Robin DiAngelo: I've spent weeks asking white people, what is it you need to trust, will or won't happen before you can work on racism? What it came down to was just, I need to trust you won't think I'm racist before I can work on my racism.
Kerri Kelly: Welcome to CTZN podcast. I'm your host Kerri Kelly. In this episode, we're talking about white fragility, with the woman who coined the phrase Robin DiAngelo. She's been training on issues of racial and social justice for over 20 years. Her groundbreaking book White Fragility, explores why it's so hard for white people to talk about racism and what we can do to engage more constructively. All right white folks, this episode is for you. Not because you are special, but because you and me have some catching up to do in theory and practice about white supremacy and racism. Our guest, Robin DiAngelo wrote the book, White Fragility which is an in-depth examination of the defensive moves that white people make when confronting or challenged with racism.
White fragility can look like anger or fear or guilt or tears or just about anything that allows us to escape our discomfort. It's not just causing harm to the people of color we engaged with, it is holding us back from any kind of meaningful dialogue and work across lines of difference. Now, for all of you thinking, this is not me, I'm a good white person. No, this is you and it's also me, because racism isn't just about bad people. It's about a system and culture that is designed to uphold white dominance. As I discovered in reading her book, the behaviors attributed to fragility are more subtle than you think because that's how white supremacy and cultural racism works.
It's insidious and often invisible especially to those who benefit and in this episode, you'll hear Robin say, "The game is up. You are a racist." When we can get there, when we can acknowledge how and when and where we are being racist, then we can get to work. I am one of those people and this conversation unlocked a whole other level of my own racism and really challenged me to recon with where am I still actively participating in white supremacy. How am I attached to the unearned benefits it affords me and what am I willing to risk so that we can all get free. What I've learned is that we can survive our discomfort and fragility but we may not survive the violence of white supremacy. This episode is both a reckoning and a call to action for all of us who are ready to do what is necessary to transform ourselves from the inside out. Here we go. Let's get started.
Kerri Kelly: Hello. Welcome Robin DiAngelo.
Robin DiAngelo: Hi. Thanks.
Kerri Kelly: I have a million questions for you and as I mentioned before we got started in almost every conversation that we have at CTZNWELL about dismantling racism and raising consciousness, we invoke you and your work around White Fragility so thank you for giving us a vocabulary for this conversation.
Robin DiAngelo: Thank you for the acknowledgment.
Kerri Kelly: I want to start at the beginning and ask you about that moment, I think there's always a moment for white folks who are on this path of waking up to racial consciousness when we become aware of our whiteness, when we become aware of our race, that we have been ... it's almost like the illusion that we have been living under, that we have been operating from our whole life. For me and I've heard this from other white folks, it can be a gut-wrenching moment when we realize that we've been operating from a place of illusion and from a place of lies, really and indoctrination for so long and that it's had a real harmful impact on the lives of other people. What was that moment for you?
Robin DiAngelo: I was sitting, I can tell you where I was sitting, right? I can tell you the room but just to back up, I've been a proudly angry feminist for most of my life, right? I grew up in poverty. I had a very acute awareness of inequality and oppression and I could tell you in great detail all the ways that I had been oppressed or had less but never occurred to me to think about where I had more. Never occurred to me to think about where I make, including what someone else's oppression is. It's kind of the missing piece of the coin, right? When you experience heavy oppression, like that's where your focus is. I'm sitting in a friend's office, he's a black woman and she gives me Peggy McIntosh's White Privilege article and I had an out-of-body experience, right?
Robin DiAngelo: It was like this moment when I realized, "Oh my God, I have a racial world view and it's white." It's like that fish being taken out of water. I wouldn't have not been able to tell you I had a racial world view. I mean, I just saw the world through my human eyes. In that moment, I realized, no, I see the world through white eyes. Then, I got this almost like an image of myself, standing on the ground and I had always understood that there we re people under me and that was tragic that they were lower, right? In my mind, I thought about black people and I understood that they were kind of stood upon but I suddenly realized, no, you're not just standing on level ground and some people are below you.
Robin DiAngelo: You're elevated, you're lifted up above that ground and I actually didn't want to go outside the room. I didn't want to go outside. I felt so hyper-conscious of being white that I thought it was loud and everybody could see it because for me, in that moment, it was really loud. I think what's really important however is that, that didn't last and years later, I signed up to be a diversity trainer and I'm still running the same oblivious patterns because it wasn't sustained. I mean, along with it, wasn't the, "And you better keep your focus here or you will lose it."
Kerri Kelly: Right.
Robin DiAngelo: Right. It's a lot like water dripping on a rock. What I often say to groups of people is that everything I've shown you today, that I've helped you see today, the moment you leave this room, all the forces will push you not to see this anymore and you ... they'll be seductive because you don't really want to see this, do you, because it mean something. It challenges our identities as good people. It requires something of us that we don't really want to give, right? I mean, this is not a small task. Without that sustain pressure and accountability ... even though there was that moment really for me, it's been a decades long process and it's never complete.
Kerri Kelly: It almost sounds like what you're describing is recovery from addiction.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, people have used that analogy and if it's useful, I don't have any immediate problem with that. I'm sure people have critique that analogy. It makes sense, right, that you're never free of the addiction but you can maybe manage it.
