List #6: Eight Reasons to Read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

This morning, seconds after my son and I left our house, we were hit by a sudden downpour.  We laughed about it, walked as quickly as we could to his school, and arrived just as the hail started coming down.  We laughed as we got in; despite having umbrellas, we were both soaked up to our thighs.  The wind had blown the rain so hard in our direction that it was as though we had been wading through a stream.

I helped him into his classroom, changed his clothes, and ran back home to change my clothes and get him a different pair of shoes.  When I realized that if I wanted to stay dry, I’d need to drive, I drove the half block to his school. I waved at the security guard, brought in his other shoes, and then drove a few blocks to park closer to my favorite coffee shop.

This is what privilege looks like.

  1. When I walked in, no one gave us the side-eye, though we were both filthy and soaking.  No one judged my almost-sheer maternity leggings that I will #nevergiveup on.
  2. My son had a second pair of shoes that were right around the corner.
  3. When I returned to school to give him his shoes, the security guard didn’t ask any questions.
  4. And when I realized that I wanted to keep my second pair of maternity leggings dry, I drove to a spot that I didn’t have to pay for because I have the “right” parking pass, and then sat down to enjoy my $3.50 macchiato.

As a white woman, I walk in privilege every day.  I have all of my life.  However, I didn’t fully understand what this meant until I read the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.  This is one of those rare books that I listened to on Audible and then purchased the physical copy of.

If you are white, you should read this book.  Below are the reasons why.

  1. DiAngelo dispels unhelpful half-truths.  Specifically, one of the foundations of her book refutes the idea that because a person exhibits problematic racial behavior, the are inherently an evil person.  This is not to say that racism isn’t wrong; it is.  DiAngelo’s point is that an easy way for white people to dismiss racism as “not a problem I need to worry about” is to associate it solely with radicals and murderers.
  2. She challenges the idea that Western culture is the best culture.  This one is particularly helpful if you find yourself as a patriotic white citizen of the United States.  DiAngelo writes, “We make sense of our perceptions and experiences through our particular lens.  This lens is neither universal nor objective…”  While some may claim that the United States is the greatest country on earth (where everyone can make it if they only try!) and that we can be bias-free if we’d all just shut up and be friends, DiAngelo focuses on the error in these assumptions by naming them.  Individualism and objectivity are not universally accepted truths.  We are collectively influenced by the negative aspects of the dominant Western culture that is all around us from the day we are born; we are therefore not independent, rogue actors and cannot claim to be bias-free.  The sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we can get to the work of solving some of society’s most pressing problems.
  3. She takes the time to clearly define core concepts.  DiAngelo makes crucial distinctions between terms such as prejudice, discrimination, and racism.  Most white people lump these into the part of their brains reserved for “things I don’t want to think about,” so it’s helpful to think about them and understand what they are – and what they are not.  She also takes time to explain why “reverse racism” is a nonsensical term… and I’ll let you read through that explanation on your own (page 20).
  4. She asserts that white folks cannot be immune to the influences of the system of racism… while acknowledging that “stating that racism privileges whites does not mean that individual white people do not struggle or face barriers.”  That’s worth repeating.  No one is saying that because you are white you do not suffer.  But this book isn’t about white suffering, so try to move on from that so that you can focus on her points.
  5. She states the oft-refuted obvious in ways that are very difficult to refute.  For white people who feel threatened by those who are different from you, DiAngelo reminds us that “Whites control all major institutions of society and set the policies and practices that others must live by.”  She then cites statistic after statistic proving white dominance.  As of her writing, the ten most wealthy Americans are white, the U.S. Congress is 90% white, all of the top military advisors are white, and many of the people who control the media we consume are white.  In a country as diverse as ours, this is a problem, and it also refutes the idea that we are a post-racial society.
  6. She asks you to embrace the spectrum of possibilities.  In a chapter that I found particularly helpful called “The Good / Bad Binary,” DiAngelo writes quotes that she often hears from white folks and then proceeds to explain why they are illogical or unhelpful.  Most of the statements are the result of white people using logical extremes (which any therapist will tell you is an unproductive way to live.)  For example, one of the quotes that DiAngelo hears the most is, “I marched in the sixties [therefore I can’t be racist.]”  Participating in a march 50 years ago does not make you error-free today; there are always more opportunities to learn and grow.
  7. She acknowledges that she is on her own learning journey.  DiAngelo accepts her own status as a learner. She writes, “Interrupting the forces of racism is ongoing, lifelong work because the forces conditioning us into racist frameworks are always at play; our learning will never be finished.”  She also relates stories that show that she is still learning, and calls for others to continue reading, talking, and trying to be better.
  8. She reminds us that guilt is not a useful emotion.  In a training I did with the Center for Equity and Inclusion, I learned about the Cycle of White Empowerment.  One of the earlier stages in this Cycle is Guilt.  If you’re like me, you’ve certainly felt guilty.  If you’re like me, you’ve also probably heard that guilt is not a useful emotion.  DiAngelo writes about white guilt toward the end of her book, stating, “When we are mired in guilt, we are narcissistic and ineffective; guilt functions as an excuse for inaction.”

