White Fragility and the Rules of Engagement

 How to engage in the necessary dialogue and self-reflection that can lead to structural change.

I am white. I write and teach about what it means to be white in a society that proclaims race meaningless, yet remains deeply divided by race. A fundamental but very challenging part of my work is moving white people from an individual understanding of racism—i.e. only some people are racist and those people are bad—to a structural understanding. A structural understanding recognizes racism as a default system that institutionalizes an unequal distribution of resources and power between white people and people of color. This system is historic, taken for granted, deeply embedded, and it works to the benefit of whites.

The two most effective beliefs that prevent us (whites) from seeing racism as a system are:

  1. that racists are bad people and
  2. that racism is conscious dislike;
When you understand racism as a system of structured relations into which we are all socialized, you understand that intentions are irrelevant.

if we are well-intended and do not consciously dislike people of color, we cannot be racist. This is why it is so common for white people to cite their friends and family members as evidence of their lack of racism. However, when you understand racism as a system of structured relations into which we are all socialized, you understand that intentions are irrelevant. And when you understand how socialization works, you understand that much of racial bias is unconscious. Negative messages about people of color circulate all around us. While having friends of color is better than not having them, it doesn’t change the overall system or prevent racism from surfacing in our relationships. The societal default is white superiority and we are fed a steady diet of it 24/7. To not actively seek to interrupt racism is to internalize and accept it.

As part of my work I teach, lead and participate in affinity groups, facilitate workshops, and mentor other whites on recognizing and interrupting racism in our lives. As a facilitator, I am in a position to give white people feedback on how their unintentional racism is manifesting. This has allowed me to repeatedly observe several common patterns of response. The most common by far is outrage:

How dare you suggest that I could have said or done something racist!

Given the dominant conceptualization of racism as individual acts of cruelty, it follows that only terrible people who don’t like people of color can commit it. While this conceptualization is misinformed, it functions beautifully to protect racism by making it impossible to engage in the necessary dialogue and self-reflection that can lead to change.

Outrage is often followed by righteous indignation about the manner in which the feedback was given. I have discovered (as I am sure have countless people of color) that there is apparently an unspoken set of rules for how to give white people feedback on racism.


The Rules of Engagement

After years of working with my fellow whites, I have found that the only way to give feedback correctly is not to give it at all. Thus, the first rule is cardinal:

1. Do not give me feedback on my racism under any circumstances.

If you break the cardinal rule:

2. Proper tone is crucial – feedback must be given calmly. If there is any emotion in the feedback, the feedback is invalid and does not have to be considered.

3. There must be trust between us. You must trust that I am in no way racist before you can give me feedback on my racism.

4. Our relationship must be issue-free – If there are issues between us, you cannot give me feedback on racism.

5. Feedback must be given immediately, otherwise it will be discounted because it was not given sooner.

6. You must give feedback privately, regardless of whether the incident occurred in front of other people. To give feedback in front of anyone else—even those involved in the situation—is to commit a serious social transgression. The feedback is thus invalid.

7. You must be as indirect as possible. To be direct is to be insensitive and will invalidate the feedback and require repair.

8. As a white person I must feel completely safe during any discussion of race. Giving me any feedback on my racism will cause me to feel unsafe, so you will need to rebuild my trust by never giving me feedback again. Point of clarification: when I say “safe” what I really mean is “comfortable.”

9. Giving me feedback on my racial privilege invalidates the form of oppression that I experience (i.e. classism, sexism, heterosexism). We will then need to focus on how you oppressed me.

10. You must focus on my intentions, which cancel out the impact of my behavior.

11. To suggest my behavior had a racist impact is to have misunderstood me. You will need to allow me to explain until you can acknowledge that it was your misunderstanding.

These rules are rooted in white fragility.


Their contradictions are irrelevant; their function is to obscure racism and protect white dominance and they do so very effectively. Yet from an understanding of racism as a system of unequal institutional power, we need to ask ourselves where these rules come from and who they serve.

White fragility works to punish the person giving feedback and essentially bully them back into silence.

