White Fragility: Why disrupting white racial comfort is valuable for Westmont
Views 35 | Time to read: 3 minutes | Uploaded: 11 - 14 - 2018 | By: Jason Cha
Anyone that knows me knows that I love elevating my feet when I want to relax. It’s a sign of comfort that automatically drops my stress level. Sitting with your feet up is a universal posture of relaxation.
The other day, I was sitting in a coffee shop comfortably with my feet propped up, and someone asked me, “do you need this extra chair?” Who asks someone who is clearly relaxing if they can borrow their chair? After obligatorily handing over the chair, I got annoyed that my comfort was disrupted. How dare this person interrupt my relaxation while I enjoy my caramel macchiato!
Have you ever been so comfortable, that the smallest intteruption annoys you?
A couple of weeks ago a satirical piece was written in the Horizon by Emily Herbst (a self identified white student) on “How to spook white people” during Halloween. What ensued were a lot of emotions and reactions to this capstone piece. I heard about many students reacting with frustration, anger, outrage, and even embarrassment that Westmont would publish such an article.
I heard many people reacting to the satirical piece with a logic that believes a similar article written about any other race would be unacceptable. Some claimed that it was in bad taste and that joking about “any race” was problematic. Some felt that it only pushed people away from conversations on race and made people shut down. Some claimed the piece was essentially “reverse racism”.
In my opinion, these reactions were characterized by what scholar Robin DiAngelo (a white woman) refers to as WHITE FRAGILITY. She defines this term as “a state in which even a minimal amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” According to DiAngelo, white people live with expectations of racial comfort (like being insulated by pillows) and experience a sense of disequilibrium if and when their comfort is disrupted. White people often respond to this as if something is wrong and often blame the person or event that triggered the discomfort.
During my seven years as the Director of Intercultural Programs at Westmont, I have become convinced that one of the greatest needs for the community, and for the body of Christ in general, is for white people to become more racially conscious of their own whiteness (the prevailing and dominant culture in many Evangelical communities today). I believe the discomfort and fragility triggered by Herbst’s article and the dialogue that it generates can provide an opportunity for white people in our community to begin navigating this process of thinking about their white racial identity.
Of course, that will require people to lean into the discomfort rather than shut down or continue to remain defensive.
Whiteness as the historically dominant racial perspective can be invisible. This is why it’s so difficult to address, many don’t have the ability to see it.
Yet whiteness permeates our culture and ways of thinking. Whiteness, in its normativity, goes unnamed and in turn demands comfort. It allows people to avoid developing any stamina or capacity to engage in conversations about race. I believe in moments like this, we as a community have an opportunity to become more aware of how we all have a racial identity and live in a racialized society.
We would be remiss not to learn and grow from these conversations, especially when we experience some discomfort.