Kerri Kelly: That's right, to the best of your ability.
Robin DiAngelo: You're a little less harmed.
Kerri Kelly: With practice and community and ongoing commitment and accountability and diligence. I want to ask about ... because in the book you talk about how we need to understand socialization better and that's the water I think that you're describing, that we swim in and that we can't see because we're the fish.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah.
Kerri Kelly: I know for me, that's how my racism has shown up throughout my whole life. It hasn't been so overt and obvious as like, direct words or actions but it's been more stylistic, like the culture of white supremacy that Tema Okun talks about. The way it showed up for me is in my perfectionism and in the way in which like I had to be perfect at all costs, right? Even as an ally or in the way in which I felt entitled to take the lead in rooms or in collaboration or to take responsibility or project manage spaces, right? Those were the more insidious ways and subtle ways that I think my racism, not just showed up but really like impacted and oppressed the people that I was working with.
Kerri Kelly: I'd love to hear from you like what do we need to learn and understand about the ways in which we've been shaped by systems and by culture? What do we need to unpack to better see the whiteness that we've been indoctrinated into?
Robin DiAngelo: Okay, nice, deep question. I take notes as I'll lose all the great places you went in that question. The first thing is we are all in water and there are currents in the water, so people of color are in that water too and they're being conditioned and they're minds are being colonized, all of that is happening for everybody, of course with different results based on where we're positioned in the water, in terms of the currents. I think about it as I move with the current and they're swimming against it. We're both swimming but the efforts, the outcome of my efforts in that current are drastically different and you've ever swam with the current, you know that it's ... you don't notice it's there until you just, " Whoa, man, did I get far," right, just by swimming. When you swim against it, you're acutely aware of it, right? That's just ...
Kerri Kelly: That's a great analogy.
Robin DiAngelo: Metaphors work for me really well.
Kerri Kelly: Yup.
Robin DiAngelo: I think about it that way. It appears that most white people don't understand socialization and I think the irony is just because one of the ideologies that's so precious in our culture is individualism. Now, it's only granted to white people, racially, right? I mean, I'm just teacher but we mentioned a dear friend, Michelle, she'll always be the black teacher, right? There's the writer and then there's the black writers or the Asian writers. Individualism has this thinking that we can be exempt ... that we're just unique and even some of these new age kind of ideas like find yourself. I need to find myself.
Robin DiAngelo: I need to my true self, what is that? I mean, where is this idea that there is some kind of intact unique special person in there that is untouched by anything and that is just unchanging? No, I'm different selves and different context. This is where I love graduate school, okay, for all my critiques, post structural theory. We think we can just be exempt from all of this because we want to be. If we take a really ... it's not even a hard look once you start to see it. Just look around, I mean, the messages are relentless. Children by three, all children who grew up here by three years old know it's better to be white. Who doesn't know that? You don't miss it. It's not an isolated singular message.
Robin DiAngelo: It's just relentless. You see it in the ... the difference between whether people are literally going to survive their births to how long they're going to live, right? Group identity matters. I don't think anybody would deny that, when a baby is born and it's labeled boy or girl, the trajectory of its life is radically directed at that moment, you can fight it but you cannot truly ever get away from it. I think we know this. You're going to get deep messages that are going to be different. It's the same with race. When it comes to race, we just want to say, "Oh, it's just about fond regard and as long as I have fond regard, there's nothing happening."
Robin DiAngelo: Okay, so the other piece I want to talk about ... one way to get to it, I do offer a lot of questions in the book, kind of walk people through some questions that can help them get in touch with those early messages. You were naming some of the ways that your racism manifest, right, because you and I, we're never going to say the N word. I mean, I cannot deny that I have very ugly racist thoughts that pop into my brain at times and unsettle me. They pop in so that they're there but I kind of am uphold by them and I'm never going to say those things.
Kerri Kelly: That's part of the socialization, right? That we've been sort of indoctrinated.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, your whole life, you've watched movies and then associate an image with the word, right? You see somebody and pop goes that word, that term, right? I use this example of Trump and some people have misunderstood it but I will say, I don't actually think Trump is more racist than I am. I mean, I absolutely recognize what comes out of his mouth. When he says those things about Mexicans, it's not like I've never heard those things about Mexicans.
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Robin DiAngelo: That's a familiar narrative to me. The difference is I work really, really hard to challenge it, in a couple of ways, right, and think critically about but also to have relationships with Mexican heritage people and to see their humanity. The difference between us is he embraces and uses it for ends that I think are deeply oppressive and problematic but the essential socialization, we're in the same water.
Kerri Kelly: Yeah. I've heard you even say that you believe white progressives cause like the most daily harm to people of color and that's I think what you're getting at.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, daily harm, you have to think about it as kind of climate of hostility. It's not going to look that way to us. The example I like to use, I use to work with a black woman, we worked really hard. We were doing these trainings and I actually said to her, let's get away for the weekend. Let's take a nice quiet weekend up at Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and she just like looked at me, like, "Yeah, no, that does not sound like a relaxing weekend, Robin." A little tiny town up in Coeur d'Alene where the area of nation is built in a compound of Hayden Lake, a few miles down the road. Just for me, everything is open, right. For her that's a hostile climate and maybe I don't know if that image is right, pretty little picturesque town.