Many of us actively working to interrupt racism continually hear complaints about the “gotcha” culture of white anti-racism. There is a stereotype that we are looking for every incident we can find so we can spring out, point our fingers, and shout, “You’re a racist!” While certainly there are white people who arrogantly set themselves apart from other whites by acting in this way, in my experience over 20 years this is not the norm. It is far more common for sincere white people to agonize over when and how to give feedback to a fellow white person, given the ubiquitousness of white fragility. White fragility works to punish the person giving feedback and essentially bully them back into silence. It also maintains white solidarity—the tacit agreement that we will protect white privilege and not hold each other accountable for our racism. When the person giving the feedback is a person of color, the charge is “playing the race card” and the consequences of white fragility are much more penalizing.

Racism is the norm rather than an aberration. Feedback is key to our ability to recognize and repair our inevitable and often unaware collusion.

In recognition of this, I follow these guidelines:

  1. How, where, and when you give me feedback is irrelevant – it is the feedback I want and need. Understanding that it is hard to give, I will take it any way I can get it. From my position of social, cultural, and institutional white power and privilege, I am perfectly safe and I can handle it. If I cannot handle it, it’s on me to build my racial stamina.
  2. Thank you.

The above guidelines rest on the understanding that there is no face to save and the jig is up; I know that I have blind spots and unconscious investments in white superiority. My investments are reinforced every day in mainstream society. I did not set this system up but it does unfairly benefit me and I am responsible for interrupting it. I need to work hard to recognize it myself, but I can’t do it alone. This understanding leads me to gratitude when others help me.

In my workshops, I often ask the people of color,

“How often have you given white people feedback on our unaware yet inevitable racism and had that go well for you?”

Eye-rolling, head-shaking, and outright laughter follow, along with the general consensus of never. I then ask,

“What would it be like if you could simply give us feedback, have us graciously receive it, reflect, and work to change the behavior?”

Recently a man of color sighed and said,

“It would be revolutionary.”  

I ask my fellow whites to consider the profundity of that response. Revolutionary that we would receive, reflect, and work to change the behavior. On the one hand, it points to how difficult and fragile we are. But on the other hand, how simple taking responsibility for our racism can be.

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  1. RealRaven says:

    DO you know that you (as a white women who no doubt is from a privileged background) pretty much are speaking for yourself and ignoring the lived experience of a vast number of white people who have been threatened and attacked by being screamed at, pushed around or have their cars damaged in the name of “not feeling comfortable”. If you damage the interpersonal relationship by treating me like an inferior being then you cannot assume the moral high ground.

  2. So disappointing to see the lack of conceptual thinking processes in regards to the complexity of systemic racism. Its like most of you were trying to give ideal examples of points the piece made; although it appears you were not and were, instead, speaking from your own thoughts/experiences. Sad.

  3. Robin, I think your heart is in the right place, but ultimately, your approach to this situation only serves to widen the gap between races by coming off as accusatory and patronizing. It even has “preemptive clauses” built into it so you can quickly and easily label people who disagree with you.

    Here are the key problems with what you’re trying to push, here:

    1. People are ALWAYS going to refer first to their own life experiences before considering the “bigger picture”.

    Yes, white privilege is real (more on that subject later), but when you tell a white homeless man that he has enjoyed white privilege, what exactly is his reaction supposed to be?

    If you accuse a person of something, ANYTHING, yes, they’re generally going to react poorly to it. This is universal across all races, genders, and creeds. Your goal here feels less like you’re trying to educate people about how to not be racist and more like you’re trying to elicit a desired reaction so you can then say, “There, you see how racist you are? You’re so racist that you won’t even have a conversation about it!”

    Of course your average person isn’t going to consider the bigger picture first. In fact, the odds are that they’ll read this article, look at their own miserable excuse for a life, and decide that you and everyone like you is completely out of touch with reality. You simply cannot tell people to accept that they need to atone for a sin they certainly don’t seem to have committed (ie benefiting from white privilege when they live in poverty) and expect the discussion to continue after that.

    And no, these people are not “lost racist causes” who are beyond being brought over to the side of reason, as I’ll also explain later…

    2. You ask white people to immediately take a submissive stance on the subject, without knowing anything about the circumstances involved.

    Ironically, you yourself wind up being racist by approaching this situation with the assumption that all people of color are as innocent and naive as the “Navi” creatures from “Avatar”.

    I have bad news for you: seeing people as equals regardless of their skin color means acknowledging that ANYONE can be as downright calculating, conniving, and underhanded as the most evil white people history has ever seen.

