White Fragility as Racial Violence

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Usually, when I write and/or speak about racism/white fragility/power & privilege/oppression, I receive pushback. As someone whom attempts to remain vocal about womanism, systemic and institutionalized racism, I expect this. 


I expect to get angry emails, texts and messages. I expect to be interrupted, denied and/or reported on Social Media. I expect that someone will accuse me of that bullshit notion of “playing the race card.”
In white, Christian circles, I expect that someone will say “You’re not really a Christian.” Or, “Jesus doesn’t see color, and neither should we…” Or, one of my favorites:“Jesus just wants us all to be happy…and you are just way too angry about racism.”

I expect all of this because interrupting white spaces of privilege and power too often triggers a response that results in white gatekeeping, white fragility and white tears, all of which are critical tenets of white supremacy.
I am writing this because I am exhausted, bewildered and angry about how white violence manifests as white fragility. I am writing this because too often the idea of white violence is relegated to blatant acts of physical violence like the Klan and the attack in Charlottesville.
Let’s commit to digging deeper.
White violence can be Sarah. Sarah works as a Registrar at a prestigious university She heads a D&I training course and denies admission to all people with “ghetto” sounding names.
White violence can be Mark. Mark is a real estate agent and loves “diverse” neighborhoods. Mark boasts about all the amazing food to his clients. Mark makes sure to show all his white client’s homes near the “good” schools. He refers out all his clients of color.

White violence can be Tasha. Tasha is PTO president. Tasha pushes for Black History Month art projects and Chinese New Year. Last year she started an International Day festival and a Girls STEM program. Tasha has been PTO President for three years and has never admitted membership to a POC. Instead, Tasha has allowed POC to volunteer for “diverse” events.
White violence can be Todd. Todd is a pastor of a white church with around 400 members. And, they all love mission work. In fact, every year, Todd hosts a community food drive for “local minority communities living in poverty.” Todd has never asked to partner with the local minority owned and run organizations which have already invested in these communities.
Last year, I had an incident with a close relative I will refer to as Steve. Steve is a white, cisgender, heterosexual, male. Steve was wearing an American Flag t-shirt and we were discussing racism. He began to raise his voice. 

He said, “everything you say is exaggerated…you always play the race card…why can’t you just be happy…Jesus just wants us to be happy…racism really doesn’t happen as frequently as you think it does…” We argued for approximately seven minutes. He stood over me while I sat down. 

When I pointed out to Steve that he was reproducing the actions of white violence, he demanded that I prove and explain racist events.

Questions like: How did I know they were racist? Did the racist person tell me that they were racist? Is it possible that the person I ‘assumed’ was racist could have just been having a bad day…Steve said, “when I see someone cut me off, I just assume that they are having a bad day and pray for them rather than assume it was because I am white…
Steve spoke louder and louder and exerted his right to an opinion and “fact.”
I ended the conversation early. I took a walk and sobbed.
That Steve was so comfortable that he could believe that it was his right to take up as much space as he wanted, to center whiteness and to demand my cooperation is not uncommon. That Steve refused to consider the historical implications, effects or realities of racism not only troubles me but terrifies me. That Steve believed that he held the “unbiased” truth on all things race related is not uncommon.
“From our vantage point in the margins, POC understand this situation as a reproduction of colonial weaponization” and a function of white supremacy. Steve could deny my reality/experiences because the source of proof for it was me, a black woman: societally erasable and valueless. It was a very visceral and ironic replication of our erasure and the erasure of our history, existence and knowledge.
Here was Steve in the middle of the woods wearing an American Flag t-shirt yelling at a black woman about racism.
White relatives watched the incident go down in varying degrees of silence and unhelpful comments.
This is white violence. I hold this event with me almost a year later, and I struggle to heal it or know how to speak into it. 
A few months ago, I was at a family gathering. A close relative, Tina (not her real name), approached me to say that they had been approached by someone to talk about the dangers of my blog and how un-Christian it was and what did they think of my morality? The relative went on to say that this was not an isolated incident and that they have been approached by people multiple times. What did I want them to say to these people?

