This month Virginia Governor Ralph Northam admitted to dressing up in black face. His yearbook page featured a white person in black face and someone dressed up in a kkk outfit. What’s amazing is he really didn’t seem to understand why this is wrong until others explained it to him.
“It’s been a horrific week for Virginia. A lot of individuals across Virginia have been hurt,” he said, strategically employing the passive voice to absolve himself, adding, “And so this has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia. It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes.” (Link)
His white privilege allowed him to either be ignorant of why white people wearing black face is wrong or he is a liberal racist who thought it was funny even though he knew it was wrong.
You may be asking yourself what is a liberal racist? According to Commonweal Magazine:
“Liberal racism…assumes that racial differences are so profound that they are almost primordial,” Sleeper observes, adding that “the fascination with racial differences that prevents many liberals from treating any person with a nonwhite racial physiognomy as someone much like themselves only begets policies and programs that reinforce nineteenth-century assumptions about race that are patently racist. (link)
Dressing up in black face definitely fits into the category of being fascinated by racial differences for sure. Liberal racism seems to walk hand in hand with white fragility. Both ideas interfere with seeing People of Color as being fully human and equal to white people.
White people have a hard accepting that we are racist simply by living in the United States of America. Robin D’Angelo, the author of White Fragility, explains how this happens.
“All of us have been shaped by the cultural water that we swim in. All white people have internalized a racist worldview. Let me own that. As a result of being raised as a white person in this society, I have a racist worldview. I have deep racist biases. I have developed racist patterns, and I have investments in not only the system of racism that has served me so well.” (link)
This week I saw white fragility pop up with the #TMC (Twitter Math Camp) conference. It started when I saw the resignation of Marian Dingle.
I know Marian from #ClearTheAir and it was clear if her values do not align with TMC then they probably weren’t taking Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion into action. I asked some questions and found their blog which gave me a glimpse as to what was going on:
However, we noticed room for growth in the equity statements, both for people who submitted for the equity strand and people who submitted for other strands.
Since this question is new for TMathC we want to communicate our observations. We did not use the equity statement as a factor in determining which proposals we accepted this year. (link)
This clearly shows that the TMC committee was not committed to EDI 100%. How do I know that? I know because if they were committed THEY WOULD HAVE FACTORED THE EQUITY STATEMENT IN THE PROPOSALS!! I asked their Twitter handle why they asked the question if they weren’t going to actually use the information they gathered.
This is where white fragility popped up. Elizabeth Stratmore (@cheesemonkeysf) started to respond very defensively to me. I then saw she posted a couple of blogs about the conference. In one blog she writes about the conference:
“I do think there was some inartful language in the acceptance letters — and I believe it caused more distress than was necessary. Communication matters, and sometimes we just get it wrong.”
Let me get this right. Elizabeth was upset that white adults had their feelings hurt in their acceptance letter? She cared less that our Students of Color are being harmed by teacher’s color blindness and bias then the fact that grown adults may have been upset that their equity statements were garbage? THIS IS WHITE FRAGILITY!!
In her most recent blog she writes this:
We are still not anywhere near the point of identifying or understanding the unconscious, unspoken, equity-blind, harm-causing assumptions in TMC’s structures. We’re just not. This needs to be a whole-community effort. We’re trying to set new goals but we’re still walking around in the same old consensus trance.
There is no way that a small group of people could tackle this problem successfully. It’s not realistic. It will take everybody in our community to surface and and interrogate the hidden assumptions in our structures. The problem with blind spots is that they are blind spots. If we don’t work together on surfacing and transforming our assumptions, we will continue to just tinker around at the margins and that’s not going to be satisfactory to anybody. It is also not going to unleash the liberatory potential in a a whole-community effort.
This is how white fragility muddles things. You read that and go wow that is revolutionary. She really gets it. But then we have to remember that this is the same lady that pushed back against the “inartful” language that TMC used in their equity proposal responses that weren’t even counted towards the proposals! We can write all the flowery prose about liberation and starting over but it means nothing if you are actively working against progress as it is occurring! In addition, the people who were working together to make sure this liberatory potential came to fruition resigned! I say, people because Tina Cardone has also resigned from their board after Marian!
Liberal racism and white fragility will constantly push back against the progress of equity, diversity, and inclusion. It will be done with the idea that this is all happening too fast. People will object that the language being used is too harsh. They will play the devil’s advocate or explain how some people may take offense to what the organization is attempting to do. Tears will be spilled at being “attacked”. All that will be done under the guise that they actually want progress. It is a smoke and mirrors show. A magician’s trick. Look at my left hand while you continue to be harmed by the right.
Here is why I followed this so closely. I was part of an organization that created an equity statement that showed we were one hundred percent committed to creating an atmosphere of inclusion, diversity, and equity. I was also there when liberal racism struck back from one of the organizing members. You see it is easy to talk about EDI, but when it comes time to sharing power and walking the walk some people will push back. I too left that organization because I am not going to be a part something that doesn’t align with my values.
I will leave you with this final thought. TMC board member Glenn Waddell wrote this to me during our dialogue.
Glenn TMC just hit a huge bump in their journey of equity. Two of your board members have resigned from your organization and it appears to be because the values of TMC do not jibe with equity, diversity, and inclusion. We need organizations to step up now more than ever. Good luck on your journey.