White Fragility

What I'm Learning
  1. Why is it necessary to talk about this?
  2. Mourn With Those Who Mourn
  3. More Than The KKK
  4. Normalization of White Culture
  5. White Guilt
  6. White Fragility
  7. A Colorblind Church in a Diverse Kingdom (Aurlyn Wygle)
  8. Denial
  9. The Ability to Walk Away

This is one of a series of posts (intended to be read in the order above) focused on exploring the issue of race and how The Gospel shapes our beliefs and response. Racial reconciliation is a common name for this topic, and although it “is not the gospel or the central focus of it, it is a qualitative application of the gospel in function and practice” (Eric Mason).

Hebrews 12:1-15, 28-29

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
   nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
   and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

White Fragility

In the last post, we saw that there is a difference between godly grief and worldly grief (2 Corinthians 7:8-13). Godly grief produces repentance, but worldly grief does not and is similar to someone being remorseful that they were caught doing something wrong but not truly remorseful for their actions. No positive change occurs, and the opportunity for growth is missed. We also saw that many people experience “White Guilt” when uncovering racial issues in their heart, and this is a form of worldly grief that can lead to withdrawal, condemning other white people, or other unhealthy alternatives.

In this post, we’ll explore another worldly grief response; White Fragility. Here’s a definition from Robin DiAngelo.

“White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.”

Have you ever noticed this? I have in my life. There have been countless times where I would say to myself, “Do we really need to keep talking about race? I’m done. I’m tired of this.” I’d then disengage from whatever I was reading or hearing. For many white people, this is a common response to the topic of race. We have very little emotional energy in the tank to talk extensively about race. We are fragile and tend to push away quickly when the topic arises.

Why do we tend to be this way? Here’s more explanation from Daniel Hill,

“Dr. Robin DiAngelo, a professor of multicultural education at Westfield State University, is widely considered to be an authority in this area. She lectures nationally on the nature of white culture and codesigned, developed, and delivered the City of Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative Anti-Racism training.

She wrote a widely referred to piece entitled “White Fragility,” pointing to social segregation as the number-one reason for the term. In it, she wrote, “The first factor leading to White Fragility is the segregated lives which most white people live…Even if whites live in physical proximity to people of color (and this would be exceptional outside of an urban or temporarily mixed class neighborhood), segregation occurs on multiple levels, including representational and informational.

Because whites live primarily segregated lives in a white-dominated society, they receive little or no authentic information about racism and are thus unprepared to think about it critically or with complexity. Growing up in segregated environments (schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, media images and historical perspectives), white interests and perspectives are almost always central. An inability to see or consider significance in the perspectives of people of color results.

So the first reason white people experience disorientation is a lack of exposure to authentic interaction and engagement with race. For the most part, white Americans are raised in and continue to live in segregated settings. Even when a person has contact with people of color, rarely do relationships deepen to the point of exchanging meaningful ideas about the system of race.

Therefore, it’s important to acknowledge our “representational and informational” segregation. In chapter ten, I propose a number of different ideas for reversing this trend and actively encourage finding new ways to become proximate to and to learn from those whom we are segregated from.”

This is a true experience for my life. As we explored in post 4, many times we are unable to see clearly in regards to racial issues because our influences have almost exclusively been shaped by white culture. Throughout my life, I lived in segregated settings that were predominately white, and although I had friends who weren’t white, the relationships never got deep enough to explore different perspectives and talk seriously about racial issues. In addition, the most influential relationships I had were always with white people. As mentioned in post 4, this isn’t necessarily sinful (the reason I’m writing these posts is because God used a white person’s preaching to open up my eyes and heart), but our views and ability to engage are heavily influenced by the culture we are influenced by. This must be taken into consideration when approaching the topic of race.

What about The Bible?

Let’s jump back to Hebrews 12 from above and see how God’s word can speak to White Fragility. A few things stood out in the verses:

1. “The Lord disciplines the one he loves.” If you are experiencing conviction, this may be evidence that you are a true child of God. I want to keep repeating this point because many people, including me, get discouraged and are tempted to pull away when they are made aware of sin in their life. Conviction is actually a really good thing, and it’s amazing news that God disciplines those He loves. How comforting is it to know that you have the perfect father in heaven who loves you and is pursuing you?

2. “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” We must always fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, and not ourselves. Only He can be the source of our efforts. Only he can be the source of our endurance. Only He can be the source of joy in moments where everything inside doesn’t want to feel joy. Looking to ourselves instead of Him doesn’t accomplish any of these things because we run out of gas. He is inexhaustible. Pray to Him and ask him for the energy and endurance necessary to courageously engage in conversations about race. Ask Him for the ability to see and to step into the ministry of reconciliation that He has given us (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

3. Endure. The writer of Hebrews used some form of the word endure 4 times in the 17 verses displayed above.  Endurance is a part of the Christian life. Whether it’s enduring discipline for personal sin, enduring growing pains throughout the maturation and sanctification process throughout our lives, or enduring and persevering through trials and persecution, we are called to endure. Again, this can only be done by looking to Jesus and relying on Him as our source of endurance. As we’ve seen, white fragility is a common response to race conversations. It isn’t natural for white people to endure in these conversations. We must ask for God to help us here because His word calls us to endure, and He’s able to strengthen us.

4. “Strive for peace with everyone.” Striving implies an active involvement. It isn’t a passive word. We are called to be active peacemakers in the world, and there certainly needs to be peacemakers amongst the racial strife in our culture. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Let’s strive for this.

5. “Be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” Only Jesus can help us through this. Only He can help us see, give us the grace to repent, and be the blood that covers us throughout all of our failures. This is great hope now because He is with us. It is also great hope that we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken and cannot be taken away from us. When we engage in peacemaking and racial reconciliation, it will be difficult. We will be fragile at times. We will run out of energy at times. We may fall on our face. But no matter how tough it gets, we have a hope that cannot be taken away. Jesus is with us, and we have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Let’s resist the temptation to fall into White Fragility and look to Jesus to give us the strength to engage.