    When you tell white people to immediately assume the submissive stance on this matter, you’re possibly setting them up for a very rude awakening, one that is going to negatively affect their perceptions of people of color. There are people out there just waiting to take advantage of “white guilt” for personal gain, people who don’t give a rat’s butt about just how negative this white person’s feelings are going to be toward people of that race from then on (just as racist white people care very little for how their actions will affect the future perceptions of THEIR victims).

    Painting everyone of a certain race with the same brush is racism, even if that brush is meant to be a “positive” one.

    3. You complicate something that may in fact be incredibly simple.

    Racism will finally be dead when people treat each other the same without any regard for skin color. Contrary to the web of confusion, guilt, and misconceptions you seem to weave here about the “rules” governing the interaction between white people and non-whites, it’s really not that complicated.

    If you like someone, be their friend. If you’re romantically interested in them, ask them out. If the first step to eradicating racism is to do so on a personal level, then just let people interact with each other like they interact with anyone of their own skin tone, without clouding everything up with a bunch of bizarre rules, caveats and cautions.

    When you add a lot of what can only be called “extra work” into having any kind of relationship with a person who’s not the same skin tone as you, you’re essentially encouraging people to avoid those relationships to start with, and that goes for everyone involved. It’s difficult to be someone’s friend when they walk on eggshells around you all the time because they’re afraid of offending you. Friends are people who let it all hang out when they’re around each other. If you value another person as a human being, they know full well that you’re not going to say anything to deliberately hurt them.

    4. We are all suffering together, bound by the same noose around the necks of white, black, asian, latino, etc. alike

    White privilege exists, most definitely. It’s a real thing and most white people have been knowingly or unknowingly benefiting from it their entire lives. However, white privilege is only a symptom of a much bigger issue…

    Ask yourself this: why does white privilege exist? Because white people started this country, and because white people are still predominantly the ones running it. The people with most of the money and power in this country are white, plain and simple.

    These rich, powerful white people are just as oppressive toward the vast majority of white people as they are toward any non-white person. In fact, unless your net worth is over a billion dollars, they probably don’t even see you as relevant, no matter your skin color. Of course, they have many white people convinced that they’re not, and getting these white people to see this fact is the real challenge.

    So rather than try to sit white people down and tell them about how much privilege they’ve enjoyed in order to be living in a trailer on welfare, point out that the reason they’re living in that trailer on welfare is the same reason many people of color also have it rough (keyword being “also”): we’re all in the same boat of suffering, period end.

    See, your entire argument basically boils down to two men chained to a wall, where the second man tells the first how lucky he is because the first man’s neck clamp is slightly looser than that of the second man. While technically true, it’s not exactly an argument that’s going to sway the first man.

    Instead, both men should be working on their escape plan, together, which in real life terms involves people of all races, genders, and creeds working together against a system that relies upon things like racial division to prevent people from seeing the true “bigger picture” and who is actually responsible for the oppression they feel.

    Again, I think you want to do the right thing, but nothing you’ve put forth here is going to change any of the minds that need changing (and yes, they CAN be changed, if you go about it the right way).

    • “These rich, powerful white people are just as oppressive toward the vast majority of white people as they are toward any non-white person. In fact, unless your net worth is over a billion dollars, they probably don’t even see you as relevant, no matter your skin color. Of course, they have many white people convinced that they’re not, and getting these white people to see this fact is the real challenge.”

      I suggest that you read Robin’s article ” My Class Didn’t Trump My Race: Using Oppression to Face Privilege” about how SHE became aware of HER racial privilege as a white woman specifically because SHE DID grow up in white poverty. She specifically talks about the fact that although the mark of poverty literally was on her via wearing worn clothes and being physically dirty that she was able to have comfort in being ale to say “At least I’m not black.”….. THAT is the heart of racism and why poor whites are more likely to hold tighter toe white supremacy (“racism”) that rich whites whose money is an alternative source of status.

  4. Do not engage. This is a no-win scenario.

  5. “There is a stereotype that we are looking for every incident we can find so we can spring out, point our fingers, and shout, “You’re a racist!” – ”

    Mmm. If your income depends on your teaching of the awareness of it, then to maintain your standard of life, you’re sure as heck going to be attuned to finding it pretty much everywhere, I would venture.

  6. Oh Lord, some of these comments… They make me sad.

    And they prove the author’s point beautifully. (Or should I say, in quite an ugly, defensive, insular way, actually.)