Robin DiAngelo: How could that not look attractive but what is the climate, right, and why do I not see it and why does she see it, right? I think white progressives, we just tend to be so attached to an identity of progressiveness that we can refuse any kind of feedback about what we're doing inadvertently, right? We're so ... we tend to be so arrogant, so not humble, so sure and we spend most of our time credentialing ourselves in ways that actually are not remotely convincing to people of color, right? They're rolling their eyes but I'm just sure if you knew I saw Black Panther five times, you'd know I wasn't racist.
Kerri Kelly: Even an allyship, I see like a lot of proving and performing, right, in the ways in which we use the right words and we have the right moves and it's ... yet, we still benefit and then we're even benefiting from our allyship which I think is an ...
Robin DiAngelo: I know, I know.
Kerri Kelly: It's a mess.
Robin DiAngelo: I know my people really well, so right now if any listener is going, I give up. Don't give up.
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Robin DiAngelo: It reminds me of something a dear friend of mine once said, Malena Pinkham. She's an indigenous woman and she's ... in one of her I'd say rare moments of having some kind of compassion for my struggle, she said, "Wow, being a white person committed to enter racism must be a little bit like being a cat on a hot roof. There's nowhere you can step that you don't stepping in." I'm like, yeah. She said, you just get stay up on that roof and you keep stepping.
Kerri Kelly: Well, and keep getting dirty, right?
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, don't expect to be free of that. I mean, watch where you're stepping but don't expect that to ... I mean, the last thing I wanted to own is one of the ways my racism I think looks at, you talked about perfectionism and I think apathy. Apathy is really deep. I'm going to say something provocative. I think most white people don't actually care about racism or racial inequality. If you show us an extreme picture of somebody being beaten, of course we will feel upset by that. The incredibly inequitable outcomes day in and day out that all of our institutions produce, right? I don't think we really care that schools are profoundly unequal as long as my child has the best of everything. In fact, I kind of need schools to be unequal or how would my child have the best of everything. My precious unique. I'd like to joke, I've never met a white middle class person with an average child.
Kerri Kelly: Well, I wonder if it's like that we don't care or that we care more about benefiting. Is it preference?
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah. I did a ... I co-wrote an article that ... it was called, we put it in terms of not nice, anti-racist parenting and we interviewed white parents who identified as anti-racist, like what are you doing differently in raising your children and the bottom line was, nothing but feeling more guilty about it.
Kerri Kelly: They have more words. They're more educated on it.
Robin DiAngelo: They feel bad the gentrification.
Kerri Kelly: They can go on social media and yell and shout about the injustice.
Robin DiAngelo: Also, those moments of realizing, a really powerful ... two really powerful moments for me, one is like the highlight of my presentation. There's like an emotional pit to my presentation and it's when I get to the end of talking about how race has shaped my life, and I say that I could be born into, I could play. I could study. I could learn. I could work. I could lead. I could love and I could die in racial segregation. Absolutely no one who's ever mentored me or guided me or loved me has ever conveyed that I've lost anything of value. In fact, white people describe the value of our lives by the absence of people of color.
Robin DiAngelo: I know what a good school is. I know what a good neighborhood is. I know what's happening when a neighborhood is coming up. These are such powerful messages. We have to understand yes, that's the N word and then there's calling a white neighborhood good. Just pause for a minute, it's good because it's white. It's safe because they're not there. Those are very deep messages that we internalize. I show a picture of my wedding and then I show a picture of a funeral and I said, it's all white and I just say, why would my funeral not look like this? Why would, not the end of my life, in segregation like the rest of how I've lived my life.
Robin DiAngelo: That was powerful. That's the place in which I got a deeper message and the place in which I try to help other white people see it and then there's the moment when I realized that I actually thought people of color suffered less than we do. This is also kind of a deep thing to say but I was watching a movie, it was obviously Apocalypse Now and there's a scene where they show all these ... I guess they would be Cambodian people hanging from trees and I just realized they'd never show white people hanging from trees like that. The bodies, in the same way that women's nude dead bodies are shown over and over and over but not men's nude dead bodies.
Robin DiAngelo: The dead bodies of people of color but we can't even show the coffins coming back from Iraq if there are people and all of the images I've seen of brown women in other countries weeping over war and there's just this kind of abstract, I realized that I kind of thought their pain didn't count the same ways ours did. That it was something they just always had and it didn't ... I mean, that's a really hard thing to admit. A recent study showed that up to 50% of medical residents believe that black people feel less pain. These ideas are not alone. They circulate relentlessly and they keep each other alive.
Robin DiAngelo: We have to get better at recognizing them and the messages they're sending or we can resist them but if you put that all together, and then you can think about so what does this look like in Robin's life? What does that going to look like? That's the life long task, right? Not, "I couldn't have been exempt from any of this, what's it look like in my life?" You want to be an individual, figure out how your unique life set you up to glue with racism.
Kerri Kelly: That's right. I want to give a special shout out to our community of supporters on Patreon, who are making it possible for us to create content that matters for citizens who care. CTZN podcast was designed for truth seekers, bridge builders and emerging activists who are yearning to make a difference. We're not afraid to ask hard questions and have a radical dialogue about politics and patriarchy, white supremacy and worthiness and we're serious about showing up for one another and taking action for the well-being of everyone. Making a good podcast takes a village and so we're building one on Patreon.