I still cringe when I recall this event.
Perhaps you can relate?
It was clear, and rather ironic, to me that the situation relied on and centered white fragility. And, to be clear, white fragility is the weaponization of white supremacy and the erasure of POC experiences. Although, for a more technical term, I refer to Robin DiAngelo, acclaimed author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism:
White people in North American live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. 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 the white equilibrium.”
Tina was coming to me for advice about a situation which was steeped in white fragility.
Someone was offended and therefore I couldn’t possibly be Christian.
Someone was offended and therefore my writing was dangerous.
Note how this “offense” triggered a response reliant on white gatekeeping and fragility.
This situation is also a form of white violence.
As I reflect upon these scenarios, I do a body check. I ground myself. Even now, I am taking a deep breath and reminding myself of my own “enough-ness.” Of intersectionality. So many other POC’s as well as LGBTQIA folks experience instances like this and so much worse every day.
When I reflect, I find myself wondering about the responses from other people that were there. Why didn’t the other white relatives intervene with Steve? What were they thinking? Why did Tina tell me about the situation? Why did people talk to Tina instead of me?
With Steve, I often question myself. Why didn’t I cut the conversation off earlier? Why didn’t I say x,y,z. Why did I give space for him to talk in such dehumanizing and violent ways to me, only to explain why it hurt me? And, why do we often give space for persons to speak in dehumanizing and violent ways?
It reminds me how easy it is to fall trap to social responses and conditions. I, and we, have been conditioned to answer white men in certain ways. To not upset them. To ignore and reject the space and labor those whom question our humanity, experience, knowledge, validity, visibility, take up.
Whiteness takes up space. White violence takes up space. Each of these elements takes space from someone else. And, each of these elements takes power and privilege from someone else.

I like Representative’s Maxine Waters demand, (and now viral meme), to reclaim our time. Reclaim our space. Reclaim our voice.
As I write this reflection, I am reminded of a series of events this week where a few of my girlfriends texted me to lament various acts of white violence in the forms of gatekeeping and fragility. During the emotional and mental exhaustion, they each found it important to connect with other safe spaces. To borrow from an article on The Brown Hijabi, ‘Reflections on a panel talk: the violence of white fragility and the erasure of its victims,”
[t]hat our being in spaces like that together, witnessing such violence together, having each others’ backs and validating each other’s truths is the most powerful thing we can do. It is not just survival but also recovery. To heal a wound you have to first acknowledge it. In a world which denies it is hurting us we sometimes forget we are wounded. And thus I feel an automatic love for women of colour who look at me and tell me they see my wounds, and they share them. Even such small acknowledgement is the difference between suffocating and breathing.”
Let’s commit to digging deeper. Let’s commit to seeing each other’s wounds. Let’s commit to the gritty work of loving one another deeply and fully.
I am here if you need to breathe.
Shalom always.

Staying Present

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced
– James Baldwin

This past weekend, my news feed was filled with stories of Nathan Phillips and Nick Sandmann.

Reading the emerging stories, comments and petitions made me sick to my stomach.

Some people wanted the students expelled from their schools. Others started petitions against admission to secondary education. Others blamed The Black Hebrew Israelites. There were rumors of death threats. Someone even created a fake Twitter account of Sandmann’s mom with a particularly nasty racist sentiment. 

Everyone was pointing fingers.

I was angry, disgusted, sad, riveted and triggered.

So, I paused. I stood outside in the sunshine. I started a good book. I watched a silly Netflix show. I went on a walk. I drank a hot cup of tea. And, I breathed.

And then I watched the first video that had emerged. And, I stayed present with the feelings: rage, disgust, sadness and helplessness. I noticed my breath, and I stayed committed to the process. I noticed my own inner trigger warnings.

