Reflections on discussing White Fragility together

During the month of September, a group of about 20 church members came together over three Zoom sessions to discuss the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and to dive into honest and vulnerable conversations on racism. What resulted was faith-filled, spirit-led dialogue, and wondering, what next? Two members of the book study composed this report for the October Newsletter. Interested in learning more about how you can participate in the work towards racial justice? Join us on Sunday mornings, and stay tuned for more programs, education, activism, and dialogue.

“I’m not racist!” How many times have we heard this statement by caring people who are not aware of the institutional racism embedded in our culture? This is one of the topics explored by the book group that read, White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo. Rev. Emelia led two groups, each consisting of about ten people, over a six-week period with three Zoom sessions each.

As we read the book, our discussions provided a safe place to share our personal experiences with racism, to explore guilt, misconceptions, and revelations, and also explore terms that were new to us. 

The first thing we learned was a new definition of racism. It’s no longer about “bad” people running around lynching Black people just because, or refusing to let Black people eat at a lunch counter. Such racism, once common in the United States, is no longer so prevalent. But, racism is still built into our basic institutions in that African Americans in general do not have the same access to education, health care, or decent jobs that white people have. So, the issue is more about identifying racist institutions and how we have benefitted from them, than it is about “being mean”. But when one points out the realities of institutional racism, people get all defensive. Hence “white fragility”. We can’t handle truths that should shame us.

During one session, we discussed a continuum of racism from a UU curriculum that demonstrated how not everyone is in the same place on this journey. The continuum runs from the overt racism of white supremacist militias; to people who think white folks are naturally superior; to folks who think we’re all the same, but the white way of life is the norm toward which all should strive; to honoring and cherishing cultural diversity and to being active allies in the fight to remove racist institutions. My biggest revelation was how racist my family was. I explored reasons for this and found the beginning of an answer. 

During another session, the term “White Women’s Tears,” was discussed when it was introduced in the reading. Sometimes when racism is pointed out, people break into tears (most often, apparently, white women) as a means of changing the subject away from racism: “How could you think I had anything to do with racism?” How tears evoke anger was an eye opener for me and helped to explain some interactions that I have had that I have never understood before. 
During another discussion we were reminded that white people are fragile and don’t like to be reminded that, even though unintentional, some of their behavior can be racist. Becoming aware of the racism embedded into our culture helps everyone grow. As the author says, Black people are tired of explaining this to white people!

This week we wrapped up the discussion of the book by meeting all together in a single group, discussing what we learned, sharing what struck us personally about our reading, and imagining where we might go from here. This is very hard work, and there are no easy answers. 

Many excellent ideas were shared:
· Keep reading, either on our own or in a book group · Guest preacher on the subject of racism · Community involvement, including high school students · Musical program · Expand our Martin Luther King Day activities · Partnering with a Church in a community of color

If you would like to read the book, White Fragility, ask in the office. Many of us would love to share our book with you. If you are an eBook reader, the best place to borrow a copy is the Boston Public Library. They provide on-line access to all residents of Massachusetts. Other local libraries have long waiting lists for this book, the BPL does not.

Finally, you may want to join in when we read another book on the topic. Stay tuned….
Submitted by Mary Ann Higgins and Larry Piper