Kerri Kelly: By joining our Patreon community for as little as $1 per month, you get lots of good stuff from us, like radical meditations, community forums and lifestyle content that you can trust. Not only does it keep us going but it keeps us honest and real and pushing the envelope of courageous conversations that are independent, transparent and authentic. Check us out on patreon.com/ctznwell and build with us as we create a culture of well-being that works for everyone. I want to get into White Fragility and I think you're already getting towards this. I have seen ... and I'm sure I have been one of them, white folks cling to their defenses and their rationale and their narrative like they are holding on for dear life.
Kerri Kelly: Not only does it appear irrational, sometimes it feels like a trauma response like the way in which people react. Acute, being adamantly about they're not racist and so I'm just wondering like why are people so defensive, like, what are they afraid of? What's underneath, right, that I'm right, I don't understand you're wrong, we're all one. What's the underpinning of that, do you think that causes us to have such an embodied reaction?
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah. I think there's actually a whole bunch of threads. I think about them as threads or pillars that hold that reaction up. Not just one single one but so many in fact that it makes us crazy, like it makes us irrational. You mentioned trauma. I think there's a kind of moral trauma that we sit on because we know what we've done and we know what we're doing. It's not just the past. If you know your history, it's not the past. There's this kind of moral trauma.
Kerri Kelly: It's the present.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, that we can't really look at, right? It's unbearable and along with that goes guilt but also resentment because we feel entitled to what we have and they're ... I'm going to say another provocative thing. No white person grows up not knowing it's better to be white.
Kerri Kelly: That's right, and not benefiting.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, there's this deep superiority and entitlement to everything but we can never admit that either because that would mean we were bad people. That's going on, what I call the good, bad binary. Taboos on talking about this. Feeling that we would have to give up something that's rightfully ours and so that's not fair. Myth of scarcity, capitalism, it's kind of all these things.
Kerri Kelly: Right, individualism.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, the place I try to at least help women access it. Those who identifies women is ... everything I say about white supremacy, I could say about patriarchy, right, that from the time a boy is born pretty much, he knows it's better to be a boy than a girl, right? I mean, you might have to fight that message but no little boy knows, who doesn't know it's better to be a boy than a girl. How do you teach boys to be boys, don't be a girl.
Kerri Kelly: Don't run like a girl.
Robin DiAngelo: The risk of name, that don't be a pussy, don't be a fagot, don't be weak. Everything is don't be female. Don't be feminine, don't be a girl. In fact, violence weights you, seriously. I mean it's a pretty brutal lesson, any weakness the boy show, they risk deep violence.
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Robin DiAngelo: Okay. You've never known anything outside of that, you internalize it and then you add all the massaging in the culture. I don't about you but I think male superiority kind of leaks out of their pores. I have this picture I often show of the house freedom caucus. It's all these men sitting around a conference table, Mike Pence is in the middle of it, because it's such a powerful visual representation of institutional power. You look at these men and you know that probably every single one of them went to Ivy League schools, multimillionaires, expect to be sitting at that table. Don't see any one of value not sitting at the table. Would probably not really appreciate you suggesting they should have more women and men and women of color. You can see it really clearly, that's just ...
Kerri Kelly: How it is.
Robin DiAngelo: That's just how they were raised, right. They're always get to be the smartest people in the room. If you've ever had anybody mansplain something to you ...
Kerri Kelly: Which we all have.
Robin DiAngelo: Yes, I can see it so clearly from them and then I have to ask myself, you have the same thing around race and try to figure out what it looks like, because people of color can see my white superiority coming out of my pores and just because in that room with my pants, I would be acutely aware of patriarchy and sexism. It doesn't mean, put me in a room full of white women, bring our friend Michelle in there and she's not going to be feeling acute white superiority from all of us white women.
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Robin DiAngelo: It's intersectional, right? It's not just one or the other.
Kerri Kelly: Well, we have lots of evidence of that, right, with the 53% of white women that voted for Trump, 51% that voted for ... it's just like, and Susan Collins and the Kavanaugh hearing is just pervasive and the evidence ... and I love the way you said before around like, you can not see it like once you start to see it, it's actually not ... it's not hard to see it's everywhere.
Robin DiAngelo: Yes. Yes, and we can't trust ourselves fully, right, to see it, because as an insider to it ... like it's the same thing when a man ... have you ever have a man tell you that he's a feminist, tell him about you.
Kerri Kelly: All the time.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, I will be the judge of that. Seriously, yeah, right, yeah. I'll be ...
Kerri Kelly: I get to call you a feminist. You don't get to call yourself a feminist.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah and really be like in any given moment, how you're doing, right?
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Robin DiAngelo: In any given moment, am I actually behaving an anti-racist white, right? Yeah. It's not like a fixed arrival.
Kerri Kelly: White fragility, and one of the things I love about ... the solutions that you offer at the end of this book, that you talk about this idea of like capacity building which I love, right, because to me, capacity building is like practice. It's like the anti-habit, it's like what we choose to do everyday to like stay aware and to be engaged fully and like dismantling these beliefs and these messages that we're constantly getting and disrupting, whatever that looks like, it's like an ongoing constant process and it's probably never-ending at least for me in my life. I assume that I will be on this path forever.
