Sometimes circumstances conspire to demand that you tell the whole, unvarnished truth as you see it. These are the circumstances, and this is the truth, as I see it, about White fragility.
Here it is, straight, no chaser: White fragility isn't just salty tears; it is also rage and violence. It is burning crosses and dead children in a church. It is domestic terrorism and it is White silence. It is generations of domestic, state-sanctioned terrorism that has never been prosecuted, and it is White civilian terrorism that is never referred to as terrorism. It is as much Bonnie the AZ teacher, as it is Adam the KS killer, Loughner the Tuscon, AZ shooter, Lanza the Sandy Hook child killer, and Roof, the Charleston church mass murderer. Fragility is also the spiritual violence that is expressed, sometimes in calls for Kumbaya, and more often in the deafening silence from far too many pulpits, about the suffering and mistreatment of people who are not White.
All that and more is White fragility, because it is not a stand-alone condition and fragility is certainly not one thing. There is a continuum, a series of responses to certain stimuli. Specifically, the address of oppression and oppressive systems created by Whites, for the benefit of Whites is a psychological, socio-cultural, and political trigger point for Whites. Responses to that trigger may begin with pearl-clutching or tears but hatred and violence are the end.
It is perhaps comforting to conclude that so-called 'White fragility' is actually fragility. It is not.
The label is a misnomer. We might do better to call this thing colonizer emotional sleight of hand, or maybe historical hypocrisy, or social deceit, but the ‘fragility’ label simply doesn’t fit. Fragile is too facile, too glib a label for something as noxious as what so-called White fragility is. What this ‘fragility’ is is a disingenuous denial of Whiteness’ history of racial warfare on any group that wasn't itself; a denial of its wanton savagery towards any group that had (or has) something that it wanted to claim; it is a denial of its willingness to destroy others so as to pillage their bodies, property, land, or resources. Fragile? Not hardly. What we’ve labeled ‘fragile’ is in fact anything but. It is damaging, it is malevolent, it is destructive. What it is not, is fragile.
Sometimes circumstances, as I said before, conspire to force one to face and articulate the truth in harsh terms. These are the circumstances and this is the truth as I see it.
Circumstance One: Bonnie Godin Verne
Arizona elementary school teacher Bonnie Verne thought it fitting and right to take to social media to recommend the coldblooded murder of undocumented Arizonans. After social media responded to her suggestion, she (i) shut down her newly opened Twitter account (or went private, same diff) and (ii) lost her job.
This is typical of the kind of malevolence that lies at the heart of White supremacy. When challenged, out jumps one of faux fragility’s presentations: the clutched pearl response. Clutched pearls, sometimes presented as the hot salty tears response, deflects responsibility, and deftly makes the oppressor the victim.
Faux fragility (Faux-gility? Fragilit-aux?) prevents any and all honest discussions of White supremacy and the systems of oppression it has created. Faux-gility manipulatively prevents any discussion of such systems, while at the same time denying the part it plays in sustaining those systems. The sympathy demanded by the pearl-clutching and hand-wringing virtually ensures the unimpaired growth of supremacy. (How can I challenge your ignorance or odiousness if you’re going to cry? I’m going to feel like a monster.) Congratulations! That’s pretty damn brilliant. Emotional manipulation level: expert.
Bonnie’s post, and the crocodile tears you can be sure she shed when she was asked to resign, are the consequence of ten generations of public and private acts of White supremacy allowed to go unchallenged. When multiple generations of vileness meet zero generations of honest reflection or pushback, ‘Bonnies’ are the inevitable outcome. How could they not be?
That Bonnie would say this was neither an accident, nor a misstatement. This thought (and many others like it I’m sure) is the result of unreasoning hatred of the 'other'. And she was an elementary school teacher. Do you not wonder what else she might have been spewing in her classroom? Do you doubt that this thinking imbued some of the things she said and did in her classroom, her living room, in exchanges with students’ parents and people with whom she comes in contact?
