At one of the many recent “whiteness history month” events at Portland Community College, Women’s Resource Center director Brad Fortier and instructor of education Tanya Mead lead a discussion entitled “It’s Not My Fault”, which centered around a notion of “white fragility” and microaggressions that white people, supposedly, do all the the time that are racist.
The event started off with Mead going on about how she “struggles with white fragility”.
They then go on to define “whiteness”. “Privilege” answers one student. Another says “Lack of knowledge of other people going with you because of the privilege that you have every day, so, things that you don’t see because of it, and you don’t realize (???) some people don’t exist, even though they do”. Yet another says “It’s a classification that has been created, especially by western Europeans, to sort of create discrete groups to justify the superiority of one group, obviously, shockingly their own, over people that were not viewed the same to help justify and also enforce and maintain these sort of very disproportionate and unfair power balances within the context of otherwise much more difficult and nuanced interactions so they can (???) them quickly and determine who is part of ‘us’ and who is not.” Mead goes on to praise Professor James Harrison, who is best known for his presentation on imagining a world without whiteness. “When I think of whiteness, I think of people, it’s the unnamed, unseen, un-talked about things. It’s the standard. It’s the normal. You’ve got people and ‘people of color’, and that’s what establishes whiteness, just this idea. And I never hear anyone say ‘I’m just African American’, I always hear ‘I’m just white’. And it’s that un-examined, un-self reflective idea ‘well I’m just a person, y’all are marked, because you’re not white’. So it’s an undefined, unspoken thing” says another student.
They continue on to ponder if they are racist for crossing the street the wrong way, or when they smile at people of color. “Am I doing the ‘white guy smile’?” asks one of the students.
After prejudging white people and making the assumption that they all live in the suburbs with white picket fences, Mead goes on to explain how “white people in North America live in an environment:
A) that protects and insulates them from race based stress
B) builds white expectations for racial comfort
C) lower the ability to tolerate racial stress.
She goes on to use Robin DiAngelo’s definition of “white fragility”. She then cites Tim Wise and explains the “typical white responses” to this supposed “fragility, of which the emotions include anger, fear and guilt, while the behaviors are argumentation, silence, tears, and leaving the stress-inducing situation.
Somehow “these behaviors function to reinstate the white racial equilibrium”.
Mead and Fortier go on to explaine the Helms Model Of White Identity Development.
It’s basically the 6 step process of going from not being racist, realizing you’re racist because you’re white and that makes you racist, then guilting yourself into making meaningless gestures to absolve yourself of this racist guilt, even though, in the end, whitey is still racist, regardless of anything.