White Fragility by Robin DiangeloNotable passage from
White Fragility by Robin Diangelo

Narrated by Amy Landon

Beacon Press , 2018, Downpour⩘ 

When we look back to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, we might think of white supremacists as the people we saw in photos and on television, beating blacks at lunch counters, bombing black churches, and screaming at little Ruby Bridges, the first African American child to integrate an all-white elementary school in Louisiana in 1960. Today we might think of the self-described "alt-right" white nationalists marching with torches in Virginia and shouting "blood and soil" as they protest the removal of Confederate war memorials. Most white people do not identify with these images of white supremacists and so take great umbrage to the term being used more broadly. For sociologists and those involved in current racial justice movements, however, white supremacy is a descriptive and useful term to capture the all encompassing centrality and assumed superiority of people defined and perceived as white, and the practices based on this assumption. White supremacy in this context does not refer to individual white people and their individual intentions or actions, but to an overarching political, economic, and social system of domination. Again, racism is a structure, not an event. While hate groups that openly proclaim white superiority do exist and this term refers to them also, the popular consciousness solely associates white supremacy with these radical groups. This reductive definition obscures the reality of the larger system at work and prevents us from addressing this system.…
   In his book The Racial Contract Charles W. Mills argues that the racial contract is a tacit and sometimes explicit agreement among members of the peoples of Europe to assert, promote, and maintain the ideal of white supremacy in relation to all other people of the world. This agreement is an intentional and integral characteristic of the social contract, underwriting all other social contracts. White supremacy has shaped a system of global European domination: it brings into existence whites and nonwhites, full persons and subpersons. It influences white moral theory and moral psychology and is imposed on nonwhites through ideological conditioning and violence. Mills says that "what has usually been … taken as the racist 'exception' has really been the rule; what has been taken as the 'rule' … [racial equality] … has really been the exception."
   Mills describes white supremacy as "the unnamed political system that has made the modern world what it is today." He notes that although white supremacy has shaped Western political thought for hundreds of years, it is never named. In this way, white supremacy is rendered invisible while other political systems—socialism, capitalism, fascism—are identified and studied. In fact, much of white supremacy's power is drawn from its invisibility, the taken-for-granted aspects that underwrite all other political and social contracts.
   Mills makes two points that are critical to our understanding of white fragility. First, white supremacy is never acknowledged. Second, we cannot study any sociopolitical system without addressing how that system is mediated by race. The failure to acknowledge white supremacy protects it from examination and holds it in place.
   In Ta-Nehisi Coate's essay "The Case for Reparations," he makes a similar point:

To ignore the fact that one of the oldest republics in the world was erected on a foundation of white supremacy, to pretend that the problems of a dual society are the same as the problems of unregulated capitalism, is to cover the sin of national plunder with the sin of national lying. The lie ignores the fact that reducing American poverty and ending white supremacy are not the same.… [W]hite supremacy is not merely the work of hotheaded demagogues, or a matter of false consciousness, but a force so fundamental to America that it is difficult to imagine the country without it.

   In light of the reality of historical and continual white supremacy, white complaints about reverse racism by programs intended to ameliorate the most basic levels of discrimination are profoundly petty and delusional. As Mills summarizes:

Both globally and within particular nation states, then, white people, Europeans and their descendants, continue to benefit from the Racial Contract, which creates a world in their cultural image, political states, differentially favoring their interests, an economy structured around the racial exploitation of others, and a moral psychology … skewed consciously or unconsciously toward privileging them, taking the status quo of differing racial entitlement as normatively legitimate, and not to be investigated further.

   Race scholars use the term white supremacy to describe a sociopolitical economic system of domination based on racial categories that benefits those defined and perceived as white. This system of structural power privileges, centralizes, and elevates white people as a group.


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