For me, this book was a call to action.  I hope you’ll join me in reading it, talking about it, and being open to learning more.

Quote from Robin DiAngelo's book on White Fragility.  "When we are mired in guilt, we are narcissistic and ineffective; guilt functions as an excuse for inaction."

List #5: Reflections on #myyearoftwelve

2019 was like any other year, in that it was crazy.  Every year is crazy, because life is crazy.  In 2019, my craziness involved going to get trained at the Aspen Institute’s AmEx Leadership Academy (hooray), then getting laid off the next week (sad face), traveling to Ireland (hooray) and coming up with plans for the next step (whoa).  It also involved travel to and with family and friends.  I got to run a half marathon in another country, and my son got to play with my friend’s son as the sun was setting over the Grand Tetons.  Crazy.

My unifying theme for 2019 was #myyearoftwelve.  Each month I wanted to do something new in the following categories: scone-baking, album-listening, mindful traveling, trail-running, date-nighting, healthy living, and bouquet-arranging.

This was, perhaps, a bit too ambitious – even in a year that didn’t involve a significant life change.  Well, two significant life changes… did I tell you I turned 40 in 2019?  That’s right; I was born just a few months after Jimmy Carter was attacked by a bunny.

That said, I’d like to reflect a bit on what was meaningful from My Year of Twelve.

  1. Make ambitious goals.  You may not meet them, but you are a far more interesting person if you at least shoot for them.  My husband and I didn’t get to twelve albums this year, but we at least had something more to talk about than work or our child’s sleep schedule.
  2. Involve your family in your goals.  If you are trying to bake scones quickly, don’t ask your child to help.  If you are trying to bake scones meaningfully, ask your child to help.  My son and I made scones with one of my dearest friends in Ireland as part of an AirBnB activity deal offered by a local baker.  It was messy, and there were distractions – at one point I found him playing with plastic garbage he found in the baker’s living room – but asking him to come with me is something that I will never regret.  
    A flower arrangement by RenaissanceLista - yellow tulips and white peonies.
  3. Create beauty and share it.  I’m pretty sure I did meet the goal of making 12 flower arrangements this year.  Were they perfect by any florists’ standards?  No.  But they were a reminder that the earth is bountiful and that we can appreciate the bounty and the beauty if we stop and take a moment.  On my personal social media accounts, my flower photos were one of the most popular things.   I like to think that my friends looked at those photos, to a mindful breath, and felt a little happier in that moment.
  4. Practicing mindful travel is an essential tool for professionals.  People understand being “on the road” as fascinating / exciting / badass (if you only know about it from movies) or grueling / lonely / exhausting (if you’ve actually done it, sans mindfulness.)  I understand that it is often all of the above.  What I have found is that practicing mindfulness during travel – whether that means mindfully breathing while waiting in lines or mindfully skipping out on the socializing and getting to bed early – makes it far more likely that I appreciate the positives of travel *and* the positives of being at home.  By planning for mindful moments (getting a massage) and also allowing myself to experience them when they came up unexpectedly (enjoying a 4 AM cappuccino with the night bartender when I was jet-lagged in Las Vegas), I felt so much better about travel than I had in previous years.  And when I came home, I was energized rather than depleted, and so happy to see my family.
  5. Write things down.  I mean physically.  Somehow, physically writing things down makes it seem like more of a commitment than simply typing it electronically.  You can do both, but physically writing things down allows you to a) hang it somewhere in your house where people can see (to enforce accountability and spark conversation) and b) cross things out when you have completed them.
  6. Balance is key to living out your values and being well.  I look over the categories in My Year of Twelve and realize that I was prioritizing what I consider to be some of my core values – the values that help me to lead a fulfilled life.  These values help me live what I would consider a balanced – or RenaissanceLista – life: health/wellness, learning, creativity, and connection.  Aligning your actions – what you do, how you spend your time and energy – with your values allows you to live a balanced life.

So in 2020, I invite you to explore what it is that makes you feel fulfilled, how those actions reflect your values, and how living out those values helps you live a RenaissanceLista life.