Why white people should see color

The author of ‘White Fragility’ wants people to build authentic relationships across race.

IMPERIAL STATE crown of the United Kingdom (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
IMPERIAL STATE crown of the United Kingdom
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
You’re white. You’re educated and open-minded. You’re a good person! And you’re anything but a racist. Right?
You don’t care if someone is pink, purple or polka-dotted. In fact, you were raised to not even see color.
And you need to stop, Robin DiAngelo says. Stop saying things like that, for they are completely insulting. Human beings aren’t purple or polka-dotted, and we should see color. Doing so is one of the first steps white people can take toward improving race relations, according to DiAngelo, a white speaker and trainer who focuses on racial justice, and whose third book is called White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.
White people mostly don’t even think about race, DiAngelo said in a recent interview, while people of color are reminded of it every day, be it with slights, discrimination or abuse. They pay for it with stress, health problems and even early death, she said. All this while being asked to explain to white people what they can do to make things better.
And if they try to explain, well, most times well-meaning white people challenge them with talk of polka dots. They get defensive, angry, afraid or go silent – reinforcing the “white equilibrium,” which gets us nowhere. That’s white fragility.
“Most white people cannot answer the question, ‘What does it mean to be white?’ with any depth or complexity,” DiAngelo said. “[White people] are not raised to see ourselves in racial terms, and bring that inability to answer that question to the table with us. And people of color know that [white people] can’t answer that question, that we have no awareness of ourselves as racial beings,” she continued. “That’s part of what they have to navigate with us. If I have no idea how my race shapes me, I am probably not going to be open to any feedback about how your race shapes you. And so we end up minimizing and invalidating them.”
So ask yourself, DiAngelo says: When was the last time you had a person of color at your dinner table? When did you risk “ruining dinner” by challenging a relative who made a racist comment, when the comment itself should do that on its own? And are you aware of the ways in which your whiteness has made your life so easy that the color of your skin barely crosses your mind?
DiAngelo said it can be helpful to substitute sexism for racism.
“It would be like a man walking up to a female co-worker and asking, ‘So, talk to me about sexism. What has happened to you?’” DiAngelo said. “It’s putting an emotional and political burden on them. And it’s unfair.”
Instead, we should strive to build authentic relationships across race.
“Being in each others lives, seeing what has happened,” DiAngelo said. “Take the initiative and look things up like anything else that matters to you. And you have to be willing to listen.”
You also have to be willing to speak up when we see racial inequality in acts big and small.
“Break with solidarity,” DiAngelo said. “That’s what we have to do as white people: Be courageous.”
DiAngelo believes that since the election of US President Donald Trump, people have felt emboldened and validated in their racism.
“It has been given more permission,” DiAngelo said. “I think a lot of the eruption of racism is the umbrage people took at not being able to express it openly.”