngelo claims, “is the idea that racism is conscious bias held by mean people.”

.. This “good/bad binary,” positing a world of evil racists and compassionate non-racists, is itself a racist construct, eliding systemic injustice and imbuing racism with such shattering moral meaning that white people, especially progressives, cannot bear to face their collusion in it.

.. DiAngelo belongs to the utilitarian school, which places less importance on attitudes than on the ways in which attitudes cause harm.

.. Unpacking the fantasy of black men as dangerous and violent, she does not simply fact-check it; she shows the myth’s usefulness to white people—to obscure the historical brutality against African-Americans, and to justify continued abuse.

.. “If your definition of a racist is someone who holds conscious dislike of people because of race, then I agree that it is offensive for me to suggest that you are racist when I don’t know you,”

.. “I also agree that if this is your definition of racism, and you are against racism, then you are not racist. Now breathe. I am not using this definition of racism, and I am not saying that you are immoral. If you can remain open as I lay out my argument, it should soon begin to make sense.”

.. DiAngelo sets aside a whole chapter for the self-indulgent tears of white women, so distraught at the country’s legacy of racist terrorism

.. The book is more diagnostic than solutions-oriented, and the guidelines it offers toward the end

.. For all the paranoid American theories of being “red-pilled,” of awakening into a many-tentacled liberal/feminist/Jewish conspiracy, the most corrosive force, the ectoplasm infusing itself invisibly through media and culture and politics, is white supremacy.

 

The Housewives of White Supremacy

“You might not like that women have the right to vote, you might not like that anyone has the right to vote,” Mr. Follin conceded, “but it’s about winning a long-term political victory.”

.. Over the past few years, dozens of YouTube and social media accounts have sprung up showcasing soft-spoken young white women who extol the virtues of staying at home, submitting to male leadership and bearing lots of children — being “traditional wives.” These accounts pepper their messages with scrapbook-style collections of 1950s advertising images showing glamorous mothers in lipstick and heels with happy families and beautiful, opulent homes

.. But running alongside what could be mistaken for a peculiar style of mommy-vlogging is a virulent strain of white nationalism. One such advocate who calls herself “Wife With a Purpose” made international headlines last year when she issued something she titled “the white baby challenge.” Citing falling white birthrates in the West, she urged her followers to procreate. “I’ve made six!” she wrote. “Match or beat me!”

.. These accounts veer dizzyingly from Cosmo-style tips on pleasing your husband to racist musings about “ghetto music” to, on some occasions, calls to reassert their vision of the white race. The seemingly anachronistic way they dress is no accident. The deliberately hyperfeminine aesthetics are constructed precisely to mask the authoritarianism of their ideology.

.. But it is, like any other mass movement, also driven by a sense of dissatisfaction with modern life. Tradwives help us understand the sources of that dissatisfaction by revealing points of overlap between red-lipsticked mothers of six and the men who complain of being “kissless virgins.”

.. A frustrated yearning for a mythic past of material abundance, at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult for young people to build careers and achieve financial security, is not gender-specific.

.. Young people face ever more obstacles, higher demands and continually dwindling returns in the form of work benefits, job security and pay. We shouldn’t underestimate how some young white women, when faced with this bleak economic landscape and then presented with a rosy image of 1950s domestic bliss, may look back to 1960s Friedan-era feminism as having cheated them out of a family and a luxurious lifestyle, all supported by a single income.

.. The men on the alt-right might point to diversity initiatives and mass immigration as having dismantled their career prospects; the women are furious that they have to consider career prospects at all.

..  Female fears of objectification and sexual violence remain as potent as ever; the tradwife subculture exploits them by blaming modernity for such phenomena, and then offers chastity, marriage and motherhood as an escape. As one such YouTube commentator, a teenager, told her audience, traditionalism does “what feminism is supposed to do” in preventing women from being made into “sexual objects” and treated “like a whore.”

.. At present, these shared dissatisfactions haven’t helped the alt-right recruit significant numbers of women because, quite simply, the men cannot keep their seething misogyny in check.

 

A Former Neo-Nazi Explains Why Hate Drew Him In — And How He Got Out

you write that people don’t get into these kinds of groups or other kinds of terrorist groups so much because of ideology, but out of a personal need for community, identity, some kind of fulfillment. You didn’t come from a broken or abusive home. Where do you think your need came from?

PICCIOLINI: I felt abandoned by my parents, not understanding at that age that my parents as immigrants had to work seven days a week, 14 hours a day to survive in a foreign country. And as a young person, I just wondered what I had done to push them away and why they weren’t there. And I went in search of a new family. But you’re right. I don’t believe that ideology nor dogma are what drive people to extremism. I believe it’s a broken search for three very fundamental human needs of identity, community and purpose.

.. It was really the driving beats and the edginess of – and the angst that I was able to release through the music that was very appealing to me. I had already been a part of the punk rock subculture so I was already searching for something to express my anger. And when I heard Skrewdriver, when I heard this music that was coming over from England at the time, it allowed me to be angry because the lyrics gave me license to do that. And I very effectively then used lyrics myself when I started one of America’s first white-power bands to both recruit young people, encourage them into acts of violence and speak to the vulnerabilities and the grievances that they were feeling so that I could draw them in with promises of paradise even through my lyrics.

DAVIES: But when you were getting into this and you were hearing that Jews and blacks and Mexicans were the enemy, I mean, to what extent did that square with any of your own experience or opinions?

PICCIOLINI: Well, it didn’t start that way. It started out with Clark and several of the older skinheads in this group appealing to my sense of pride of being European, of being Italian. And then it would move on to instilling fear that I would lose that pride and that somebody would take that away from me if I wasn’t careful. And then it went on to name specific groups through conspiracy theories that were bent on taking that pride or that privilege away from me. So it was the fear rhetoric.