    We have so far to go…

    Thanks for doing the work you do, Dr. DiAngelo. I know it’s not easy. People with massive blind spots who are blind to the fact of their blind spots can be pretty tough to crack.

  7. I agree with this article and have said similar things myself.

    I disagree slightly with the solution that white fragility theory endorses. I think it’s a rather blunt and unsophisticated solution that has some merit but there are easier cognitive change solutions I’d like to propose.

    1) Adoption of language and phrasing principles as researched and articulated by the Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group. They’ve been studying race interactions and language in the workplace for over a decade and have well tested practices and phrases that circumvent and minimize the difficulties caused by white fragility. Here’s a good video link to introduce you to some of the principles they’ve worked out. . . http://www.kjcg.com/video/

    2) Social and behavioral Scientist have recently been focused on studying general denial and specifically how to overcome global warming denial. These cognitive change strategies they’ve developed can be applied to racism denial as well, with minor adaptations. Here’s a physics and science website article with videos explaining the easier and more effective strategies. . “A practical guide to countering science denial” http://phys.org/news/2015-06-countering-science-denial.html

    To: Dr. Robin Diangelo,

    If you find this apprach intersting, I’m actually trying out my linguistic frame shifting and rhetorical skill in the alternet.org reprint of this article. I”ve been crafting discussion forum responses to argue on race topics for a while and am practicing the sceince I described for you above. Here are direct links to my discussion rhetoric strategy and I’d be flattered if you favored me with the attention of considering this approach further. . . .

    direct linkk to this exact comment only on the alternet site. . .

    direct link to another commenter proposing we try out the scientific approach to circumventing white fragility

    actually trying out my scientificly crafted response on a test subject who’s experience classic symptoms of white fragility

    Thanks for your consideration. I’d be happy to discuss linguistic and framing and rhetorical strategies to further your admirable goals at any time.

  8. John Anderson says:

    Here’s a cute story that might help explain what I’m saying. I have a techie friend whose employer was experiencing an extremely complex issue at a remote location. They send my friend out to fix it. He fixed it and as he’s wrapping up, he makes a comment along the lines of it was complicated. That’s why they sent their second best tech. She asks why didn’t they send their best. He pauses and then says oh he doesn’t travel. He’s blind. She appreciated my friends skill level and was amazed that a blind person could be better than him especially the best of a department of almost 2 dozen techs. . It’s an opinion my friend shared until he met one. There are many ways to challenge options. The best way to change a belief is to prove it wrong.

  9. a lawyer says:

    1. Do not give me feedback… under any circumstances.
    Give feedback if you find my behavior insulting to you personally. Perhaps give feedback if you think my behavior matches some broad social ill, though be prepared (like usual) for that to be poorly received. People of any color generally dislike being corrected.

    on my racism
    If you choose to initially categorize my behavior as “racist,” then you are surely aware that the term it includes behavior of the most horrible sort. Unless you’re actually talking about horrific behavior, you may want to reconsider that particular term. Or, you may want to open with a disclaimer, though any term which requires a lengthy definition to distinguish between “horrible intentional action” and “minor unconscious action” should probably be substituted with a different term.
    2. Proper tone is crucial – feedback must be given calmly.
    See, also, “whites are people.” People do not like to be yelled at. If you consider it “racist” when it’s actually a relatively-universal rule between conversational partners, then you may want to reconsider your assumptions.
    3. There must be trust between us.
    Yes. I must trust that you actually have a good view of the world. I must also trust that you won’t use criticism to attempt to advance your own personal agenda at my expense. In this respect, I will treat you like any other person: the more different our views and outcomes on life, the less I am likely to trust your objectivity, explanations, or motives.
    4. Our relationship must be issue-free
    Or, to use better language, I must be reasonably certain that you aren’t doing this to gain advantage elsewhere. Just as I would for any person of any race.
    5. Feedback must be given immediately, otherwise it will be discounted because it was not given sooner
    Yes, as above.
    6. You must give feedback privately, regardless of whether the incident occurred in front of other people.
    Public chastisement raises the stakes. Public chastisement using terms which are deliberately selected to include horrific actions, and to socially embarrass, raises the stakes even more.
    7. You must be as indirect as possible.
    More to the point, you might want to reconsider assumptions about my motivations, biases, experiences, and the like. Especially if you plan to chastise me for doing the same.
    8. As a white person I must feel [comfortable] during any discussion of race. Giving me any feedback on my racism will cause me to feel unsafe
    As a person–white or otherwise–I generally prefer to feel reasonably comfortable in conversations, especially those which I don’t initiate. If this is different for POC, I’d love to hear it. If this is a problem only when practiced by white people, I’d love to know.
    9. Giving me feedback on my racial privilege invalidates the form of oppression that I experience (i.e. classism, sexism, heterosexism). We will then need to focus on how you oppressed me.
    Selectively picking on a particular privilege, without request, is often unreasonable. More to the point it is a common tactic to gain advantage and personal power. Since most people (whites and POC alike) tend to abuse opportunities to get advantage and personal power, it is especially unwelcome from people who are not personally known and highly trusted.
    10. You must focus on my intentions, which cancel out the impact of my behavior.
    Yes. We live in the land of intent. It is not reasonable to deliberately fail to distinguish unintentional and intentional behavior.
    11. To suggest my behavior had a racist impact is to have misunderstood me. You will need to allow me to explain until you can acknowledge that it was your misunderstanding.
    Well, you’ll certainly need to allow me to explain. Who do you think knows more about why I said what I did: you or me? Who do you think knows more about what I intended, and what I meant?

