Time spent dealing with white fragility could be spent tackling racism
Yaama, I belong to the Gomeroi people. My dad’s family are Trindalls from Narrabri, my mum’s mother was born at Borah Crossing, sort of near Tamworth. Mum tells me that Nan could always pick the tree out that she was born under. I love this yarn – something about my roots to this country being associated with the literal roots of Nan’s birthing tree grounds me. I’m from here, because Nan was from here, and her nan was from here, and all the nans all the way back were from here.
Nan’s gone now. I wish I had spoken to her more about life and how she always managed to handle racism with stoic grace; “butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth”, they’d say about her. I thought that meant she was sweet, but later I learned she wouldn’t, or couldn’t, speak her truth in naming racism.
For me, it’s the total opposite when dealing with racism. I’m getting better, more tactful, but I do get tired of not being able to identify racism without having to first centre the feelings of people complicit in deploying or maintaining racially prejudice practices. I’m from the oldest continuing culture on Earth, but nothing makes me feel as old or as tired as coming up against white fragility when discussing racism.
White fragility can describe the collective emotions of angst, denial, fear and outrage that are present when those from the dominant culture engage with critical race awareness. At a human level, I can empathise with this – honest reflexive critique can be confronting, especially when you identify traits in yourself that you’re morally against. What I can’t stand though is when white fragility distracts or dismantles conversations that aim to address racism and diminish its impact on Murri peoples.
Whereas racism is an institutional issue, white fragility presents as an individual one.
White people shift into a state of white fragility when Murris call out racist systems because subconsciously they know Australian society is for them, not us. The jingoism of the Aussie “fair go” doesn’t allow for the notion that not everyone gets one. White people can take this as an individual attack.
As with all manifestations of racism, it is a substantial barrier for Murris to overcome on the path to equality on our own lands.
In institutions, they have the power to centre their hurt feelings as an individual, rather than reflect on and dismantle unfair structures we’re trying to name. Dealing with white fragility can take up all the oxygen when Murris are trying to burn down racist systems, leaving no fuel left to tackle the disadvantage those systems place on us. Time spent dealing with white fragility could be better spent removing barriers for people being disadvantaged by racism.
We don’t have to look too far in Australia for examples of white fragility shutting down what could be otherwise constructive conversations about race:
When Adam Goodes named racism during an ALF match, he was hounded by crowds for the rest of his playing career that were outraged he would do that. Commentators focused on the age and gender of the offender, rather than how toxic an environment must be that such hate can be expressed freely against an Aboriginal man.
The indignation expressed by the 2GB audience when Alan Jones was found to have used racially offensive language on air was coupled with a fear that political correctness was threatening their freedom of speech. An opportunity to critically reflect on the power of racist language flew right over the heads.
Peter Dutton angrily doubled down on his claim people in Melbourne were too anxious to go out for dinner after major media outlets ran the story and were almost immediately refuted by social media. Those people weren’t racist, his claim implied, they were just scared for their safety. Dutton could use the power of his office to create equality but instead he drives a campaign that targets people of colour.
Hypothetically, it could be the time that you asked how a white colleague was going to work effectively on a targeted Aboriginal program that required a high-level of expertise in working with Aboriginal people, but then you had to have a whole two meetings and send four emails because you called someone white and the issue at hand remained unresolved.
Tony Abbot’s fragile life view on the violent colonisation of Australia was so triggered recently about doing acknowledgements of country he said we should consider spending more time in prayer instead. He could have said just a silent prayer about it and got on with his life.
For colonial settlers looking for ways through white fragility on Murri lands, I’m not sure what the answers are. We don’t have the evidence-based strategies for dealing with it because the conversations keep getting stifled by white fragility. But I do know that you have to do the heavy lifting here. You could start @nonIndigenousX to drive that conversation and stop taking up our space with it. I’d definitely give you a follow and help where I can, because I need you to get through this. There are more important discussions to be had.
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‘I do get tired of not being able to identify racism without having to first centre the feelings of people complicit in deploying or maintainingracially prejudice practices’