Understanding and Addressing White Fragility
In our podcast, “White Fragility, Part II,” we explore some of the ways white fragility — that deep anxiety most white people experience when facing any kind of racial stress — undermines the ability of white educators to talk about race with their students or hold conversations among colleagues about teaching students well and fairly across race. Here are the some ideas that we mention in the podcast that can help individual teachers counteract white fragility:
1) Acknowledge that you’re white. Remember that race entered the room when you did. Identify yourself as white and other white people as white.
2) Pay attention to your own feelings when racial topics come up. Are you nervous? Uncomfortable? Noticing your own racial stress will help you move through conversations with others.
3) When you feel that stress, will yourself to lean into your discomfort and to name it. “Wow, I’m really uncomfortable right now.” Don’t stay quiet or silent. That’s one of the ways white supremacy works; it keeps us in our place, afraid to speak up.
4) Do not equate white with “normal.” If you hear your students doing it, have a question ready, like: “That’s interesting. I think I hear you saying that something is ‘normal.’ Could you say more about that? Or, “Are you thinking of a particular group when you say ‘normal’?” Too often “normal” means “just like me.”
5) Give your students opportunities to think about their own racial and ethnic identities. You can incorporate these opportunities into getting-to-know-you exercises and into your curriculum. Try not to avoid conversations about race, but to structure them intentionally so you have a plan.
6) Remember that it’s sometimes the seemingly little things that help the most. Challenging systemic racism is overwhelming. Interrupting daily, racialized comments is doable. We just need to keep practicing and holding each other accountable.
Resources that Include Action Steps and/or Exercises for Practice:
We Need to Face Our Own Discomfort About Discussing Racism (Education Teacher Weekly 9/16/2018)
The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys (by Eddie Moore Jr., Ali Michael, and Marguerite Penick-Parks)
How Should I Talk About Race in My Mostly White Classroom? (Anti-Defamation League)
First Encounters with Race and Racism: Teaching Ideas for Classroom Conversations (New York Times 9/27/2017)
Practice 2. Know How to Talk About Race (Teaching Tolerance)
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard To Talk To White People About Racism (by Robin DiAngelo)