    • This is either brilliant sarcasm or someone who completely failed to get the message.

      • I’m guessing it’s the latter.

      • I think it’s someone raising some very relevant points, actually.

        The irony of Robin’s position seems to be that she (and others) assume that every single person of color wants the same thing: to be on EVEN footing with white people.

        While in a perfect world, that’s what they SHOULD want, this isn’t a perfect world. There are people of color out there who are willing to abuse the hell out of this perception for personal gain.

        I thought he/she made it pretty clear when they said:
        “More to the point it is a common tactic to gain advantage and personal power. Since most people (whites and POC alike) tend to abuse opportunities to get advantage and personal power, it is especially unwelcome from people who are not personally known and highly trusted.”

        In any situation where people are reasonably seeking equal treatment, there will always be people who want to MORE than equal treatment. Reasonable feminists want to be on equal footing with men, but there are angry feminists out there who see no wrong in attempting to place themselves above men, as if it makes sense to punish all men for the actions of a few.

        If you acknowledge that you said/did something racist, you have to be certain that the person isn’t then immediately going to turn around and report this admission of guilt to your superiors because they secretly covet your job.

        The biggest hurdle to ending racism once and for all is acknowledging that there are horrible people born to every race, color, and creed. We just cannot allow these bad apples to taint our perceptions.

    • Feel free to answer or not:
      Why do interactions like these have to be done on your terms? For example, you note that “public chastisement raises the stakes.” If I’m calling you on your behavior in public, why should I have to address you in private?
      Why am I required to allow your explanation for racist and (more importantly) accept it?
      It’s the height of white fragility to have to control the terms of the interaction. Dude, just say sorry and that you’ll try not to do it again. Be humble.

  10. wellokaythen says:

    With all due respect, intentions do matter at some level. Individual action does matter on some level as well, obviously. Obviously there has to be some role for individual racism to play, otherwise there’s no reason to call out individuals for their racism!

    If intentions are irrelevant, then that means there’s no difference between using racist language intentionally or unintentionally, it’s all the same.

    Structural racism cannot be the only explanation or only focus. Focusing too much on the institutionalized part of racism eventually leads to a dead end: if the focus is just on structural racism, then any white person called out could just say, “that’s structural racism, which I don’t have control over.” Or, “the problem is with the system, not with me, I don’t control the system.”

    Also, there is always a possibility, however slight you might think, that someone may conclude that racism was a factor when it was not a factor. “White racism” is not a perfectly diagnosed problem. Surely any approach to fighting racism has to take into account the possibility that someone may see more racism going on than is actually going on. If I fail to see something, there are always at least 2 logical possibilities: it’s invisible to me, or it’s not there. Both have to be taken into account if we want to get at the truth.

    • Mostly_123 says:

      wellokaythen, I think you’ve made a lot of very compelling points there, especially with regards to structural v.s. individual intent & culpability- Thanks.

