Rev. Sharon Wylie – Minister’s Message for February 2020

In our January 19 service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the reading before the sermon was from Ibram X. Kendi, author of the book How to be an Antiracist. After the service, one of our congregants told me about reading Kendi’s book in a book club of mostly white women, and some of the women in the group complained that Kendi (who is African American) sounded “too angry” and didn’t like his book.

My immediate suggestion was that they should next read the book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Race by Robin DiAngelo. She is a consultant and trainer on issues of racial and social justice, and her book has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for 76 weeks (and counting!). It is the fastest selling book in the history of its publisher, Beacon Press (one of our two UU publishing houses).

I’ve mentioned it from the pulpit a few times, but let me say it here clearly: I highly recommend reading this book!

Before the book was published in 2018, many of its central ideas were found in DiAngelo’s paper on white fragility, published in 2011 in The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy.

The abstract of that paper is as follows: “White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation.”

I think DiAngelo’s book has gotten so much attention because so many of us immediately recognize the dynamic she names. I have absolutely been in conversations and situations when a white person blows up because they can’t bear any discussion of racism or racial identities. And the white person’s tantrum effectively stops the conversation from continuing or progressing, which is a very effective way to stop antiracism work from evolving.

The response to DiAngelo’s work tends to be, “Oh, so THAT’S what it’s called!” It is indeed powerful to now have a name (and such an accurate one) for a dynamic many of us have seen but didn’t know what to call.

So if you haven’t heard of this book, check it out! And if you’ve been meaning to get to it, I hope my recommendation gives you a nudge.

Bright blessings,