Kerri Kelly: What does capacity building look like, in the way in which we learned to respond on an everyday basis to the onslaught of white supremacy.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, well, we probably can't build our capacity in isolation. I mean, that's one piece that white people we need to work with each other, we need to help each other challenge each other.
Kerri Kelly: That's the legacy of individualism again, right? That they want to keep us apart. They want to keep us in isolation because it continues to uphold the system and we can organize.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah. We need to break silence with one another but we also have to recognize that in doing that, we will also reinforce our blind spots, of course, right? We have to also be in relationship across race and be accountable. I think about it as building the capacity to one, just bear witness to the pain of racism but also bear witness to the pain that I have caused. In those moments when someone gives me feedback and that right there would be a moment of incredible trust for a person of color to give me that feedback because most of the time, they don't bother because it doesn't usually go well because of White Fragility.
Robin DiAngelo: Can I just bear it, can I just hold it and maybe take it somewhere else and process it but not have to fix it and I need you to absolve me and tell me I'm okay and tell me you still love me, like just sit with it, you'll be okay, you'll be fine. We can't get there without making mistakes and so that's another pattern that I think white progressives have is carefulness. It's so important for us to ... what we think of a save face. I don't want you to think I'm racist, right? I have a piece called White Fragility and the question of trust, because so many white people, and before they can have a racial dialogue, they need to build trust.
Robin DiAngelo: I'm just like, I've spent weeks asking why people what is it you need to trust, will or won't happen before you can work on racism? What it came down to was just I need to trust you won't think I'm racist before I can work on my racism. What I just say is, yeah, the game is up. I think you're racist. We're done with that. Just start from that premise.
Kerri Kelly: Yeah, we are racist.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah.
Kerri Kelly: That's the beginning of the conversation.
Robin DiAngelo: It's transformative, it's liberating and then from there, get to work, trying to figure out how you're being a racist and stop doing it. That's actually really exciting work but if we can't let go of this I have to save face you can't think I'm racist, it can never show. You will protect all of your racism and you definitely will not be building your capacity, right? Take risks
Kerri Kelly: Yeah.
Robin DiAngelo: Be thoughtful, right? There's a difference between careful and thoughtful in my mind, right? Be thoughtful, don't just, "Oh, yeah, I'm going to blurt this thought out, I just had," but perhaps I'm having a thought that's confusing to me and put it out there in a thoughtful way.
Kerri Kelly: I have to tell you, this is one of the biggest aha moments for me in reading your book was when you talked about trust and I realized as I was reading it, I literally was like in a moment where I was like seeking trust, in an interaction at that time and I was like, "Dammit. I'm doing that thing," and I realized how that was like ... that was entitlement that I believe, that I deserve trust before I can enter into a conversation. Entitlement that white people have and that they take for themselves but you said that the message is more important than the messenger, right? How, where and when you give me feedback is irrelevant.
Kerri Kelly: It is the feedback I want and need and understanding that it is hard to give, I will take it anyway, I can get it and that was like a huge holy shit moment for me, in reading your book. That like, thank you for giving it to me in whatever way you gave it to me, that is the gift.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah. That kind of gave me the chills there.
Kerri Kelly: It was right on time for me and it was literally like weeks ago. I mean, it wasn't like years ago, it was like weeks ago and I think I feel like, I'm far ... I'm in this journey but to me, the humility that you keep illuminating around how this is like a process that's constantly unfolding, it's almost like peeling an onion, it's just going to keep going and we're going to get even more clear seeing about the ways in which we're still operating from that perspective.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, well, this is another place individualism comes in I think because we so attach to ourselves this identity as individuals. We expect to be trusted automatically, right, like, "Well, you don't know me, why would you assume I'm racist when you don't know me?" This is a really common refrain for white people, right?
Kerri Kelly: I don't get credit for all of the ways I'm great.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, we definitely do not like being generalized about or trust me, those are probably the number one thing about the emails I get, is this like how dare you generalized about white people? You don't know me. We expect to just kind of appear in front of you as a unique person and you should respond to us as a unique person and we don't understand, you bring your history with you and it's a history of harm quite frankly. No, you have to actually show you're different, expecting to be automatically trusted is not showing you're different. It's showing you're entitled and unaware of your position as a white person.
Robin DiAngelo: While I might just see myself as Robin, Michelle's friend, Michelle sees me as Robin, my white friend, right? That's always in there and rightly so, in fact it's wise not to automatically trust us. Ijeoma Oluo is a young black woman whose ...
Kerri Kelly: A great writer.
Robin DiAngelo: I love her. Everything she's ever written, look it up but she's got this piece that has a quote which is basically white people will let you down every time.
Kerri Kelly: Yeah.
Robin DiAngelo: We need to earn trust and not just expect and demand it.
Kerri Kelly: Well, and I think that's where the capacity building comes in because when I think about my addiction to perfectionism, knowing that I'm going to fail every time I engage, is like a muscle I need to build. I need to get good at like falling on my face on fucking up and getting back up again and making in a men's ... like not being flimsy or careless about just flinging my unconsciousness all over the place but like to me it's like the more I can build that muscle around, I can make a mistake and still be in relationship. I can make a mistake and still be human. I can make a mistake and still be whole.