.. But I can tell you that every single person that I recruited or that was recruited around the same time that I did up to now, up to what we’re seeing today, is recruited through vulnerabilities and not through ideology.

.. There were disparate groups all around the country popping up after it started in Chicago, and the goal was to try and unify everybody. But that was the first time that I felt a sort of energy flow through me that I had never felt before, as if I was a part of something greater than myself. Even at 14 years old when I was desperately searching for that purpose, this seemed to fill it. And I certainly bought in.

DAVIES: And at this point, you had shaved your head and started wearing boots and took on the skinhead look?

PICCIOLINI: I did. And I noticed a change in my environment very quickly. The bullies who had marginalized me prior now would cross the street when they saw me coming because they feared me, and then I would begin to recruit them. And I noticed a very stark change in how people treated me, and I mistook that as respect when in reality it was fear and really not wanting to be involved with what I was involved in.

 

.. DAVIES: You know, the music has a lot of energy and a lot of anger to it. I mean, I – you know, it’s – how much of a connection is there that – between this kind of – the emotion of that kind of music and the violence of the movement, do you think?

PICCIOLINI: I think it’s very connected. At least, it was during the ’80s and ’90s. Music was the vehicle for propaganda. It was the incitement to encourage people to commit acts of violence, and it was a social movement. People would come in for the very few concerts that were held every year from all over the country or all over the world. And it was a way to gather. And still today, I believe that music is a very powerful tool that the movement uses to inspire vulnerable young people into a very hateful social movement.

 

..  You went to Germany and toured there with the band with some groups there. And there’s a point where you give a really evocative description of the skinhead rally where you say, it begins with speeches, and there’s lots and lots of beer-drinking throughout and then, you know, frenzied, you know, music and then eventually, sooner or later, fights break out among different groups who are in attendance or because someone was jealous over a romantic approach to somebody’s girlfriend. It doesn’t exactly sound like people were trying to put together a strategy for change, right? Either winning elections, or armed revolt or much of anything other than coming together and having these moments with each other which often ended in violence.

 

.. PICCIOLINI: Well, I don’t think that that’s correct. I do think that there were a lot of concerted strategies in the ’80s and ’90s that we’re seeing take hold today. We recognized in the mid ’80s that our edginess, our look, even our language was turning away the average American white racist, people we wanted to recruit. So we decided then to grow our hair out, to stop getting tattoos that would identify us, to trade in our boots for suits and to go to college campuses and recruit there and enroll to get jobs in law enforcement, to go to the military and get training and to even run for office.

And here we are 30 years later and we’re using terms like white nationalist and alt-right, terms that they came up with, by the way, that they sat around and said, how can we identify ourselves to make us seem less hateful? Back in my day when I was involved, we used terms like white separatists or white pride. But it certainly was neither one of those. It was white supremacy and – as is white nationalism or the alt-right today.

 

.. we ran businesses. We ran record labels. We ran record stores. We ran magazines that were glossy. We made videos before the Internet. I mean, it was for all intent and purpose a global movement that was highly organized but lacked a, you know, a very charismatic central figure.

 

.. Well, aside from just the indiscriminate violence that, you know, the acts that we committed on almost a daily basis against anybody – it didn’t really matter, there really wasn’t a reason – there were also times where we were involved in, you know, in planning armored car robberies, where we talked about that. There was a point in 1991 where I was approached by somebody representing Muammar Gaddafi, from Libya, who wanted to bring me to Tripoli to meet with him and accept some money to fund a revolution against the Jews in the United States.

And that’s something that’s always scared me because that set a precedent that I think that we will see more of in the future where we start to see some of these Islamist terror groups start to partner with these far-right groups.

And while that may sound crazy because they hate each other, unfortunately, their enemy, their number-one enemy is what they would consider the Jew. So I think it’s only a matter of time before we start to see these organizations begin to work with each other and start to spread their terror more globally.

The Rush to Condemn Jordan Peterson as Racist

his critics on the left say Peterson, who dares attack their views of gender and white guilt, is one step removed from a white supremacist or similar to notable fascists.

.. Mishra points to Peterson’s affinity for “the great myths and religious stories of the past” as a sign that he shares an intellectual kinship with Richard Wagner, who “became notorious for using myth to regenerate the volk and stoke hatred of the aliens — largely Jews — who he thought polluted the pure community rooted in blood and soil.”

.. Peggy McIntosh, a Harvard graduate and professor of women’s studies, was one of the first to publish on white privilege. She wrote in a 1988 paper

.. Being white not only benefited her group, she argued, it oppressed other races, as evidenced by the fact, for example, that she could “talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to [her] race.” Such privilege, she argues, “simply confers dominance, gives permission to control.” She alludes to the notion of hierarchy as oppressive but then offers no solution, except to urge white people to feel guilty.

.. Peterson mocked this paper last year during a lecture for the University of British Columbia Free Speech Club. He said McIntosh’s list of 46 privileges enjoyed by white people could apply to different groups of people in different countries, which means that privilege doesn’t have anything to do with being white or even with race but with being wealthy or being the majority.

.. “It turns out we don’t fit into one group, any of us, we fit into multiple groups and it’s not obvious at all which groups should be of paramount importance,” he said, noting that people can be divided by race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic class, intelligence, personality, etc. The individual is the most important entity, he argued.

.. Still, Peterson doesn’t let anyone off the hook. He acknowledges that those who enjoy wealth today have come by it largely as a consequence of “historical catastrophe” — a reality that should motivate you to “work to deserve” these privileges, which will in turn make the world a better place for everyone.