Portland Community College’s “whiteness history month” has shed light on several concepts that have been brewing beneath the surface for years behind closed doors in academia. One such idea is called “white fragility”, where you’re racist if you push back against the people who imagine a world without whiteness or who openly say they want to breed white people out of existence. In fact, entire events have been based around this concept of “white fragility”.
Let’s let them define it: “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.” And “White fragility is, at its essence, a gun level pushback. It’s like the fight or flight response of white people who want to believe that they, and the world by extension, are less racially divisive than they really are.”
But why is there “white fragility”? “Because of their position of privilege and accustomed racial comfort, whites will often display racial arrogance by denying, debating, trivializing racism or critical thought regarding racial conflict”
The presenter, Melinda Bullen, goes on to desrcribe the “emotions and behaviors” of white fragility: “If we identify as an ally, there’s a danger in reveling and feeling special for doing the work. But ultimately that takes away, and puts attention back on the white person” The emotions include Guilt, anger, relational, anesthetization, dismissiveness, disconnection, social impotence, silence, Appreciation or exaltation, and fear.
Bullen, who works as the “Diversity Resource Center” coordinator at Mt. Hood Community College, then explains some of the strategies for dealing with white fragility. “White racism is ultimately a white problem and the burden for interrupting belongs to white people” because “So often whiteness isn’t seen as a race. It’s like ‘everybody has a race’ or whatever.” You should also “avoid seeking validation from the person of color you relate to the most” because “I want to be put up on that ‘good white person’ pedestal”.
And also: “Seeing yourself as well-meaning removes responsibility for our actions… Good intentions are one of the great hindrances to honest conversations about race. There’s a feeling of action when we view a painful situation using the reason of good intention. But it doesn’t do anything to affect the impact that the action had on someone else… I want you to gather in groups of three. And I’d like you to discuss the impact white fragility has on your work, organization, or those you serve through our organization.”
Towards the end of the session, they concluded that “whiteness history month” “comes at a cost to colleagues of color.”
So, if you try to dismantle racism and whiteness, then you’re racist because that harms people of color. If you ignore it, you’re still racist. If you’re not actively trying to dismantle it, then you’re also racist.
PCC president Sylvia Kelley can be reached at 971 722 4365.