    • I agree in full that intentions matter. I’ll go further and state that barring some specific outlier scenarios, intentions are of the highest importance. There is a dumb viral meme in social justice quarters that professes: “intent is not magic”. The meme is an outgrowth of the over emphasis on “structures” in the social justice spheres. The belief (wrongheaded) is that structures are planned and architected, and then impinge themselves on the psyche of individuals – Blank Slate nonsense.

      • And fun fact: the white (sclera) of the eye for humans is understood as being an evolutionary adaptation that contrasts with the color of the pupil. It is an unusual combination and one theory with decent mustard is that the contrast between the eye and the pupil is so that others can better gauge your intent! (shows direction of visual focus)

  11. jon vonn says:

    Race In the United states is multi faceted. The Black Power of the 60’s was as much internal as external. It also has to do with class and skin color and behavior. It is not simple. Perceptions have a lot to do with how people feel about minorities even allied ones. John Anderson has it right. I myself do not believe in “White Privileged”. From where I sit I myself see it as a term of frustration due to social environmental factors, Peer grouping in one. Many times the minority is relegated to lesser status. Much has to do with the perception media presents. From the news to TV shows, certain stereotypes that are embraced by the minority “leadership”.
    Labels influence our thinking. Labels limit our world view. It is unfair for people to self label as racist when in fact they are not. In this society we have racist labeling for instance “White Men can’t Jump”. That imparts that being white means that person is no expected to slam dunk a basketball. False imagery. All of us must be aware that labels do impede objectivity.

  12. We should be careful not to include, or is it exclude???…folks like Rachel Dolezal. Though not certain, I’m guessing she would identify as trans-fragile.

    #Wrongskin is trending strongly on the internet oracle we call Twitter.

    • wellokaythen says:

      I would say she’s cis-white trans-black, forced by a narrow-minded racist society into hiding her past for fear of being outed. (Mail fraud and outright lying are illegal and unethical, of course. But, is the outrage really over those things or the fact that she’s “posing” as black?)

      Seems like a double standard at work this week – Caitlyn Jenner is not a fraud for being trans in one category, but Rachel Dolezal is a fraud for being trans in another category. If Jenner’s father called Caitlyn male then we would say his dad was being narrow-minded. So, why is Rachel’s father correct in defining her as white?

      Why is sex/gender transitionable but race is not?

      • Personally, I feel her intent makes the difference. If what has been written so far is accurate, it appears she employed highly calculating deception tactics to “pass” as a person of color. It has also been written (The Smoking Gun), that she sued her Uni for discriminating against her, for being a white woman, in 2003.

        I think it is possible to have false beliefs that are genuine, absent of calculating deceptive tactics.

        There are some parallels to the Jenner story, but they are highly contrived. I have always accepted the theory of “brain sex”, and body mismatch, so I’m not of mind that the apparent contradictions of supporting one but not the other are relevant in this scenario, and especially so given the deceptive tactics that Rachel seems to have adopted.

        • Except claiming the existenceof brain sex is just like stating people of differenrent races ahve different brains, it’s purely oppressive and supremacist belief.

      • Maya bee says:

        I think most Americans (whites) tend to show empathy for gays and transgenders. But, when it comes to the struggle of African Americans it is extremely difficult for them to relate and empathize. Notice how many whites are using confederate flags as their avatar on social media sites since the Charleston murders. There’s definitely a sensitivity chip missing in many white Americans.

  13. Peggi Erickson says:

    Thanks, Dr. DiAngelo for this insightful article. As a white person I need to educate myself about my own racism and work to undo it and this article really helped me see how I can resist correction when I say or do something racist. I am just beginning to understand the scope of my racist upbringing in all white neighborhoods, schools and my whole town. Media did not help and made me fear people of color. I know it is a journey to undo racism and that I will make mistakes but your article reminds me to take any corrections graciously and learn from them.

  14. There is nothing white about any of those reactions – anyone being challenged on their behaviour has a good chance of reacting that way. For some reason though you’re desperate to peddle this concept of yours.

  15. “Giving me feedback on my racial privilege invalidates the form of oppression that I experience…”

    I used to know someone who hated a person in a high professional position, even more I suspect because the guy was black and he was Caucasian….he used to go on and on about him…and he was always vague about why he hated him….