Kerri Kelly: It doesn't just determine that good and bad binary that you mentioned. That to me, is like the most important kind of resilient building practice that not only can I work on for myself but that I can openly and vulnerably share with other white folks like I try to model that, that like, "Oh shit, I just did a humiliating thing, and fell on my face again. Let me tell you about that."
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah but man, but you learn from it. I would not be able to articulate, I don't know, a quarter of what I can today, if I hadn't made countless mistakes.
Kerri Kelly: Totally.
Robin DiAngelo: That doesn't mean ... Unfortunately they are at the expense of other people but it's that carefulness that won't give us those incredibly important learning moments and fortunately, many, many brilliant and patient, mentors, people of color did not give up on me but that's because they kept seeing something and maybe it was that I kind of kept going, right? I actually incorporate it the lesson I learned from that mistake and then was different. That is what I think they're looking for and that's what I've been told, right? It's like we don't expect perfection. We know you have this conditioning. We need you, right, in the struggle.
Robin DiAngelo: We definitely need you in the struggle. We're not going to give up on you but what we're looking for is where can we go with you in those moments when it surfaces. If we can't repair it with you then we are probably going to give up or at least not have an authentic relationship. I did have a thought though, you said, we're going to fail. You might not fail every time, right? I mean, you can really have very meaningful interactions. I just want to put that out there.
Kerri Kelly: Yeah, that's right.
Robin DiAngelo: Go ahead.
Kerri Kelly: It's not a recipe for failure but be prepared to be like fail-resilient.
Robin DiAngelo: I fail less which means I do less harm and then when I do harm, I'm pretty good at cleaning it up.
Kerri Kelly: Yeah, and that's a really good point, right? It's like how do we get ... how do we develop a practice of like leaning into repair and not having to save face all the time and like setting those sort of like, shields if you will and defenses down of like I have to self-preserve, I have to save face. I can't tolerate not knowing or being seen as not good, like to my like that, but I wanted to appreciate what you were saying about like, just having ... just really incredible black allies in my life who chose to be in relationship for me for whatever reason and who served as a mirror in some of those times when I fell in my face and we keep talking about Michelle, we're talking about Michelle Cassandra Johnson. She wrote a book, Skill in Action. She's an incredible, incredible woman which author of Skill in Action.
Robin DiAngelo: By the way, she does racial justice training and has a website. It's really good.
Kerri Kelly: She does have a website and I think it's skillandaction.com.
Robin DiAngelo: I think it's michellejohnsonsocialworker.com.
Kerri Kelly: Michellejohnsonsocialworker.com or skillandaction.com.
Robin DiAngelo: I refer a lot of work to her because she's really good. A trainer ...
Kerri Kelly: She's incredible and she's also been on the show so we love her and we talk about her all the time. I wanted to just acknowledge that and Reverend Angel Kyodo Williams and then also Anasa Troutman and Nikki Myers. I mean these are women who have just shown up for me when they didn't have to and really transformed my life and shown up for me with compassion and patience. I wanted to name that and I also wanted to acknowledge that ... and you talk about this in your book, that we also can't rely on or lean on black women to be the teachers for white people in this particular moment, especially given the burden that they've been carrying for all of time, for having to ...
Kerri Kelly: I mean, we're white women talking about racism but black women have been telling us about racism forever and it seems like now, we're finally getting the message. I wanted to ask you about the role of white on white organizing and white folks working with white folks to do some of this consciousness raising and to have these vulnerable conversations without causing such a mess and impacting people of color and black folks so intensely. Because I know you talk about this in the book, right, that white folks can work with white folks to break the silence but I'm just wondering if you ... not only what do you think about that but what do you think are the best practices of how white folks can work with white folks?
Kerri Kelly: I think it does seem like there should be some like ... to use your word, some careful and intentional and skilled application of the way in which we organize together, so that we don't replicate the dominance of whiteness and centering whiteness and kind of getting back into that loop all over again.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, so I just want to say I thought about people of color in our lives. So many people of color have put themselves in position to teach white people. They write, they speak.
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Robin DiAngelo: Hopefully, they get paid. They're out there. That information is out there. The problem is when we just go to anybody randomly and expect that from them, right, and across relation of power, I want to acknowledge that. I also think that if we truly integrate our lives and think about what would it take to integrate our lives and we just have cross racial relationships, you don't have to ask anything. You just learn by being in each other's lives. You see things you would not have seen before. People begin to talk more openly around you because generally people of color talk way more openly about race, when we're not around so you begin to kind of be in those conversation. It doesn't mean, we can't access it, it's just really important to be conscious of the power dynamics of doing so.
Kerri Kelly: Just to like to put a pin on what you just said, we're not talking about allyship or like the motivation of being in relationships so that we can benefit. You're talking about authentic relationship, how we show up just for the sake of showing up.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah. Of course, white on white, the first you said, it's the master's tools dilemma. Audre Lorde. Beautiful quote, right?
