We have all seen the news. George Floyd, a black man, was murdered in broad daylight by a white Minneapolis police officer, who slowly smothered him by kneeling his neck while three other police officers watched without intervening. In another incident, Christian Cooper, a black man who observed birds in the Central Park Ramble area, could potentially have lost his life after simply asking Amy Cooper, a white woman, to abide by park policy to keep his Dog on leash . Once Cooper refused not to tape it, she took advantage of his white privilege to call the police, accusing him of threatening his life. In Louisville, Kentucky, police entered the apartment of Breonna Taylor, an emergency technician, who fired multiple shots, causing his death. Then there is the case of Ahmaud Arbery. The unarmed black man was jogging in Brunswick, Georgia, when a white father and son followed him in a van and shot him dead.
Such heinous acts of racial injustice against black men and women are nothing new in the United States. Discrimination and police brutality against blacks has now become the norm, compounded by the lasting effects of slavery, and many protest worldwide, demanding change. To make sense of it all, we invited Dr. Robin DiAngelo, a white woman and the author of White fragility, to find out why she believes racism is a white problem. Dr. DiAngelo also reveals concrete steps white people can take to contribute to change in society.
Good Housekeeping: How did you deal with recent news about racial injustice, from the murder of black men and women, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, to Amy Cooper’s use of her white privilege?
Robin DiAngelo: I am very clear that the situation with Amy Cooper and George Floyd was not the exception. They were not aberrations. They have been happening from the start on a consistent basis. The difference is that today we can film these situations and prove that they happened.
Amy Cooper’s phone call could very easily have resulted in the death of Mr. Cooper. This is not the case, but I think it is very representative of the types of interactions that black Americans encounter on a daily basis. And I don’t see these protests stop or people give up as they have in the past, so I have some hope, even with a very heavy heart.
Where does your sense of hope come from? Because it is fair to say that many people have lost it at this point.
I’m a white man who mainly talks to white people about racism and what it means to be white, and I’ve been doing it for 20 years. I am definitely fighting despair. I know racism will not end in my life. It is not a simple formula to be nice people. It is not as simple as “what is in our hearts is all that matters”. I also recognize that as a white person, I cannot be desperate. I cannot succumb to the temptation of despair, because it only serves me and my position within this structure. If, as a white person, I feel hopeless and give up, I will inadvertently be passive and an accomplice.
I can only speak as a white American. The way black Americans navigate in hope is another matter entirely, not my business. It is not up to me to tell you if you should have hope or how the impact of racism comes to you from me. We are going to have different relationships with the concept of hope and the type of action that makes us vibrate.
You’ve talked a lot about the belief that white people are not affected by racial injustice – that there is this notion of white defense. What do you mean?
I don’t think most white people care about racial injustice if it requires something that is awkward or uncomfortable from a distance. This is evident in the state of our society at this time. I also observed that because most white people do not even understand what racism is, we think that kindness is all it takes to be certified as non-racist. So we continue to do nothing, which ultimately maintains the status quo. Until white people literally remove the phrase “I’m not racist” from our vocabulary, and we delete it because we understand that it is not possible, we will maintain racism.
Basically, you say recognition is the first step, right?
Yes, this is a very provocative statement for most white people, as we have been taught that racists are individuals who do not consciously love people and who are intentionally nasty to them based on race. This simplistic formula powerfully supports the system we are in because it exempts virtually all white people from the system. What is happening is that being a good person, being a good person and being an accomplice to racism become mutually exclusive. It is the root of most white tusks.
How can a white person change their way of thinking and modify their actions if they wish?
Start with self-awareness and self-reflection, then start to educate yourself. I would recommend that white people take a piece of paper and write down their answers to explain why they don’t know what to do against racism. How, in 2020, they managed not to know what to do with racism when information is everywhere and when people have been telling us for decades, even centuries.
They might respond with: “I was not educated about racism. I do not talk about racism with my white friends. I do not talk about racism with my colored friends. I do not have any colored friends “I live a segregated life. I didn’t care enough to find out. I don’t want to feel guilty.”
Everything on this list is your card and can be solved – not easily, not quickly, not just, but everything can be solved. I also highly recommend Dr. Eddie Moore’s 21-day challenge and Layla Saad’s white supremacy workbook. These two things would significantly lead white people on the right path.
What else should white people think about if they want to become more educated about racism?
Find out how to build some support so that, when this news cycle ends, you are still working toward racial justice. Whenever you seek to challenge your racist conditioning, that conditioning is yours. You can never be complacent; that’s life. Donating money is good, but it doesn’t take much to fill out this form on the Internet. I recommend the binders I mentioned – it’s an active engagement.
How would you address a white man who is afraid of taking up this challenge?
As white people, we are going to make mistakes. Try not to worry that you will make a mistake, as this will put you out of harm’s way. You cannot learn and grow without making mistakes. You can’t use your uncomfortable mistakes or comments as an excuse to opt out. We have been moving away from this type of behavior forever, for as long as we have this society, and with (my book) White fragility, I want to make it harder for white people to practice this nonsense without responsibility. There are so many people, even white people, who recognize the fragility of white people now because they have a language for it.
In addition to following the above steps, Dr. Robin DiAngelo recommends making a donation to one of the organizations below:
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