Day 2 | Me & White Fragility
When I first responded to this prompt, I wrote about my white fragility in the way I avoid hard conversations and introspection about race. I now should add that I have gotten defensive in contexts when I was being critiqued for doing things and didn’t even realise it was a racial issue. It took me a long time to realise that the things I was doing or ways I was presenting myself were only accepted by the public because I was white. I have gone through life feeling entitled to behave clumsily or sloppily and remain confident that my race wouldn’t be judged for it and that I wouldn’t experience prejudice because of my race.
My white fragility shows up every time I avoid the news because it is “too much for me right now,” when I fail to find legitimate ways to self care AND do my part to fight white supremacy every day. It is when I am so consumed by white guilt that I’m unable to find ways to leverage the privilege I have to fight systemic racism. As a very young child, I had a mentor who would often say quite racist things to me. I knew the statements were wrong but didn’t know how to counter. I felt very confused and guilty about it because I respected and adored this person tremendously. For years afterwards, even the thought of acknowledging racial difference consumed me with guilt going back to this experience and prevented me from being an effective ally. In retrospect, I realise this was probably me meeting my own implicit bias as a six-year-old (without knowing the term) and instead of addressing it, being plagued by intrusive thoughts that I tried to squash.
As a mentor myself, though I talk generally about the importance of fighting for racial justice, I have often shyed away from leading discussions about specific issues and stepped back while women of colour did the work instead, confident that they would be able to do it better and terrified that I would mess it up. Though I populate my primary school classroom with so-called “diverse” books and say I value anti-racist work as a teacher, I have often succumbed to white fragility by shying away from facilitating genuine and meaningful conversations about race with my students because “I didn’t know how to respond” or thought “I didn’t have the tools” (obviously my responsibility) to bring the issues to the forefront myself. My white fragility causes me to stay silent far too often out of fear of saying the wrong thing. I apologize for expecting women of colour to the work I should be doing and commit to a lifetime of educating myself to do this work better.