    Later, when I earned entrance into hard school, this same person got more and more angry in outlook…I couldn’t figure out what fly was buzzing up his butt….in retrospect, I realized it was me….by getting into grad school (the one that he had not achieved), bothered him more than anything….I never realized how he resented me in achieving something that he wanted but had yet to obtain….Envy, pure and simple….I think he secretly felt more intelligent and superior to me and it ruined his self-image, I guess, because some supposedly stupid, young, naive Asian girl outdid him….I guess in his world view he felt he was more deserving than me….If I could speak to him now, I would just say the you have to f–king work for it like everybody else…Ain’t nobody else gonna do your studying and test-taking for you!

    • “hard” school should be “grad” school!

    • John Anderson says:

      I’ve worked in the corporate world and the not for profit sector. I’ve done consulting work for smaller companies. I’ve seen a lot of nasty sh*t happen because people are concerned about their status within the company / department. I’ve seen bosses not develop their people because they didn’t want a threat (the company to have an option) to their position. I’ve seen back stabbing and freeze outs.

      At one job, most of the VPs were white and almost all (except 1) is a woman. A VP who was always decent to me asked what rumors where floating around about her. I told her that the other VPs were unhappy that she got a doctorate. It was like a light bulb went off in her head. She knew something was up. Anyway fast forward a couple years. The VP is gone. The president looks visibly ill. Fast forward a few more years he steps down because of cancer. When they knew he was sick, there seemed to have been a struggle for succession and maybe some aspirants wanted to remove the number one contender.

      I’ve seen directors try and grab a department from another director. I’ve seen directors retaliate. I’ve seen a lot of petty bickering between departments. When people feel threatened, I guess the initial feeling is flight or fight.

  16. John Anderson says:

    I have a black friend and former employee (I was his supervisor) who thought of me as a mentor although I never really considered myself that. He came to me with a problem. He was doing consulting work for a company and got hired full time. About 6 months in he found out that the white consultant who worked there a couple weeks before him was given $1,000 or so more in salary when he was brought on and he asked me what he should do.

    I told him to bring it up to your boss and if he doesn’t do anything, let it drop. It’s only $1,000 and he knows he did wrong. About 2 years later he came back to visit me. He was site coordinator for multiple sites and he pointed out his many certifications the company paid for. He almost said he was better than me now, but I guess he thought about it and figured the old man’s got a couple tricks up his sleeve still. His career was well beyond that of his white contemporary.

    We went back to that conversation we had 2 years earlier. I said see he knew he did wrong and he’s making it right. My friend didn’t realize it, but by the classy way he handled it, he just picked up another mentor. He proved the manager wrong through his professionalism, dedication, and work ethic. I want to point out one more thing. He wasn’t given those opportunities. He earned them.

    • Obviously racism was a very possible explanation for the pay difference. However, there are many kinds of pay discrimination out there besides racism. People are paid different salaries because of gender, attractiveness, marital status, whether they have kids or not, height/weight, etc. If the two consultants were the same in every category except race, then you could narrow it all down to race.

      • John Anderson says:

        @ Steve

        That’s true and that’s why I think the way he handled it benefited him. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the opportunities her received weren’t initially his manager trying to prove himself right and expecting my friend to fail. I believe though that whatever his initial intentions were, he eventually saw the potential I saw in my friend when we hired him come to fruition.

        In my old neighborhood, there were the racists. There were the people who embraced us, but most were don’t bother me and I won’t bother you types. Some “racists” changed their minds after having known us. One guy at the dojang told us if he hadn’t joined the dojang and met us, he’d probably have started a fight with us on the street and deservedly gotten his butt kicked. Much more often though it was the people who took the don’t bother me and I won’t bother you position who eventually embraced the tiny Asian community.

        My mom told me that at one job she had there was a 60s Polish woman who hated her because she was Asian. By the time my mom finally left, she was the Polish lady’s favorite co-worker. My mom told me that the bosses called this woman racial slurs. My mother had always treated her decently and that’s what changed her. Sometimes those who are bullied will look for other targets. We shouldn’t lose sight of that either.

    • lol! “I have a black friend”

  17. John Anderson says:

    I’m half white / half Asian. I grew up in a white neighborhood in the 70s in the most segregated city in the U.S. I can tell you that you’re wrong. There are few systems of oppression when it comes to race. There are individuals sometimes racist and sometimes with the best intentions who’s individual acts make it appear as if there is a system.

