Dr. Robin DiAngelo (author of New York Times best-seller, White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism) was the featured speaker at the fall DASH-Parents Council event. Robin spoke to a packed Assembly Hall about the importance of white people developing white racial literacy. “Growing up,” she began, “no one ever conveyed to me the message that I lost anything of value by living a segregated life. Being raised in a dominant culture,” she continued, “is to be raised racially illiterate. When swimming with the current, it’s easy not to notice it.”
Robin used the metaphor of a dock for how dominant culture works. From the shore, one sees just the surface appearance of planks above the water. Whiteness has a similar surface appearance, created by movies, magazines, TV, beauty contests, legislative halls of power, society pages, corporate boardrooms, and the like, But like the dock, the dominant white culture depends on an interrelated network of financial, legislative, legal, media, and cultural pillars. These pillars, together with the perception of the white ideal as the norm, produces a self-sustaining system of white supremacy.
“White supremacy,” Robin clarified, “is the system we live in where whites have opportunity, choice, influential social networks, freedom of movement, and decision-making power. Seen this way, racism is a system, not an event.”
Robin shared a series of statistics on the country’s political, financial, media, and corporate power brokers and decision makers. The people controlling these levers of power were almost exclusively white men. Addressing how things change, Robin gave two striking examples—the women’s vote and Jackie Robinson. In each case, it was those in power who had to be compelled to grant others new privileges rather than these groups bestowing rights on themselves. Men “gave” women the right to vote and owners “let” Jackie Robinson play baseball. This runs counter to the popular narrative of women “winning” the right to vote and Jackie Robinson “earning” a spot on the roster.
This is the essence of Robin’s message on ending racism—since change in racist attitudes and policies is in the hands of the white dominant culture, it is essential that whites understand their racial identity and the way that white power and privilege work in our society. “If one can’t understand what it means to be white then one can’t understand what it means NOT to be white.”
She concluded the evening outlining an anti-racist framework and offering a list of things white people can do to help break the cycles of white supremacy. “The first challenge is humility—the learning never ends.”
In his remarks, Mark Stanek pointed out that this work is a work in progress and not a box to check off. “White people need to commit to eradicating racism, understanding privilege, building cross-racial alliances, and interrupting systems of power, privilege, and racism.”
Here are some resources that may be useful in taking the next step.