What's White Fragility And What to Do About It?

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Rinku, Scot Nakagawa and Mary Li answer follow-up questions to their Oregon Humanities and Bridgeliner Think & Drink

Last month Rinku was on a great panel discussion about race, government, power and identity for Oregon Humanities and Bridgeliner's Portland Think & Drink where booze and politics combined to make a fun and lively talk. Bridgeliner gathered questions from the audience for this extra perk to follow up their panel.

From Bridgeliner:

We partnered with Oregon Humanities last month to crowdsource questions at their Think & Drink on race, power, and justice, and one of the audience members asked: How do we change the zero-sum-game mentality that creates white fragility?

We posed that question (and other good ones) to panelists Rinku Sen, Mary Li, and Scot Nakagawa in the bonus Q&A below. But we started with a simpler question…

What exactly is white fragility?

Scot Nakagawa: White fragility is the extreme reaction to small amounts of racial stress that white people are prone to because of the way they’re insulated from racial stress. For a white person, racial stress might be the threat that you’ll be called out as a racist. Racial stress for a black woman is facing much higher odds that you’ll experience postpartum mortality.

So what can we do about the zero-sum mentality that contributes to that fragility?

SN: We need to stop thinking about race and racial equity as a contest or a comparative thing, like who has it worse, who has it better, and we need to start to understand it relationally… so that we can start working together to improve our situations together.

Rinku Sen: I think people can be forgiven for having the notion that someone else’s gain will mean my loss, because in fact a lot of our politics and institutions and remedies for things do operate that way.

I think getting beyond zero-sum thinking means we have to come up with solutions that are good for all, that elevate all. But even then there will still be some losers. You can’t remake this economy in a way that allows all to prosper if the few who prosper so intensely now don’t prosper a little less. But I think we have to get precise about who’s going to gain and lose, and we have to work harder to come up with solutions together that are based on true inclusion.

Mary Li: Perhaps this is too simplistic, but when white people are feeling fragile, the simple response is, ‘It’s just not all about you all the time.’ You don’t have to understand what white fragility is, you don’t have to understand the context for it — you could just offer to remind yourself and colleagues that it’s not all about you all the time, and I think that would help.

Read the whole Q & A at Bridgeliner.

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