Suddenly, I was a child again. I was a 9-year-old being called the N-word for the first time. I was a 13-year-old getting her skirt hiked up so that her classmates could see if her butt was ‘big.’ I was a 14-year-old-girl again getting spit on by fellow track mates….I was a 25-year-old being followed by men in a truck with confederate flags. I was a 26-year-old being told by a family member that “…I play the race card.”

For those able to say even a resemblance of ‘let’s talk about this without emotions,’ is a privilege and a testament to ‘objectiveness.’

As I watched the video, I noticed my own rage and anger at not being able to clearly articulate the pain of racism. 

And, how the silencing of that pain amplifies new trauma.

A thought that has resonated with me is this: New voices are being muted while the old pattern of white innocence persists.

What resists persists. 

I stayed present and I listened to my body. I stayed present and I committed to the process. 

It occurs to me that amid all the clamor voices of Indigenous people are still being silenced and replaced by the voices of others. Celebrities have been given air time. Sandmann has been given airtime. Radio hosts have been given airtime.

Everybody cares.

And yet…the government continues to steal indigenous lands.

The film media still largely relies on stereotypes when portraying indigenous and first people.

Christopher Columbus is still a national hero entitled to a national holiday.

Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (#MMIW) remain absent from the national media and conversation about race.

After watching the video, I committed to naming and noticing each of the feelings. And, to holding space for transformation – a practice I have learned from Dr. Amanda Kemp.

After holding space for transformation, I breathed. I prayed. I lit some incense. I cried. I must confess – I wasn’t ready to channel unconditional love and acceptance. But, I reminded myself of my own racial justice vision. I was determined to be kind and to do more.

How are you staying present?


So, I held space. And, let me tell you what I gained:

  1. A renewed determination towards intersectionality.
  2. HopeWait, what?! Hope? Sounds crazy, right? But yes, I am hopeful. 

    I am hopeful that we, as a nation, can lean into the ugly and gritty history of racism and do better and hold space for truths.

    I am hopeful that we can learn how to be interventionists, advocates and allies.

    I am hopeful seeing new white allies processing, some for the first time, race and race relations.

    I am hopeful seeing longtime white allies educating new white allies and interrupting white spaces.

    I am hopeful seeing black and brown allies beginning intersectional conversations.

    I am hopeful seeing new members of congress interrupting historic white spaces by vocalizing dissent and demanding visibility.

    I am hopeful because Nathan Phillips is entirely vocal and dissenting and his voice has become a roar
A few thoughts, practices and resources which have been helpful to me as I discern a sustainable way forward. 

1. Two things in opposition can be true. It can be true that this week’s past incident was a visual symptom of white supremacy and bigotry. It can also be true that a group of Black Hebrew Israelites were problematic. It is also critical and true to note that any version of ‘both sideism’ relies on a problematic framework and a limited, arguably intentionally ignorant, understanding of racism and dimensions of power. 

2. Reassess your educational resources and supports regarding proactive anti-racism education. Often times, white allied responses are reactionary and often limited in sustainable supports and resources regarding further training and long term solutions. Assess your racial/social justice vision. Invest in local anti-oppression training. Interrupt white spaces and educate one another. 

3. White allies – lean in. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Teach one another. As I reflect on how many white allies are condemning Nick Sandmann, I also can’t help but think that white allies should and could be leaning in. Educate him. Educate that one racist uncle. Ask hard questions and remain vigilant. Lean in. 

4. Presumed white innocence… Let’s say it again for the folks in the back…

5. Call Out/In Culture. I’ve been wrestling with this one…it is easy to ally shame. You know the “where were you when…Colombine, Charlottesville, Ferguson…” It’s easy to do that…to point the finger and point out everyone else’s inadequacies and hypocritical allyship. 

If you are struggling with call-out/in culture, or even if you don’t think you are…check out these rock star articles from The Body is Not an Apology and Everyday Feminism

  6 Signs Your Call Out Isn’t Actually About Accountability (note: ads on this page can include photos some viewers may see as risque…).