And yet there are folk who would have me believe that (i) racism doesn't exist, or (ii) that bias that results in disparate educational outcomes for minority children is in my head, or (iii) that bias that results in higher incarceration rates and lower professional success rates are a figment of our collective imagination. Uh huh.
Bonnie will, I'm sure, claim that she's been misunderstood and ultimately, she'll either quietly get her job back, or get another one the next school district over. And the world will spin quietly on.
Circumstance Two: Adam Purinton.
Adam, went out for a drink, saw two brown people, concluded that they must be interlopers and now one is dead, and the other hospitalized. Having determined from their ‘look’ that they must be Muslims and therefore a threat, Purinton instructed these legal residents to "get out of his country," drew a gun, and fired.
Purinton killed a man who was out minding his business, having a drink, and socializing with a friend. It’s really just pure dumb luck that Purinton didn’t kill them both. We should be grateful I suppose. Yeah, let’s be grateful that hate took only one victim, not two.
Supremacy did that. The refusal to own the truth of history did that. The refusal to teach a non-whitewashed history did that. The fake tears and loud rages against facts did that.
A man is dead, like so many before him in so many other asinine exchanges, because White supremacy demands that it be allowed to be as repugnant as it wants to be, without challenge or consequence.
A man is dead because some of y’all can’t handle the damn truth.
What we commonly refer to a ‘White fragility’ is a grab bag of responses to being forced to deal with unpleasant historical facts; it’s a response that screams, “Don’t make me feel bad for what my forebears did years ago, or what I did just now!” It’s a response that bellows, “Don’t make me have to change my behavior or my understanding of the world!". Most of all, White fragility shouts, “Don't make me have to face the ugliness of what I’m doing right now, because I’m a good person!”.
I hate to break it to you this way but no, you are not a good person. You and the pearls you are clutching may think you’re a good person, but if an accidental murderer is still a murderer then an accidental or incidental oppressor is still an oppressor. Fix yourself. Gain some awareness and fix your damn self.
Your faux-gility begins with salty tears, deflections, and "All Lives Matter" responses but those are just the emotionally manipulative tip of an iceberg of fragile responses. All the BS pearl-clutching and assorted asshattery are really just mechanisms employed to stop the flow of truth and separate perpetrators from anything that looks like culpability.
Fragility in any of its many presentations – from tears to 21st century lynching – is a response to an unavoidable reality: that history is replete with ugly stories of European so-called adventurers and conquerors acting in vile ways (even as they presented themselves as emissaries of God and/or King). Europeans and Americans fresh off whatever boats they rowed in on, stole everything they could and destroyed what they couldn't. And they're not done yet.
I can understand why one would want to reject that info. I can understand one’s sense of innate superiority rebelling in the face of those facts but those are the facts.
Rather than acknowledge that one’s skinfolk have done irreparable harm to others, rather than acknowledge that without reflection, one’s skinfolk will (not may but will) do the same again; rather than learn from history, this nation has chosen instead, to teach generations of American children the entire fiction that is White supremacy, available evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
Am I burdening you with the sins of your forebears? Yes; yes I am. Have I not been burdened with the supposed sins of mine?
In choosing this path of least truth, we've cemented what were merely the objectionable beliefs of earlier generations; we have codified and weaponized them, creating public policy and social practice around ‘race’ - a thing that scientifically does not even exist.
As long as we continue to teach only the whitewashed version of history - the slaves-were-migrant-workers version; the slaves-should-be-grateful-for-food-and-shelter version of history – changing our behavior and reaching reconciliation will be impossible; which may well be the point, since we're not really trying to have reconciliation anyway.
And so fragility, emotional icebergs, collision and death await, Adam P and Bonnie V are poster children for that truth.
About the Author - Elle Sagar
I am a strategic thinker and problem solver. I have a knack for seeing the heart of an issue, clearing away all the noise and nonsense and hopefully making cogent arguments that go to the central issue under consideration. Nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try. That's a lyric from an Ella Fitzgerald song and from the songbook of my life.