Blog Post #1 – Siegal

I found Robin D’Angelo’s article on the subject of White Fragility to be both fascinating and enlightening. As I read the piece, I began to understand more and more of my behaviors and implicit biases as a White, Heterosexual, Cis-Male. Other than my faith (Judaism), all other demographic characteristics of mine are normative. Not even hyperbolically speaking, I never have to think about my own racial identity in comparison to another, more powerful and prominent, racial group. I also never have to think about my own sexuality and gender identity in the context of another, as my sexuality and gender identity are clearly shown throughout our society. I have the privilege of seeing those who look like me and who have similar backgrounds as myself. Before high school, when I really became conscious of race, as I was lucky to attend a school whose demography is fairly representative of American society at-large. 

Until high school, I always assumed that all opportunities afforded to me were given on the basis of merit. With both of my parents being first-generation college graduates, I was led to believe that in the United States of America, if one was to work hard enough, anything would be possible. I believed that. I really did. It was not until I understood that my parents, by virtue of their skin color, were not subject to implicit biases implying a linkage between their skin color and intelligence/aptitude. It was a combination of “luck” and “hard work.” With that narrative, I completely understand D’Angelo’s list of “triggers” of White Fragility (D’Angelo, 57). I know that some feel that the acknowledgement of a racially-based advantage is seemingly invalidating to one that has “defied the odds.” This is not to say that Whites who were able to take advantages based upon their race did not work hard, but rather, people of color (POC) that were not afforded similar opportunities to my parents were not as “lucky.” Whites, generally speaking, are more than content living in a society in which they are seen as the basis of normativity. The ascension of POC, whether it be in film, the news media, the corporate world, and the political sphere is frightening to the Whites who will cease to have a disproportionate amount of leverage in our inherently racist society (D’Angelo, 57). Clearly, this makes Whites uncomfortable; but that being said, it is necessary to be uncomfortable to have such discussions. 

DiAngelo, Robin. “White Fragility.”

Blog Post 1

 

White fragility can appear in a multitude of ways. It is most evident through reactions of anger and defensiveness. History tells society that white people are superior. Centuries of oppression has created a system that works to uphold this structure, working in both outward and covert ways. When this system is challenged, white people can react with extreme emotion. DiAngelo explains that “whites are taught to see their perspectives as objective and representative of real- ity (McIntosh, 1988). The belief in objectivity, coupled with positioning white people as outside of culture (and thus the norm for humanity), allows whites to view themselves as universal humans who can represent all of human experience”(59). This narrow way of thinking protects the system of oppression and furthermore strengthens it. Another point DiAngelo postures is white privilege in the form of arrogance toward race. Ignoring race doesn’t mean you don’t benefit. Further, not acknowledging privilege is “a self-perpetuating sense of entitlement because many whites believe their financial and professional successes are the result of their own efforts while ignoring the fact of white privilege.” This is another example of the concept of the “knapsack of privileges.” Though invisible, everyone knows you’re carrying it. White fragility is something I have seen many times but never could identify what exactly it was. Those moments where white people feel uncomfortable confronting race pair no match to the enduring racial discrimination that minorities face. In order to change a system of inequality, white people need to be willing to engage in conversation through a perspective other than a universalist approach.

Blog I: Equilibrium

I have read this term, “equilibrium”, used in two jarringly different ways, the first being in the words of Anna Julia Cooper who states, “that the law holds good in sociology as in the world of matter, that equilibrium, not repression among conflicting forces is the condition of natural harmony, of permanent progress, and of universal freedom” (A Voice from the South, 107). The second usage of the term comes from Robin DiAngelo, who argues that the exposure of whites to racial tensions interrupts their racial familiarity—that is, their white racial equilibrium. White fragility, that is, the intolerance to such racial tensions, and white privilege work to “restore equilibrium and return the resources ‘lost’ via the [racial] challenge” (White Fragility, 57/8). Cooper seems to be arguing that balanced, perpetual conflict/tension between opposing forces is essential to societal progress, while DiAngelo seems to be discussing an equilibrium in white consciousness that is damaged by such conflict/tension.

I realized these two uses of the term are much more relevant to one another than initially perceived.

“Progressive peace in a nation is the result of conflict,” Cooper states, “and conflict, such as is healthy, stimulating, and progressive, is produced through the co-existence of radically opposing or racially different elements” (A Voice from the South, 102).

