by Michael Caro, 17 y/o
Let’s talk about some whiteys.
That’s all it takes for white people to be made a little uncomfortable. Even if you (a white person) aren’t made angry by the statement, you’re probably “taken aback” or “struck” by those words. Because of that fact I am going be saying “whitey” for the rest of this essay.
Now you might ask, “hey why you calling me whitey?” Because it challenges your incessant and irritating individuality. In America every white person is special (unless you’re poor, which makes you “white trash”). If you’re a whitey you very rarely have to consider the implications of your skin color in any situation. The result is that whiteys don’t think of themselves as white people but rather as not not-white.
Growing up half whitey on the front line of gentrification has been an experience. West Berkeley is one of the few true American “melting pots” I’ve actually seen. You can walk down Allston Way and see projects on one block and suburban houses on the next. I grew up not being exposed to many whiteys while also at the same time passing as white. The only concrete examples of white people besides what I saw on T.V. were my mom and police. I was treated as white without a white upbringing. Because of this, I observed weird instances of racial coding from a young age. I saw how people and police treated me as opposed to my dad, or how white people said racist shit with me and completely switched what they were saying in front of a black or latino person. The whole idea of the “woke white person” was kind of smashed with a hammer then shot with a glock.
When I read the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo it really gave me the vocabulary to express what I’ve seen happening and just called “white people shit.” So I will proceed to share what this book explained and why it’s worth reading, without using overly academic language.
In American society, race is relative to whiteness. The term “Person of color” (PoC), derived from the term “colored,” shows this dynamic. A person of color is a color in contrast to white, which implies that Euro-Americans are somehow aracial. So it makes sense that whiteys also tend to be avid supporters of the “we are all the same on the inside” phrase. While a good idea at face value, like most one sentence ideologies it doesn’t really capture the nuance of the real world. Yes, we are all the same (despite what disproven “scientists” from the mid 1800’s may say), but society doesn’t treat us all the same. From the moment of birth, a black baby has a bunch of bullshit (and some of that bullshit comes even before birth) to deal with that a white baby might not even see in their entire lifetime. Now if this were truly acknowledged, saying “we are all the same on the inside” wouldn’t really be a problem, but usually saying “we are all the same on the inside” is a response to someone stating that the experience of non-whites and white people are different. This stems from the idea that whiteys’ experience is the universal one. One cause of this delusion is that whiteys are the most portrayed group in popular media, which creates both physical and media segregation. When white people are not exposed to the perspectives of PoC in real life or in media they have no reason to think that there is any other general experience besides the one they know. This creates cognitive dissonance when whiteys are suddenly presented with experiences and perspectives that contradict their own (having to worry about clothing color, hostility from police, etc…). That dissonance then results in the triggering of white fragility.
In conversations about race (especially when a PoC is involved) white people generally display reactions of
guilt (e.g. feeling “attacked” or “blamed” regardless of whether they are)
fear (e.g. fearing being called racist and by extension a morally corrupt person)
subversion (e.g. “we are all the same on the inside”)
crying in order to subvert
repeating the statement “I’m not racist” regardless of the subject
leaving the situation altogether
These are all hallmarks of triggered white fragility. This, in its essence, is the lack of racial “stamina” that white people display.
Now that we understand this we have to ask the question, “Why is it bad?” The main effect of white fragility is that it allows white people to keep themselves segregated from the perspectives of PoC. When a white person chooses to be play “devil’s advocate” or chooses to be silent and disengaged, they don’t have to really absorb what’s being said and can instead choose to remain comfortable and segregated in their viewpoint without suffering any real consequences. But all actions have consequences and the people who end up having to deal with white fragility are PoC. When white people are allowed to shut down or shut out the perspectives of PoC it reinforces the social dynamics of white domination. Whiteys are able to control who is listened to and what’s a valid thing to say without even realizing it. The all too common shifting of a conversation about racism to one about how a whitey involved in that conversation is not racist, in itself is racist, whether it’s intended to be or not.
Whether what you’re doing is racist or not is like whether you are or are not being an asshole. You don’t choose whether you’re considered an asshole, just like how you don’t choose whether you’re being racist. Your actions are to be judged by others, but there is a key difference between calling out a general asshole and calling out someone for racism. In our sort of “post civil rights era” America, being and/or doing something racist has been conflated with being a morally corrupt individual (among “progressive” whiteys). So when you call out someone for racism, in their mind you are calling them an inherently bad person. With racism being such a serious accusation, if someone were to call out someone else and the their peers don’t agree, the consequences for the person accusing are quite steep. When someone calls out racism it should generally be listened to rather than dismissed, as its impact was racist enough for them to put themselves under scrutiny.
We as a society need to redefine the word racism. As society becomes more integrated, racism becomes more nuanced in how it shows itself (among progressive whiteys). Not actively calling people racial slurs doesn’t get you a medal. We live in a society that is steeped in white supremacy, colorism, and racism. Simply being “colorblind” (if that’s even possible) isn’t enough. It’s on white people to not only allow change, but actively make change themselves, as whiteys have actively been trying to take the ability to make change from anyone who isn’t white for centuries. Racism is not just racial prejudice, it is not only the individual actions of the “bad white people”; racism is also the systematic, social, and economic oppression of non white people. Anyone can be racist regardless of race, but the racism that is built into every individual in America by centuries of oppression, media messaging, and violence will always benefit the white man (and woman).
Perhaps the only real thing people can do is to educate themselves and the people around them. If you try to present some of these ideas to some white people you know, you will probably be met with white fragility- that’s just how these things tend to work out. People who stopped reading the first time I said “whitey” will never get this message; and even if they had kept reading, they probably never would. But that’s not who this piece is for. For change to happen in this country, white people need to be willing to not only create change within themselves but to spread change within their own communities. White people need to be willing to call out racism when they see it. So next time your work buddy talks about having “jungle fever,” tell him “hey bruh you should try to lay off that.” While this might require that you put your ass on the chopping block, after centuries of making everyone else do the same, it might be time for your turn.