9 Ways We Can Make Social Justice Movements Less Elitist and More Accessible by Kai Cheng Thom, 

Also, side note (and to borrow from For Harriet’s, Kimberly Foster), I will never be okay staying in a box that white supremacy says I need to live in or calling out black women whom choose not to. Call out culture can be toxic. And, it can also adhere to a certain set of prescribed patriarchal and white supremacist rules. Luckily, it doesn’t have to. 

Additional Resources 
             – 25 Books by Indigenous Authors You Should Be Reading by Kaitlin Curtice. Kaitlin Curtice is a Native American speaker, storyteller, poet and author. Check out her book “Glory Happening.” 

             – Doctrine of Discovery
Ours Is The Land: Check out this 17 minute video outlining the proposal to ban the Rosemont Mine. 

Oak Flat Spiritual Walk: Participate in this sacred spiritual walk hosted by the San Carlos Apache. Check out this video  about the religious,  human rights and creation care concerns. 

What has been your practice this past week? What resources and supports do you use to stay present and engaged? 

Peace & grace always.  

Why I’m Not Here for the Nike #takeaknee Show

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Nike does not care about black people. Repeat it with me. Nike does not care about black people.

As, I’m sure you have heard. Early last week, Nikeunveiled their new ad campaign partnership with Colin Kaepernick.
If you remember, Kap is the NFL players who started the #takeaknee campaign and royally PO’d MAGA fans across the Globe. So, naturally, when Nike unveiled their new campaign, MAGA fans had a huh-UGE white tear meltdown.
Photo used from Google Photos

With some threatening to run to Converse…which is Nikeowned. But whatever. (I’m not going to tell them that).

Basically, a lot of ‘very fine American’s’ have lost their minds. And also, basically, a lot of ‘good people on both sides’ are convinced that Nike is Jesus Incarnate.

I am going to suggest that Nike isn’t doing this because they care or support black and brown people. It’s because they are a corporation that hops on whatever political wave is happening to make money off of it. It’s like that one farm that I drive by every day on my way to work that flies a Confederate flag 9 months of the year except for when they put out their farm stand…then they put out flowers and an American flag.

Likewise, Nike is in this for the money. Do you really think they care about black and brown people? If they were, let us see them pull out of all the NFL deals. Or maybe at least stop depending on child and slave labor to create their products.

And yet, by using Kap as the face of their ‘humanitarian activism’ not only can they divert attention away from anti-sweatshop protests but they can also refocus it on ‘very fine people’ burning shoes.

To quote from today’s OP Ed, ‘Just Don’t Do It’ in the Daily Missisippian by Jas Brisack, “by adding the face of an internationally respected activist to its advertisements, Nike is trying to convince the very people most likely to have boycotted its products in the past to go out and buy new ones, instead.”

This idea of “corporate co-optation of progressive movements is nothing new.” And, yet, co-optation tactics remain effective because the public is willing to remain ignorant and complicit.

When we see Nike elevating Kap, we don’t want to ask questions. We don’t want to investigate because we see a white owned company ‘empowering’ a black man.

Right?

Intersectionality requires intentional commitment, that tireless tenacity, towards purging ourselves of that pleasant urge to remain willfully ignorant.

I know that some people talk about what a big risk it was for Nike to be able to do this, but where was the risk? Nike is a 36.4-billion dollar company. When the shoe-burning crazies were at their worst, Nike’s market cap lost 3.75 billion dollars but within days had regained what it lost. Is the risk that they took a famous person, made some cute ads and put a caption over his face? This only completed what? Making sure that the people who hate Kap don’t support him?

I know that there is this knee jerk reaction that black people everywhere should be grateful to Nike for this ‘win.’ But, I guess I don’t really understand why. Have you seen a Nike Executive at your local Black Lives Matter Chapter? Or, are you still seeing overpriced shoes? Have you seen Chinese sweat shops starting to close or better wages?

So just do it.

And wake the Kap up.