This is to say that the White Fragility in which DiAngelo coins is, in fact, a contribution to the social stagnation of white beings, and as Cooper states, this stagnation is inevitably destructive and “suicidal to progress” (A Voice from the South, 107). “The child can never gain strength save by resistance, and there can be no resistance if all movement is in one direction and all opposition made forever a possibility” (A Voice from the South, 102); that is to say, whites who feel fear, shame, and discomfort by the discussion of race should embrace these feelings. Similar to how conflict is crucial to the development of society, creating this harmonious equilibrium between opposing forces, so too is this inner conflict within white consciousness essential to their societal contribution. We should expect White Fragility to be apart of the recovering process and, in turn, acknowledge the fragility and the sources of its development in white consciousness to then deconstruct the very foundations that uphold it. Most importantly, it is this tension, this friction within white consciousness that is the beginning of great societal potential. This fragility, as DiAngelo describes it, develops from an instance of conflict. This is the very conflict in which Cooper notices between opposing forces.

Thus, whites should not repress these feelings of anger and shame, nor should whites isolate themselves from others, especially people of color, as a response to racial tension. Indeed, acknowledging one’s accountability is essential in solving the problem. In order to reach the harmonious equilibrium of society discussed by Cooper, whites must abolish their inner sense of equilibrium noted by DiAngelo and be comfortable feeling uncomfortable.

  1. Cooper, Anna Julia. “A Voice From the South.”
  2. DiAngelo, Robin. “White Fragility.”

Blog Post 1: White Fragility

When I was a junior in high school, administrators decided to host a school-wide viewing of the film “I’m Not Racist… Am I?” followed by a conversation with some of the film’s directors. The documentary follows twelve New York City teenagers as they engage in workshops and conversations about race and privilege. One of the central threads of the film involves the white students resisting, but ultimately recognizing the fact that as white people they hold internalized racial biases whether they like it or not. Watching this portion of the movie prompted one white student to stand up at the end of the viewing and tell the director that, since Obama was president, racism had ended. Some students countered his remarks, but he proceeded to send an email to the entire school the next day explaining how unsafe our campus was for white men (yes, this really happened).

Looking back, I can’t help but relate the vitriol of my classmate to the man in the workshop Robin DiAngelo describes at the beginning of White Fragility. Both had extreme reactions when the advantages of their whiteness were pointed out to them and leveraged their emotions to make sure everyone else in the room was aware of their anger. As a white person, I found DiAngelo’s explanation of white fragility to be useful in explaining the extreme reactions of my classmates, as well as subtler day-to-day reactions of myself and my white friends when race is discussed. Like DiAngelo points out, “whites have not had to build the cognitive or affective skills or develop the stamina that would allow for constructive engagement across racial divides” (57). Rather, we are allowed to live our lives in a state of constant racial comfort. I think DiAngelo’s work is an important reminder of what white people have to do to address racism. We need to develop racial humility and an understanding of how our whiteness impacts our day-to-day life. We need to be able to accept criticism from those around us, especially people of color, rather than resorting to anger, defensiveness, or silence.

 

Blog Post 1: Unpacking Whiteness

When addressing any discourse on race and racism, it’s imperative to bring to light the term “whiteness”. As scholar George Lipsitz discusses, whiteness is inherently everywhere within U.S. culture, despite it being hard to see. For how this investment in whiteness came to be, Lipsitz explains “white settlers institutionalized a possessive investment in whiteness by making blackness synonymous with slavery and whiteness synonymous with freedom” (Lipsitz, 63). This initial thought started pitting the races against each other by giving whites an idea of superiority over blacks. Whiteness, in a sense, is the innate advantages non-POC have whether they know it or not, whether they want it or not. It’s interesting to see how whiteness can prevent many of the drawbacks blacks face, like housing discrimination, healthcare disparities, even health hazards of being in communities rich with food deserts.

Previously, my understanding of whiteness was narrow, limited to my own personal experiences that were scarce because I didn’t grow up around many white people. I equated racism to the observations of blacks in my community not getting many opportunities or equal access to healthcare, but never could really see the privilege from the other side for white people. The disparities between these two groups in terms of economic advancement, amongst many other societal values, can also be caused by the concept of “scientific racism sanctifying the notion that real Americans were white” (Rothenberg, 38) which cause great issues as it coins an “othering” for non-whites within the country with no regards for how long they’ve resided there.

