White People Are Fragile

Isaiah Hines

A Psychological Analysis of the Social Phenomenon That Is White Fragility

What Is White Fragility?

  • The term ‘white fragility’ was coined by Robin DiAngelo.
  • It refers to a mental state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable. This then triggers a range of defensive moves.
  • In America, white people live in a social environment that protects them from race-based stress.
  • As a result, white people get to set expectations for racial comfort which in turn lowers their tolerance for racial-stress.

Robin DiAngelo is a professor at Westfield State University and author of What Does it Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy.

I’m sure you’ve all seen these ‘defensive moves’ in action before. “I didn’t mean anything by it” “I wasn’t trying to be offensive” “I have a black friend” “Not all white people”

People are often more worried about being called a racist than actually doing something racist. In America white people often don’t even have to consider race. They often think of themselves as “raceless” white is conditioned to be the norm and everyone else is considered “raced” or “colored”. White fragility allows white people to govern when and how race is discussed. White people expect to be educated on racism, and in a nice way.

Why Is It A Bad Thing?

  • When white people react in this way it centers them in a conversation about race and racism which should really be about the victim.
  • White fragility allows white people to not be held accountable for their actions. It places the value of intent over impact.
  • It also allows white people to govern when and how race and racism are discussed.
  • This reinforces the racial equilibrium and upholds white supremacy.

White people never learn as a result and are allowed to continue saying and doing racist things. White people prefer to hear these things from other white people but because other white people don’t know enough about racism, they cycle continues. When people of color do things like the BLACKLIVESMATTER movement, many white peoples responses were “all lives matter” this is white fragility. Proclaiming that black lives matter does not inherently mean that other lives don’t. This statement is made because society continually shows us that black lives don’t matter in america and these are the lives that need the affirming. We already know that white lives matter, it doesn’t need to be stated. White people are very used to being the center of things and when they aren’t it makes them uncomfortable.

Why Does This Happen?

  • Most white people understand racism solely as an issue of moral and immoral people.
  • They believe if they’re a good person with good intentions, they can’t be racist.
  • They also tend to believe that racism consists of easily identifiable singular acts such as racial slurs, hate crimes, etc.
  • When white people are called out for doing something racist, they tend to think they are being called a bad person, which upsets them.

Most people don’t fully grasp the idea of systemic racism and that we live in a racist society that perpetuates racist ideas. We are socialized into white supremacy.

How Can We Avoid It?

  • There is no such thing as “reverse racism”
  • There is no such thing as “colorblindness”
  • Racism is not always overt and due to the racist society that we live in, all white people are capable of it.
  • Simply speaking about race is not racist.
  • When called out for saying/doing something racist, take it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • You are never “done” unlearning racism.
  • Learn how to listen and never try to dominate a conversation on racism with a person of color.


Thanks For Watching!

White Fragility Presentation - Google Slides