White Fragility Matters vs Microaggressions
Updated: Nov 24, 2021
I am calming down and slowing my role while I prepare for retirement. Yes! That life chapter that allows me to share perspectives, experiences, and create opportunities to engage with younger leaders, those coming to teach us about now and our new norm.
These past couple weeks, critical race theory has taken a considerable beating in the media. The theory exposes practices and privileges that most have benefitted from and others have endured for centuries. The hardness of the theoretical practice scares children, especially those who don't experience racial inequality or inequity. Speaking and centering the hardness of the theory that calls out the historical culture of racism makes all systems fragile and subject to unsolicited scrutiny. Otherwise, there is a silent and forced agreement that current race relations are normal and there is no need to point out why anything should be any different. Teaching children anything different is beyond fragility. That would eventually tear down the whole structural construct.
Where and how does white fragility show up? White fragility is a term used in engaging conversations about white superiority to describe the timidity or bothersomeness of identifiable white people who become "fragile" by something that is said or done during the conversation. It is a loaded term because it can cause lots of rattled emotions, overt resistance, and covert resentment within the atmosphere. I have observed many displays of white fragility and microaggression over the tenure of my career. I have learned to identify it up close and from a distance. At time, I've been accused of being the initiator or invoker of such because I questioned or spoke my and others' truth out loud. Most likely, in that moment, I was intellectually sandwiched between speaking wisdom, truth, facts, or the act of perpetuating racism. That's the place of tension where I've developed an internalized spiritual capacity to courageously address, override, suppress, and survive certain tactics over the years. This work is hazardous, and it must be done.
Where and how does whiteness show up? Surviving whiteness is physically, emotionally, spiritually, and exhausting gymnastics. Whiteness is a term used regarding an emotional display and/or reaction to that which is described from the lens and experience of people who do not identify as white. Check this out. Those who live behind that lens, are constantly reacting and responding to microaggressions and systemic racial inequalities and inequities that impacts their health and wellbeing, as a daily norm.
Our societal norms are mostly set and experienced by the majority culture(s) mostly lived by people who identify as white. Others bring a difference to that norm that keeps them marginalized and stigmatized by race, primarily skin color. Currently, we are seeing and hearing so many people talking about "getting back to normal." What does that mean? Normal to whom? Normal was being able to do what? Normal is whatever makes life tick for individuals and groups on various levels. For instance, if you have a home(s), car(s), favorite food(s) or restaurant(s), family and friends, choice of religion and education, stable an lucrative employment, vacation(s), travel, etc. and money in the bank!!!
Politeness is a societal norm. You are expected not to harm others by word or deed. Masking up with politeness protects whiteness and minimizes the risk of exposure to responsive emotionalism, or displaying white fragility, even in church. I wonder about that politeness culture though. Not even being moved to tears by Spirit, and the ability to witness historical lynching and castration without emotional display? When I see the remorseful fragility of privilege give in to the burden of tolerance or intolerance, I recognize an inherent challenge for that particular individual to change, to heal from many things. They might not fully know immediately or recognize what that feeling is or what to do with the initial transformative experience. Connecting them to it is one of the most powerful but basic elements of undoing the impacts of racism, sexism, all isms.
A variety of experiences, being born with rich dark skin, including world travel has been my primary teacher. Building movement(s) and ministry, leading and empowering communities has given me more understanding than I could have ever imagined. It has also left me with more questions than I imagine ever being answered or manifest in my lifetime. Yet, I seek freedom with courage every day to know more of it in my soul while I lead and invite others to share the Freedom Joy Journey. Come, be on the journey with me. It won't necessarily be a lot of fun but you will not be alone.
Signed, Sumayya Fire