The ever-persisting role of whiteness in America has garnered many decades of systematic oppression and racial isolation. Through the readings and podcast listenings of some of these scholars, I’ve become more aware of how whiteness affects individuals from both sides and how as much as one can try to deny it, there is power based on the pigment of one’s skin, unfortunately so. These scholars all dispel the idea of being colorblind in a world filled with color and I think it speaks volume to not let others’ voices get drowned out while also pushing for white people to become proponents of equal opportunities and access for all.

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Lipsitz, George. “The Possessive Investment in Whiteness.”

Rothenberg, Paula. “How People Become White”

 

Fragility

There is a big fear of talking about race and racism. There is a fear of talking about being in a spot of privilege when there is a safe place in talking about people of color and how they are disadvantaged. However, there are various reasons as to why this fear has occurred (DiAngelo 58). One of the main reasons is the idea of individualism and universalism. I would like to focus on individualism first as this ideology holds that everyone is different, and white people see themselves as different from other of their race (DiAngelo 60). This is a big problem as people would be offended if they were to be generalized to being people with privilege. The other ideology is that of universalism in that everyone is the same, and I think this one is the worst one. The writer of the piece states how the universalism idea forgets about the history that various people groups have gone through. It forgets that slavery was ever a thing, it forgets that the laws of Jim Crow were ever a thing, and it forgets that there is a clear divide between white people and people of color in every stage of American life. This division can be seen in our institutions as evidence by various factors depicted by Lipsitz. There are many banks turning down black middle-class loanees while white people with the same amount of money are not getting turned down as readily. Municipal governments around the country have decided to put landfills in areas that are densely populated by people of color. In the universalism rule, all these things are overlooked along with how all of this started to happen in the first place.

Since the formation of the United States, many attempts have been made to silence the power and voice of people of color. Laws have been changed by states to make sure that land-owning white men could do whatever they wanted without having certain people be white. For example, a law was made to ensure a freed person had to have had a freed mother. This came as a response to the rising amount of people who were considered to be “free” due to having a freed father. (Made in America, Part 3) After that, many laws and provisions were made to ensure that there was a racial divide between people and that divide has been heavily emphasized throughout the history of the United States. Now, this racism has become institutionalized and became an integral part of how these institutions function in the modern-day. In contrast, there is a huge group of people who are not willing to discuss the realities of how racism has sunk to the core of American life and privilege is a real thing experienced by a particular group of people. It is great to acknowledge that there are people who are disadvantaged in our country, but people must also acknowledge that there are people who are advantaged in this country. The universalism approach and individualism approach must be dropped or at least people with those ideologies should emphasize the history and see themselves in a different light.

Blog 1 – Yoo

Being an Asian American, I had a perspective on whiteness that is different from the dichotomy of black vs white. I am still a minority, but the model minority myth veils the disadvantages and prejudice I face. In fact, I did not even know how to recognize the tangible repercussions of whiteness on my particular race. For me, whiteness was perceived as the ultimate “American Dream” that is tied to the sacrifices of many immigrant parents. Yet upon entering college, I realized and was motivated to learn more on how whiteness affects my identity, my opportunities (or lack thereof), and my worldview.

The Possessive Investment in Whiteness clearly demonstrates the evidence that minorities, particularly blacks, face in all aspects of life. I was shocked to learn about the difference in lead poisoning of children by race: in <$6000 income families, 36% of white children compared to about double, or 68%, of black children are affected; in >$15,000 income families, 12% of white children, compared to 38%, or more than triple, black children are affected (Lipsitz 67). These numbers are shocking. Despite race, lead poisoning is a public health issue, but the fact that there is a clear difference in one’s chance of being affected purely by the color of one’s skin highlights a deeper, systematic root.

Additionally, I had frankly never learned of the Homestead Act in my high school classes, but this type of legislature is the history lesson we desperately need. It depicts the racist system by which certain groups of people further accrue advantages. By learning about these aspects of American history, students understand the privilege gap from an early age and may be incentivized to dig deeper. Also, financial and property inheritance is definitely one tangible factor, but cultural inheritance is another that continues to propel disadvantages for hard-working, low income minorities that must learn not through family, but through the embarrassment of not knowing until it is too late.

