In their last Anti-Racism 101 piece, Nicole Andrews, Audrey Elegbede and Ashalul Aden discussed how anti-Blackness is ingrained in our global society. In this piece, Aden spoke with Andrews and Elegbede about white fragility, white privilege and white supremacy.
White fragility, white privilege and white supremacy are terms often used in conversation about racial conditions and racial conditioning in the United States. To understand how to work against them, however, we must first understand what they are.
White fragility is defined as the “discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice.” In other words, many white people recoil when confronted with racial ideas—especially those that call out whiteness or white people. There is usually some form of backlash such as “I’m not racist! I have a Black friend! How could I be racist?” Proximity to Blackness does not make a person less racist; anti-racist ideals and morals make a person less racist, not who they associate with.
For Andrews, white fragility is actually white resiliency, a term introduced by Ororo S. Munroe. White resiliency exists to uplift and uphold white supremacy as a whole. “Dampening down our terminology, our Blackness, is not fragility; it is resiliency,” says Andrews. “It is uplifting white supremacy in every space.” In a space where a white person is confronted with race, they automatically center themselves and put up a resistance to learning—that is white resiliency. White fragility tends to lead to self-inflicted hurt feelings, but resiliency is the idea that a white person will not do anything to help with racial tensions unless things are made easier for them.
“White privilege is unearned benefits that come from being born and being perceived as being white in a culture that favors whiteness,” says Elegbede. White privilege is not earned; it is given. It makes life easier for white people. This term has been around for decades, but it was popularized in the late 1980s by Peggy McIntosh, who wrote about white privilege in her article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” When this piece was released, the academic world began discussing what their role was in the fight for racial equality. It became clear that white people did not think about their own racial identities as often as members of other races did.
Elegbede adds, “When you identify as white in a society that is Eurocentric, where whiteness is identified, preferred, valued and elevated, there is a privilege in being able to see yourself as an individual instead of representative of a racial identity.” Unlike white people in a predominantly white society, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Persons of Color) people are used to being seen as members of a racial group. They see themselves in racialized terms throughout their lives and, therefore, they have the skillset to discuss race and racism. Meanwhile, white people are socialized to think of themselves primarily as individuals, and they tend not to have the depth of skillset to talk about themselves in racialized terms.
Historically, marginalized groups have had to build that skill at a very young age. To see yourself as an individual and not worry about how your actions reflect your racial group is privilege. When McIntosh released her essay, white people who had an elementary-level understanding of themselves in racialized terms were shocked to be grouped together. White privilege allowed them to focus on their own lives and individual wellbeing, which is a privilege that other historically marginalized groups have not experienced.
White fragility and white privilege all play into the bigger system of white supremacy. Elegbede describes white supremacy as “a system that was built and designed to ensure the advancement of that which is deemed white and is predicated on anti-Blackness.” White supremacy is not only KKK rallies or the deadly Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021—it is the system that uplifts and upholds whiteness as righteous, good and quintessentially human. White supremacy is the foundation for concepts of white fragility, resiliency, privilege and much more. It is a system that has been and continues to be perpetuated because it is so deeply ingrained in the social, political, economic and legal fabric of our world.
White fragility, white privilege and white supremacy work together to enact systems of racial oppression and violence, as well as advancing other systems of power and oppression, such as ableism, sexism, classism and other ailments that our society adheres to. Indeed, as Andrews reminds us, “Defining terms alone does nothing; you have to move through them.” Simply understanding the words is not enough. You must also open your eyes to the different ways people experience the world.
For example, observe a grocery store and recognize the floor space. Is the store accessible to everyone? Does it contain tools that will help members of the disability community? And if so, which members of the disability community does it serve? Alternatively, observe who is working, who is shopping and how people can move through the space. Who is at ease versus who is being followed? Who is assumed to be able to pay for their purchases? Who receives customer service? Who receives eye contact, and who doesn’t? Systems of supremacy and privilege continue to uplift some while marginalizing others. To build a strong community, we must see and empathize with each other’s unique experiences and struggles and work together to achieve a solution that uplifts all and strengthens the community.
The solution needs to be intersectional—no person or issue left behind. We need to be a strong community and look out for other people. That includes understanding our roles in a global society, advocating for accessibility in all spaces and being vaccinated to protect others, for example.
Throughout this year, we have explored and discussed the issues of saying “I don’t see color,” anti-Blackness and white supremacy. These issues seem overwhelming, but with the right care and concern, we can fix it. Our solutions need to be intersectional. We need to read more, talk to each other more and be open-minded. No one person knows everything, but we can keep our minds open to learn new things and grow as individuals. At the end of the day, we are imperfect human beings, but we can use our awareness as a species to nurture empathy and growth for all people.
We are in this together. Let us make the most of that and continue to cultivate relationships that strengthen our community and ourselves. We are on this Earth to make life better for all people—let us accomplish that and celebrate ourselves along the way. ::
:: get connected
Check out local resident Nicole Nfonoyim-Hara’s website called Rochester Racial Justice Toolkit at https://thetoolkit.wixsite.com/toolkit/about for more information as well as resources for healing, self-care and joy for people of color.
- “You Are Your Best Thing” by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown
- “Heart of Whiteness” by Robert Jenson
- “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh
- “How to Push Through My Complicity: Unpacking White Resilience” by Ororo S. Munroe