How to deal with white fragility in people close to you – POC IOM Q&A

Question

I’d like to help to talk to people who feel offended by the conversations going on. Specifically, white friends who feel the narrative is an attack on them when they don’t feel they are racist but equally don’t call out casual racism when they hear it. They reply with things like “oh so now all white people are racist, right’.  Basically, how to deal with white fragility in people close to you.

Answer

This is such a good point! A lot of people feel triggered by the words ‘White Privilege’ and think it’s a synonym of ‘racist’ which it absolutely is not. White privilege is an institutional (rather than personal) set of benefits granted to those who, by race, resemble the people who dominate the powerful positions in our institutions. One of the white privileges being, having greater access to power and resources than POC do. The word ‘privilege’ can be triggering to people as they feel it detracts from any misfortune they have experienced in their own lives, but it simply means that you don’t experience additional issues due to the colour of your skin.

People think of racism as something only ‘bad’ people engage in, therefore when people hear that they may have played a part in racism themselves, it can be uncomfortable and hurtful to hear as they don’t view themselves as bad people.

The key point to drive home is that racism isn’t a judgment of moral character or a question of ‘good vs evil’ but rather a reflection of society. It is not a series of unconnected events, but rather centuries of social conditioning on a global scale. So it isn’t about feeling guilty, or embarrassed, but about recognising where you went wrong and putting in the work to educate yourself to not engage in these behaviours moving forward. 

Someone who discusses this topic amazingly is Dr Robin Diangelo. She states that White people aren’t used to being talked about as one collective unit. They have never been bunched together as a group and they simply aren’t used to having a race discussion where their own race is called out as problematic, and when these discussions do happen, it burns!

Breaking down the wall of defensiveness is a mission in itself, however, it is one of the most powerful and necessary conversations to have in this fight against racism.

Here are some methods that may help you get through:

  1. Arming yourself with knowledge. Do your research. Be prepared and show them the cold hard facts – like how the last slave ship that left Liverpool was captained by a Manxman, or that big companies like PWC pay their employees of colour around 12.8% less than their White counterparts.

  2. Don’t get angry! When you hear something offensive, our knee jerk reaction is to get angry, insult them and walk away. This won’t get you anywhere! The best thing to do is to challenge them. Why do they think this is the case? Connect with the human behind the comment before calmly calling them out on what they have said. An example you might hear a lot is ‘Why are they shouting Black Lives Matter when all lives matter equally’. In that case, you can ask them why they think that Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that all lives matter and what it is about that statement that angers them so much. Once you have got to the root of this, you can then go on to explain that Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that other lives don’t matter, and we aren’t saying only Black lives matter or that Black lives matter more, but that at the moment if you look at the statistics of employment, university education, on-screen representation, police brutality ratios… it would suggest that there is a problem in our society that suggests that Black lives are undervalued. 

  3. Make it personal to them. A trick is to flip racist opinions on their head. A good example of this is if they are outraged about the toppling of the statue in Bristol, ask them how they would feel if there were a huge statue of Hitler in the middle of their town? It is a good way of bringing the point home. This can work for smaller comments as well such as ‘Black people can’t get a job because they are lazy’ how does that sound if you say ‘White people can’t get a job because they are lazy’. Sounds kind of strange no?

  4. Keep the conversation going and don’t give up! This is a marathon, not a sprint. Change the rhetoric. View each conversation as a chance to learn and grow. Encourage your friends and family to listen to the experiences of People of Colour. Share novels, films and podcasts created by a diverse range of people that tear down the concept of a single story. Conversations about race shouldn’t always be about how awful the system is but also about promoting the amazing things people of colour have done for our island, our country and the world.

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