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Robin DiAngelo: How do you dismantle the master's house with only the master's tools. There really isn't a clean way to do it but it must be done so it's a both end. When white people get together, they will inadvertently be reinforcing some white consciousness or dynamics because that's what we have, right and we're using kind of a ... I think about it as a colonized mind to unpack the colonized mind. Just kind of keep that in mind and then know that there will be patterns and they do not self-manage. I've never known a group to self-facilitate so I think you have to have a really conscious facilitator or set of facilitators to watch out for white people slipping into the things we like to slip into which is intellectualizing, philosophizing.
Robin DiAngelo: Talking about society, talking about all the other white people who just don't get it. Asking how do I tell so and so about you their racism. There are three top questions I get whenever I give a talk and let me just say for the record, I hate them.
Kerri Kelly: Tell us how you really feel about them.
Robin DiAngelo: The first one is what do I do? I just find that the most disingenuous question. For a lot of people listening to me, that's the first time in their life they've ever thought about this and 45 minutes later they're ready to be given the answer. I think just expect to be given the answer is problematic as if there is one and two, you know they're not going to do anything that I say. If I say, here's what you do, they're not going to go home and do it. Most are not. I guess, I'll just say in response to that one, how have you managed not to know? It's 2019, why don't you know?
Kerri Kelly: How are you like an educated professional person engaged in society and are just realizing this, how the hell is that possible?
Robin DiAngelo: Take out a piece of paper and start writing it down and there's your map.
Kerri Kelly: Google, hello.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah. I love to say, what would you do if there was something you really wanted to know? Google the shit out of it. Really, for a lot of white people, just taking the initiative and breaking with apathy. Okay, the other question I really don't like is so how do I tell so and so about their racism? My response to that is, well, how would I tell you about yours?
Kerri Kelly: Nice.
Robin DiAngelo: Then, I just looked at them. My point is that question presumes, of course it isn't me. I'm just going to go forth and change all the other white people and then the third question is how do I raise my children? Please. Let me give you the answer to that in one minute.
Kerri Kelly: In one email.
Robin DiAngelo: Again, there's information on all those things but I kind of digress there to make the point that white groups need to work on this but these are the patterns that they can slip into. We just finished the readers' guide for White Fragility.
Kerri Kelly: Great.
Robin DiAngelo: The readers' guide has really good reflection questions for the end of every chapter. They're all designed to take you deep or not to get you in your head and take you out.
Kerri Kelly: Nice.
Robin DiAngelo: Also, it opens with common patterns when white people talk about racism and how to facilitate those patterns.
Kerri Kelly: That's great.
Robin DiAngelo: That's really inclusive and detailed. Anyway, those are my thoughts about on white ... we have to get together but we have to be really conscious.
Kerri Kelly: One of the most important things that you mentioned in your book that I think should be spoken about in all of these conversations is just how adaptive white supremacy and racism has been over time and how like, even our definition of racism has evolved so that it can benefit us. You talk about how it has a criteria of like racism as only being individual, only when it's conscious, only when it's intentional and I think disrupting that ideology is really essential to understanding the way in which it is the water that we are swimming in.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, because that's so beautifully protected. As long as it has to be intentional like, well, we're pretty much done. I mean, one, most of the time, it's not intentional but if it was, who's going to meet that. I mean, you couldn't come up with a better ... this is actually legal, right? This is the legal definition is intentional. This is why discrimination might be illegal but you basically cannot prove it because you have to prove intent, could you come up with a better way to make it meaningless to be illegal?
Kerri Kelly: Yeah. That's problematic.
Robin DiAngelo: It's probably the first thing that anybody says, any white person says is I did not mean to.
Kerri Kelly: Totally.
Robin DiAngelo: That wasn't my intention, we do that a lot in the spiritual wellness community, because it's all about good intentions and love and light. You misunderstood me and I always like to offer, you know what if in fact, the person didn't misunderstand you at all. They actually understood exactly what you've meant. What you don't understand is how what you meant is coming from a racist paradigm.
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Robin DiAngelo: Wouldn't that just be an amazing thing to consider, that it's you who's missing something. I wish ... I want to shake white people and just say, is it possible you don't actually know something?
Kerri Kelly: Yeah.
Robin DiAngelo: Here's my little vent here when I get this mansplain and emails, what qualifies you to determine whether this is or isn't legitimate. I mean our arrogance is just ... is particularly when racism comes from us, not at us and we're so invested and benefit from it and yet we are so confident that we're objective and they aren't. My God.
Kerri Kelly: As if. I want to ask you about positive white identity, this is my final question and I think it's the hardest one, if I'm being honest because I know that this is something, as I unpack my own whiteness and also like leaning to like, where I come from in my lineage and how I got here and all of the history that you mentioned before that I'm carrying literally in my body, into every interaction and into my perspective and understanding of the world. Ruby Sales did a podcast on being not so great and she talked about how we need a new white liberation theology. I don't even know if I understand what that means but I think it has a little bit something to do with that question that you asked at the end of your book, is a positive white identity possible? That's my question to you, is it, because it feels awfully tricky to me.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, well, there are many approaches to this work and those who are listening who maybe a bit involved in it over time know there's different approaches. There's the white people, have lost something really deep, when they gave up their ethnicity to become white and they need to reclaim that. That actually just has no salience for me. It does nothing for me. I don't connect to it, I don't see how reclaiming my Italian heritage is going to change white supremacy. That's fine if that works but it doesn't work for me.
