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White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
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August 2020: Other Books > White Fragility - 4 stars Robin Di Angelo

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message 1: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy | 8957 comments Well this is a hard but important book to review. It demands of us, of white people to look inside and own our inherent, sometimes unconscious racism. It demands an honesty that’s necessary to open up the conversation and to bring transformation and healing and awareness. And yet part of the question when reviewing such a compelling and personal book, is how much to spill that honesty out in a review? And what to do with places that feel internally challenging? And yet I will try. First I want to say that I am very glad that I took it on to suggest and organize a group discussion of this book. That I didn’t give into the discomfort and coasting – that I wanted to be part of the awareness moving forward. I’m also glad I read the book, because there are some important messages in there. And because its important to wrestle with the parts of it that made me uncomfortable, or that I saw myself in a place or two, whizzing and breezing, and had to slow down and say – wait, that’s interesting. Why there? What did I miss and why did I miss it? And I have a few thoughts to share. Some from the principles of the book that are worth sharing, and some are my stories that I love to share. That feel instructive to me, and perhaps there is something in it for a reader too.

First, I immediately found I wanted to speak to being White and Jewish. My first thought was that as Jews, we are taught from a young age that we are a minority. And that we are endangered throughout history and at risk for endangerment in the present day. We were also taught that we were proponents of ethics and civil rights, and that we marched with civil rights in the 60’s, and support Black Lives Matter now. That it is an integral part of being Jewish to care about the oppression of all marginalized groups and to fight for mattering. That we were progressive and like the righteous gentiles, that we stood with the oppressed. But nobody ever taught us that Race (versus passing) held a substantive difference to our own experience. That the experiences were not the same. That just because you are a minority of one kind, does not equip you to understand the experience of systemic racism that is deeply embedded in our country’s history and in the cellular DNA of black and brown people. That kind of sensitive understanding came later, if it came at all. I remember that I never even thought about Whiteness until two experiences. The first was Marijka, and the second was college applications.

Marijka was my childhood friend who I grew up with. We were one of four friends together in a high school, (an unpopular band of four) where we were lucky if there was more than one black person, and while there were a few enough Jews in the school, maybe less, there was plenty of antisemitism. There were racial slurs to me, and the presence of the KKK, and both a cross burning on a neighbors’ lawn, and the KKK tried to enlist my brother. Blond haired and blue eyed, and a little sociopathic looking. Bright, angry, loner type. He remembers trying to be interested enough to have them not figure out that he was Jewish, but not to have them think he was truly interested or going to turn them in. He ran home and cried to my parents and hid in the house for a week straight. I didn’t have any Jewish friends in the High School, but I had plenty just outside. I lived on the edge of town where one could catch a mini bus, or even bicycle to the next town over, and I spent more time with my friends from synagogue, in the far more Jewish town next door. I would spend weekends with NFTY and Wefty, I did summer programs, and took classes in the town next door. I went to other high school’s proms and parties, did weekends away, went to Jewish Summer Camps. Teen tours and travel experiences. I had this whole other life. But in High School, it was me, Chrissie, Cheryl, and Marijka, a sad forlorn, yet tight group of four.

So this is embarrassing to say, but for a long time, I never recognized that Marijka was black. I don’t even know how old I was when I figured it out. My brother told me. I have no idea how old I was, but I was thinking once I realized, that I was too old to not have noticed. We four had been watching the Sound of Music, and after the girls left, my brother said something about Marijka being black, and I said – “No She’s Not!” “Yes she is!”. We actually argued about it until I actually thought about it. Then I was embarrassed, and my brother completely ridiculed me for not noticing. But here’s the thing. Marijka and I and the group of four, never once talked about the fact that she was Black and I was Jewish, and about what our experiences were like at High School. How we experienced assimilation or prejudice or difference. We never spoke once about it. We were more bonded about being losers in the school, us pitiful four. But here’s the thing. As active as a social life as I was having outside the town, so was Marijka. There were these friends and boys through Jack and Jill (just like me with my groups and affiliations for Jewish teens), where there were boys, and boyfriends, and parties, and kids, and people would pick up Marijka in the car. I didn’t make the connection this was for black kids until way too late. But she had another world too. And we talked about boys and a bit about our other worlds, but not really. It was more adolescent fodder. I remember when Bernard came around to give her a Valentine and we were helping her hide in the library. That she felt at the time that she didn’t much like him, or know what to do with his affections. Or even that Pierre seemed to be the ‘bad boy charmer popular’ of her group. Know what? She eventually married Bernard. They have a couple of kids and live(d?) somewhere in upstate Connecticut. We lost track of each other. There are prom and graduation photos of us four, but when I think of my life, it’s the faces of my Hebrew school friends that I equate with my childhood. Debra from birth on, then Loren, (who some to many of you know), then Maddy, Risa, and eventually Gwen, who was from my hometown. And then I came to life when I hit Brandeis at 17. That’s when Elise, Samantha, Joanne, Cindy, and by Sophomore year, Eileen. Who are still my sisters. And a lot more important people who showed up in my life soon after that. There is still Debra, Loren, and Gwen, and Maddy, and the Yog, but there isn’t a Chrissie, Cheryl, or Marijka. That part of my life never stayed. And it was a huge part of my life, growing up in this very white anti-semitic kind of idyllic and picturesque but hateful little town. Anyway, after graduation there was some drifting away already, but somewhere in Sophomore, or Junior Year at Brandeis, I had lunch with Marijka in the town next door. She went to a high population African American school, and of course I was at Brandeis. And for the first, and really guys, only time, we really talked. We finally had the talk about what it was like to grow up in our town, and how odd it was that we never talked about it. We exchanged funny stories, and some not so funny ones, and also talked about our identities, and what we didn’t know or couldn’t show. It was the deepest and most profound talk we had ever had. We made promises to keep it going. And then we never talked again. Maybe once on the phone. We lost track of each other.

Speaking of losing track, I have plenty to say about White Fragility and being white in a world embedded of systemic racism. But now I am on the trail of Marijka, and I have a funny (to me) story to share. Oh this was the closest we ever came to deeply talking, and we laughed about this one for ages. It still makes me laugh at almost 52. So I must be about 15 years old and I was invited for dinner at Marijka’s house and I had no manners whatsoever. My mother used to say it was like eating with a wolf, and she wondered if I would ever survive. So the dinner is served, and I did not read the room. I started serving myself, or I was served, who knows, and I began to eat. I was devouring. Something must have awakened me, because I was midstream with some sort of mashed potato in my mouth when younger sister Philomena nudges me and I look up. They are all holding hands and waiting for me to say Grace. I didn’t even know if I should swallow. I was so embarrassed. As a reform Jewish kid, I had never even seen Grace. I knew nothing about it. It was all, “They Tried to Kill us, We Survived, Lets Eat!” So I manage to free my hands and bow my head in shame, while they said Grace. And then had the wherewithal to not take another bite until the entire family had eaten first. Oh was I embarrassed, and ashamed. When I brought it up to Marijka in school, she said to me, and she was already laughing, she said, “Amy, we Never say Grace in our house. Never. Like maybe this was the first time. We didn’t even know what we were doing! We only did it because you were there and you were our guest!” I still laugh about that to this day. If I ever get to write a book, I would so love to use that scene.
(See remainder of review in next thread).

message 2: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (joabroda1) | 7990 comments 😍Love this

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