    We faced racism in our neighborhood for many years, but eventually integrated. The biggest reason was that we didn’t include the white people who weren’t racist with the people who were. We worked hard and were good neighbors. Funny how we say teach children by example, but when it comes to adults, we feel we don’t need to practice what we preach.

    Sure, we have a few frats which actively exclude black people. We have companies that consciously discriminate, but those are becoming increasingly fewer. Those practices are not enshrined in the law. We can always seek redress somewhere even if it’s through a boycott through social media. There are usually alternatives (the LGBTQ having fewer, but that has little to do with race).

    What most people mistake for systems of oppression are individual acts of oppression that seem like a system because they are numerous and often have far reaching affects. For example, an individual police officer may profile a black person, but now the black person has a record which affects their ability to get a job so it might seem like the world is against them, but it wasn’t a bunch of employers colluding to deny this black person a job, it was the actions of a racist police officer.

    Another way that the system can affect minorities without being racist is through networks. If I have few close black friends because my interests are different from those of black people in general or if I live in a segregated community, the people I recommend for job openings will tend to be non-black. They may not be white if I have a lot of Hispanics friends for example, but they wouldn’t be black. That’s not necessarily a race bias, but a problem with nepotism. It’s the it’s who you know not what you know setup that is the problem.

    As long as we keep saying these systems are racist instead of recognizing that the way they’re set up has a racist affect, we’ll never fix the problem.

    • I’m not sure how the theory works in cases of mixed heritage. If a person is “half-white,” then presumably that person is only “half fragile.” Presumably the nonwhite part of a person should call out the white part of a person for the white part’s racism, and the white half of the person must listen with an open half-mind.

      In that case, I’m not sure what the adjective is for the part that’s “not fragile.”

      Perhaps Dr. DiAngelo can explain the terms further.

    • Well stated

    • Adriana says:


      I AM BLACK and what Dr Di Angelo writes is REVOLUTIONNARY to me!
      I was born and raised in France and had what Whites would call a “successful life” because I am an International Engineer.

      I have read the first comment of an half-white/half-asian and then another comment starting with “I have a Black friend”….I’ll be honest, I just feel like Dr Di Angelo is RIGHT just by seeing those reactions.

      She is trying to explain to you that you need to listen to Black people and your first reaction is TO SPEAK instead of listening…. and TO DENY the indeniable truth exactly like she’s saying you would do.

      How sad is that?

    • Individual acts of oppression that are numerous and often have far reaching affect are exactly what constitute a system, defined as a regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole. Basically, the cumulative sum of individual acts (a group of acts) and the far reaching affect (the unified whole).

      Check out Di Angelo’s other article: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/white-fragility-why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism-twlm/ (link also in article). Included under “The following are examples of the kinds of challenges that trigger racial stress for white people” is “Suggesting that group membership is significant (challenge to individualism).” She’s onto something.

    • Maya bee says:

      Wow! it’s sad how you still don’t get it. You are the type of person the author is talking about.

    • @JAnderson: you’re right about individual actions having systemic effects–and that’s exactly what the author is talking about. Systems have emergent behavior (i.e. system behavior) just as ant colonies behave in ways similar to larger, more intelligent organisms (reproduces itself, forages for food, defends itself) without being controlled by a central mind. It’s not “hive mind” either in the sense that it’s not interconnected minds. It’s literally the system behaviour.

      Structural racism is this way: you actually have to attack both the systems put in place to propagate/protect system behaviour as well as try to rewrite individual behaviour in order to effect system behaviour. It’s the trouble corporations or civil change organisations have in changing the larger effects of collective individual behaviour: they either ignore the system, or the individuals who make up the system.

      By systemic change, I mean the structures, organisation, and vision of the organisation. By individual behaviour, I mean rewriting the software (so to speak) of individual actors. But both must addressed in context with the other.

      I think the author here does a good job of recognising both the systemic as well as individual aspects of behaviour which results in a society that is structurally racist. Further, I think the author is right in that neither the structures nor the individual behaviour will change without the majority (whites, in this case) recognising that the system is built for and by them.

      That said (as a fellow Asian–and btw my kid is half-Asian), thanks for your comments.


  1. […] Robin DiAngelo wrote a great satirical summary of the “rules of engagement” when confronting white people on their racism. These rules are a part of the unspoken social contract that states that we must not talk about […]

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