Why is White Fragility?
My husband and I caught the last segment on This American Life today, titled The Farce Awakens and I highly recommend it. It discusses how a Black children’s author found his books banned from school libraries in Katy, Texas. This horseshit is going on all over Texas and the south and it’s harmful and insane. But today I’m going to address specifically what the “concerned white moms” had to say in this segment because there is only so much I can yell at my radio.
Their argument was that exposing white children to the multitudes of microaggressions that black children face is harmful because it will make them feel guilty. (They also claim that there is no way that Black kids experience this much aggression. They do.) Let's unpack this.
White guilt, of which I have had a good amount, is when you realize that you have been taking part in or advantage of oppressive social and institutional systems that make things easier for you and harder for Black people. I was raised believing that as a good Californian white liberal, I couldn’t be racist. It just wasn't in my DNA. So when I said or did incredibly stupid things, I reacted with confusion and dismay. When I was forced to recognize the actual gulf between my experiences and my peers of color, I realized that I was full of shit and that I had no idea what they were going through. It was deeply uncomfortable and I did a lot of bullshit rationalizing of things to make me feel better about myself. Eventually, I realized that my sensitivity to terms like White Fragility WAS ACTUAL WHITE FRAGILITY. That was a start.
Why is this important? Because one of the most basic things you need to help your children learn while they develop is the difference between discomfort and danger. Guilt is uncomfortable, not dangerous. Shame is uncomfortable, not dangerous. Racist systems and racism are physically dangerous to short and long-term health and wellbeing.
So to the white moms in Katy who want to spare their children guilt for oppressions that they didn’t create (but are likely propagating because their parents can’t grow a pair of ovaries and woman up), I say GROW THE FUCK UP. It’s you who can’t deal with your guilt and discomfort. Your kids still have a chance to become more resilient, humble, and compassionate without a fuckton of therapy. You, my ladies, do not. You need to start learning to tolerate uncomfortable feelings and thoughts instead of trying to control everything your little angels come in contact with. Instead of banning books, get you a therapist and work on your shit.
In Transformative Learning Theory, we call this the Disorienting Dilemma. When a learner is faced with new knowledge that calls into question their sense of self or reality, it causes stress and discomfort. As educators, we can help them process it, but we can’t do it for them. Y’all need to take several seats and start thinking about whether or not you want your kids to be as easily disturbed as you are.
I want my kid to be more resilient than me. More ethical. More compassionate. More humble. I want them to outshine me in every way possible, not reflect back my own limited view of the world so I don’t have to have any uncomfortable feelings. I want the same for my students. If you can’t even imagine your child learning to empathize with a Black kid who gets picked on, harassed, and gaslit for being Black (or gay, or trans, or Asian, or Latinx, or Muslim, or disabled…), you are not living in reality and you are doing your children exactly zero favors. Learning to tolerate discomfort like guilt, anxiety, fear, and shame are the building blocks of adulthood and good-personhood. I really want the next generation to be less fucked up than mine, and y’all are not helping. Do better.