What is "White Fragility"?

"White Fragility" is a term coined by Robin DiAngelo (read her article here)

"White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium."

DiAngelo identifies several sources of White racial stress:

  • Suggesting that a White person's viewpoint comes from a racialized frame of reference (Challenge to objectivity)
  • People of color talking directly about their own racial perspectives (Challenge to White taboos on talking openly about race)
  • People of color choosing not to protect the racial feelings of White people in regards to race (Challenge to White racial expectations and need/entitlement to racial comfort)
  • People of color not being willing to tell their stories or answer questions about their racial experiences (Challenge to the expectation that people of color will serve White people)
  • A fellow White person not providing agreement with one's racial perspective (Challenge to White solidarity)
  • Receiving feedback that one's behavior had a racist impact (Challenge to White racial innocence)
  • Suggesting that group membership is significant (Challenge to individualism)
  • An acknowledgment that access is unequal between racial groups (Challenge to meritocracy)
  • Being presented with a person of color in a position of leadership (Challenge to White authority)
  • Being presented with information about other racial groups through, for example, movies in which people of color drive the action but are not in stereotypical roles, or multicultural education (Challenge to White centrality)

"Not often encountering these challenges, we withdraw, defend, cry, argue, minimize, ignore, and in other ways push back to regain our racial position and equilibrium. I term that push back white fragility." (from DiAngelo's write up of her article on the goodmen project)