Blog 1 Schirn

Barrett and Roediger’s “How White People Became White” breaks down the white attitudes and history that established a social hierarchy in America. They share, “America’s racial vocabulary had no agency of its own, but rather reflected material conditions and power relations – the situations workers faced on a daily basis in their workplaces and communities.” (Barrett and Roediger,30) The idea that racism and race relations were created within the rise of America, the land of the free and home of the brave, though there is a distinct line that draws a barrier between races.  We are told that Americans see racism as a black problem and not a white problem, and in turn, the dynamic of our country becomes tiered and separatist. Our country was built on the notion of accepting half the population as 3/5th human, creating distinct social hierarchy and race inferiority upon signing the Declaration of Independence. Barrett and Roediger deep dive into the melting pot mentality; A country full of immigrants and rich cultures, there are still designated “white men’s towns” and “white men’s jobs”. 

The problematic nature Lipsitz breaks down in her first sentence, sharing a quote by Richard Dryer, really affects the way I interpret the readings and discussion about whiteness. The ultimate superpower of whiteness is the inability that most people possess to recognize that the color of their skin determines power. Dryer says, “White power secures its dominance by seeming not to be anything in particular.” I find myself truthfully thinking about this quote from my perspective of whiteness and growing up in a mostly white, predominantly Jewish neighboorhood in Los Angeles, California. How have I disregarded my birthright and left my privilege unacknowledged? After reading Lipsitz, I have a greater understanding of white guilt and the “failure to acknowledge our societies possessive investment in whiteness prevents us from facing the present openly and honestly.” (Lipsitz, 79)

After reading DiAngelo’s “White Fragility”, the dynamic of race-based stress around racial coding through words like “inner city” and “disadvantage” fuel the fire of perpetuating racism in the workplace. DiAngelo mentions “protective pillows” which is the idea that whites are always protected by society and live in environments that support. (DiAngelo, 55) I feel like I most definitely grew up with “protective pillows”, attending a completely white school from ages three to twelve. I remember learning about the Civil Rights Movement it a second grade, and up until then I had no idea what racism was, nor that there were people who were not like me. I constantly reflect back to that moment in time and wish I was taught before the age of eight about race relations in America and discussed “ white privilege”. I think there needs to be more education on the matter starting from when children first develop cognitive skills.

The Avoidance and Discomfort of Evaluating Whiteness

I found that Lipsitz referring to and summarizing Walter Benjamin’s concept “presence of mind,” gave me the words to frame the rest of the articles. Being aware of whiteness requires a desire to “identify, analyze, and oppose the destructive consequences of whiteness (Lipsitz)” that “Surreptitiously shapes so much of our private lives (Walter Benjamin).” I believe this highlights the idea that so much of whiteness resides in the feeling of comfort. The detriments of whiteness are perpetuated by the strong avoidance white people feel towards losing luxury and experiencing discomfort. “Presence of the mind” asks us to dig into those concepts.

I recently had a friend who questions the expansiveness of racism and discrimination in the United States ask me to point to any current law or policy that was made to directly hurt POC. Had I had the information that Lipsitz provides in Introduction: Race, Place, Power, about the systematic lack of and access to resources for racial minorities, I feel that my response could have been more eloquent. In the introduction to the book, I found the discussion on inheritance especially interesting, as it was something that never crossed my mind. It brought up the covert ways that the US’s history of discrimination continues to live below the surface of modern America.

Blog 1

As Martin Luther King argued decades ago, “To find the origins of the Negro problem we must turn to the white man’s problem.” As author Richard Wright notes, however, “There isn’t any Negro problem; there is only a white problem.” Throughout our history, racism has become deeply institutionalized, sewing a system of race-based advantages in which ‘white’ has become synonymous with freedom, opportunity, and social power. Whiteness permeates every aspect of American society, “the cultural images and messages that affirm the assumed superiority of Whites and the assumed inferiority of people of color…like smog in the air” (Tatum 6). In spite of this, however, whiteness, and the system of privileges it brings, is often illusive and hard to see.
Throughout my childhood, I moved three times, each time to a different city with a distinctly different racial makeup. As a young white girl in America, each move incrementally shaped my growing conception of racial identity. Moving from Cleveland, Ohio, to Portland, Oregon, one of the whitest cities in the nation, was the first time I truly remember seeing color, or lack there of. Although race exists because racism exists, “color-bound” injustices cannot be solved by “color-blind” remedies (Lipsitz 15). The deeply embedded construct of race has given white people an invisible privilege, one that “is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions” (Mcintosh 3). Despite carrying this knapsack, however, we often times can be unconscious of the oppressiveness it affords and the system of advantages it brings. All White people “intentionally or unintentionally, do benefit from racism” (Tatum 1).