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What is “white fragility”?

I posted the following as a comment on the “What is ‘white fragility’?” article on the Oxford Dictionaries blog, but that was a week or so ago and the moderators have not approved it, so I’ll post it here instead.

TL;DR: You’re damned it you do and damned if you don’t.

The problem with inventing a pejorative, racist phrase like “white fragility” and then defining it as any possible reaction a white person can have to being presented with information that casts his or her race in a negative light in a discussion he or she knows she or he cannot win — including silence and the simple act of “leaving” or not participating in the discussion — is that it’s a blatant attempt at actively marginalising a definable group in a “damned if you do and damned it you don’t” way. So then, you might ask, what’s the point of inventing the phrase and defining it? It’s to be “reverse” racist! So yeah, since I’m white my reaction is yet another “textbook example” of my “white fragility” because any reaction, including clicking the back button and choosing not to engage, is (by definition) “white fragility”! There’s nowhere to hide in this maddening circular argument in which there is no possible way for a white person to save face or even ameliorate the position presented, and it’s designed to pre-emptively cut the legs out from any possible position a white person might take by allowing every non-white person to dismiss their position, no matter how valid, as just another “textbook example” of “white fragility”.

In the “textbook example” given, Captain Scott Arndt is simply ignorant of the statistics and a denier of (I can only assume) valid statistics collected using valid scientific methods. That just makes him an idiot, and idiots come in all hues. He then responded in a typically American fashion, which is to whine and file a complaint over something that could have been resolved in minutes if more mature and intelligent people were involved, and the American media responded in typically American fashion by making a mountain out of a molehill. If the statistics he couldn’t stomach only involved transgender people and not “transgender people (of color)” (one wonders why the author bracketed those words, when they aren’t bracketed anywhere in the media release [not “scholarly data”] to which she links) then this whole “textbook example” of “white fragility” would fall apart! It is not, in fact, a “textbook example” of “white fragility”; it’s a “textbook example” of two police officers who have poor interpersonal skills (and probably other undocumented issues between them) and as much an example of “cisgender fragility” as it is “white fragility”! But the latter doesn’t conveniently feed into the author’s racist narrative.

And let’s not even get into how it should be “politically correct” for people to issue “trigger warnings” to their fragile, white friends to whom they might be about to say something that will trigger “white fragility”! On the one hand political correctness demands that we be super-sensitive to others’ feelings, and on the other just blatantly and gleefully tramples all over my feelings of “white fragility”! Oh the irony!

The struggle of life

Life is about struggle. Whether you’re an amoeba or a human, life is a struggle. For some organisms, it’s simply a struggle to stay alive for another second. Just this morning I’m watching two doves outside my office struggle with a crow over territory, and as I write this reinforcements from the crow side have showed up to gang up on the doves. (Perhaps this murder of crows have murder on their minds.) The highlight of an African safari, for many, is witnessing the struggle of predator and prey — the predator struggling to get another meal, the prey struggling not to become that meal … to stay alive.

Human history is all about struggle. Much of that struggle is unjust in many ways — the struggle between a weaker, unprepared victim and a stronger attacker that has prepared for the struggle. In a civilised society we are, as a collective, supposed to protect the weak and discourage the strong from taking advantage of them.

But despite this, humanity is not likely — ever — to become one homogenous mass of people all thinking the same way, reacting the same way, believing the same things, shunning the same negatives and embracing the same positives. And most people, including me, would argue that this is a good thing.

So I get that people rail against other people. It’s part of the struggle. Only today — in 2015 — most of us tend to do so with our pens … or keyboards. Relatively few of us take up arms, either as individuals or groups, or against individuals or groups.

But some do. And we rightly rail against them using our keyboards, and we use the tools of our civilisation to deal with them in one way or another.

However, some people then go past indicting the specific perpetrator of the specific injustice and commit further injustices against people who had nothing to do with the crime. If the criminal was black, they blame all black people. If the criminal was Muslim, they blame all Muslims. If the criminal was white, however, they blame the entire white race, from whoever the very first white person was down to the newest white person born within the last few seconds. Even that seconds-old white baby is tainted by the white man’s Original Sin, and blessed (or scourged) by the “privilege” of his or her white skin, with no hope of ever redeeming him- or herself in the eyes of the people who attack the white race for the sins of their forefathers.

I understand their anger. So much of the aforementioned human history has been a struggle between whites and non-whites. (Of course, there has been struggle between people of all races and within races, but many people tend to focus on that between whites and people of colour.) But if all you’re going to do in your ranting is paint all whites (or any group) with the same brush, you’re no better a bigot than the Dylann Roofs of this world — you’re just a different bigot, perhaps with a different colour skin than Roof’s — and your collective punishment is certainly not contributing to a solution to any problem.

So rail all you want against whites and “white privilege”; you’re part of the daily struggle of life. Just don’t pretend that you’re above it, and better than the rest of us struggling in this cesspool of multi-hued humanity.



Written (despite the date of publication) in late June 2015 after reading Dylann Roof is not an extremist, but really, the thought has been formulating in my mind for the last ten days since Roof’s (alleged) shooting and the reactions to it, especially those that reference Rhodesia.