White fragility refers to the tendency for those racialised as white to resist acknowledging racism because it generates feelings we don’t want to feel in relation to the role white supremacy has played in the systemic oppression and abuse of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC).
A culture of white privilege has created and reinforced norms of silence and exclusion to avoid feeling the discomfort that acknowledging racism generates. When our ability to impose this unconscious boundary comes from privilege and blinkered avoidance, this is oppressive and bolsters the oppression already built into the status quo.
Framing this situation as ‘white fragility’ is not about making white people wrong for experiencing this fragility. For us it is vital to recognise that white fragility is a trauma-response rooted in the historic trauma deriving from our lineages of being oppressors - an ancestral lineage which almost always includes the experience of also having been oppressed and the heart-rending and, in itself traumatizing, reaction of oppressing others in turn. This nuanced understanding tends to cultivate a sense of compassion for ourselves and others, rather than defensiveness. This in turn increases our resourcefulness and ability to become resilient and better allies in the face of our white fragility.
Whilst white fragility is not the fault of those racialised white, it is the responsibility of those racialised white to cultivate the resilience needed to feel and alchemise the discomfort it elicits so to be increasingly able to become active allies in challenging racism and white supremacy - and in cultivating racial unity and justice.
Anti-racist work can be supported by creating healthy boundaries for caucuses (groups of similar identities) to do the transformative work of exploring white fragility and working to understand and address the oppressions of white supremacy culture. Caucusing can also perpetuate divisions, so needs to be approached alongside developing relationships and taking responsibility to transform boundaries within and without.
It is important to remember that the term ‘white fragility’ can be extended to all the other identities that our mainstream culture systematically marginalises and oppresses. For example; male fragility, able-bodied fragility; hetero-normative fragility; gender-normative fragility; neuro-normative fragility.
This means that for those of us committed to co-creating inner-led change and the relational cultures that support this, we need to be inquiring into where we may unconsciously be imposing boundaries in relation to identities and ways of being as a result of our cultural conditioning.
See our radical inclusivity design principle for more on this.