This is based on a Facebook piece by my hero and mentor, Patric Tariq Mellet. I adapted it because it really spoke to my heart and mind. May it do the same for yours.
No black person should be trying to nurse my white fragility, or be responsible for weaning me of racism or helping me to get over it.
Racism is a nasty, entrenched system that no white individual can change. Black people do not need white people to take up their cause. So, with that sobering knowledge, why bother to fight? The answer is that we need to tackle racism because it offends us. Racism offends me, yet it is enormously difficult to face up to the full depth of racism, from aberration and insult right through the entire construct up to and including the subliminal. This is where my fragility resides, because I cannot always muster brutal honesty about myself, my privilege and my society. I have met hostility and rejection from other whites when I just begin to scratch the surface. I have also sensed rejection from some black people who feel no need for my affinity.
At the heart of white fragility there are feelings of guilt and revulsion at being associated with the ugly creature that racism is, yet there are also feelings of wanting to belong but not easily fitting in, especially among loved ones. In my community I have some status, but when I reject whiteness, I am no longer able to offer myself in any leadership role, and I realize that near the front is where I am used to being. Even going through all these difficulties, I do not know what it’s like to be a black person. I must listen instead of speaking, and be humble. This is a new role.
I begin to have an understanding of how courageous Joe Slovo, Ruth First, Denis Goldberg and the many other whites who thoroughly rejected whiteness had to be. Real anti-racism within the white arena is not for sissies. Most of us end up tinkering around the edges, in turn accepting and rejecting racism and whiteness. Challenges inevitably come from defensive or unapologetic racists or from impatient blacks. Then our response is to display huge anguish, or to take deep offence. Our white fragility demands that black people should love and accept us, and go easy on us, but the truth is it is not the job of black people to offer us a middle road – or a cushion.
Our white fragility desperately wants recognition for our efforts, but we have to grow up. We should all be anti-racist from within ourselves, for ourselves, and for the world we live in. It’s not something good that I am doing for another person who is black – that is just superiority kicking in. The mistaken desire for approval is the source of the false idea of reverse racism. It blinds us to where we are going wrong, and our bewilderment is an illustration of white fragility.
Tariq knows a young white man who is married to a black woman and who is a proud dad. When he gets upset hearing white people being criticised, Tariq asks him why he feels the need to defend them. He once answered that he looked like them, he was white. “Hans,” Tariq replied, “just think about it. You have started down a different road. Do you really define yourself as “white” and do you have to defend “whiteness”? You can’t do anything about your European cultural heritage, but that is not the same as an affinity with the so-called white race and its superiority. Go and think about it and be proud in yourself that you are trying to walk down a difficult road. Nobody is going to help you or cheer you on. You are doing this for yourself and for your family – and you are going to be challenged all round. Do this for yourself, because it’s right, and don’t expect a medal. Give yourself the right to challenge whiteness, and when you get shit back then you will find that you too will speak the language of anti-whiteness. Ditch the fragility, mate.”
So there we have it. That’s what I have to do with my fragility, just ditch it. I do not belong to the white “race” which is in any case a doubtful construct. I can liberate my mind. What Bob Marley sang is true for us as well, “None but ourselves can free our minds.” I belong only to the human race.