Kerri Kelly: Yeah.
Robin DiAngelo: This idea that there could be a positive white identity, I just don't think it can be because there's no white outside of white supremacy. There's no white people ... I mean, I think Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about the dream of being white, like it's this illusion, it doesn't mean it doesn't ...
Kerri Kelly: For the privilege, like as if.
Robin DiAngelo: It doesn't have meaning as a social construction, profound meaning. It doesn't mean that we don't perform it because we do, right? It didn't exist before we needed to make up race in order to justify enslavement and genocide and both Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ibram Kendi in his Stamped From the Beginning.
Kerri Kelly: Yeah. Great book.
Robin DiAngelo: Definitive ideas of ... The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. They both argue that first you have racism and then you have race. Many people would say, if you ask them how long is racism been around? Forever. People are just afraid of difference and they just prefer to be with their own. No, it's a relatively new idea.
Kerri Kelly: It's constructed.
Robin DiAngelo: You start with the exploitation of a group of people who have something you want and you can exploit them and in this case, labor and land and then you make up a story to justify exploiting them so you had racism and then you made up race as the justification. White didn't exist. It's just an inherently oppressive identity and I don't know that we can reclaim it in some kind of way. I look at it as trying to be the less white, a little less white. What does it mean to be a little less white. It means be a little less oppressive. Less arrogant, more humble, listen more, believe more, be less defensive, be more aware and educated.
Robin DiAngelo: Be less apathetic. These are all classic white characteristics around race. Arrogance, certitude, apathy, resentment, entitlement, superiority, how about we modify those a little bit, bring them down a little bit. I don't know that I can be free of them but I can certainly try to minimize them and in so doing, minimize the harm of having been raised to be white. I don't know if that helps.
Kerri Kelly: Yeah. It's almost like, if we take a stance of harm reduction, at all times, then that might become a practice of being less white in the context of where we are right now.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, if I go to sexism again, this is ... and I do this a lot because it just helps me, when I want to unpack something, I just think about men and women and if a man just says I'm just not going to be a man anymore. I'm not going to be masculine anymore. I mean, he can't throw off his socialization but he can be way less than an asshole, a way more open, challenged all of his misogyny that he ... you can't help but ...
Kerri Kelly: Or name it at least.
Robin DiAngelo: We live in a woman hating culture, you have to have internalized some of that. Work on that, bring it down. If it shows, don't be defensive about it. Listen to women, that is man that I would want to be around that I would consider an ally to me. He can't just say, I'm not male anymore and I mean, I'm not talking about trans issues. I'm talking about a man who doesn't want to have been shaped by patriarchy. It's not like a cloak you can throw off.
Kerri Kelly: It's a process.
Robin DiAngelo: Anyway, that's how I visualize it.
Kerri Kelly: If we are doing this constant work to decolonize our minds and our bodies from all of these ideologies that we mentioned in our conversation, white supremacy, individualism and so on and so forth, what is the new belief system that we need to center if we are to move forward, and towards, I don't know what. Towards being in the room together, towards thriving together, towards just learning how to be in more authentic relationship together. I don't know what like the vision is because it sounds trite to be like where we're all free but if we're moving in the direction of learning how to be together with more integrity, authenticity, love what do you believe is like the new ideology that ...
Kerri Kelly: I don't mean to like replicate or replace one ideology with another but to me like there has to be a belief that we need to start to center in our conversations and remind ourselves of, that helps dismantle those old ideologies.
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, that's a deep question. In some ways, the first thing I think of is I don't know what it would look like because we've never seen it.
Kerri Kelly: Right.
Robin DiAngelo: Right, but I can just think about what I strive for and I think the first thing is until we dismantle hierarchy and I don't think that's happening in my lifetime, I'm not sure it will ever happen but it is a goal. As long as there has been human domination, there has been human struggle for justice, human struggle, not to dominate that is as old and as natural as domination so I remember that so in order to have a more just society until we get there, I need to always be cognizant of my position in relation to one another because we are in a hierarchy, we just are, there's a hierarchy and we've all been placed in it and so I need to always be cognizant, in this moment, in this room, what is my position and how do I best use it to open and challenge that hierarchy rather than just support it and reinforce it.
Kerri Kelly: That's like social location, right?
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, social location.
Kerri Kelly: Like what is my proximity to power, what is my proximity to access and privilege and all the things.
Robin DiAngelo: It moves in and out so I think about if you put me at that table with Mike Pence and all those people, definitely patriarchy and sexism will be really strong and it's not like I wouldn't play a role in the room but it would be different than the role I could play if I was a man in that room, right? When I get into the other room, which is all white women and just one or two women of color, then for me race is really salient and what role can I play to make sure that those women are heard, that there is space. Just in those ways, you are trying to if not dismantle, bring down those hierarchies and you have to use your position to do it.
Robin DiAngelo: You have to pay attention. You have to always be paying attention and you won't get it right by everybody, you can't but get it as right as you can as often as you can by thinking strategically and intentionally. The moment you kind of relaxed and are off your game, out it slips. I tell that story at the end of the book of that racism I ran at that woman. I mean, I was just off my game, I was so relaxed that I was with my two friends and I just took for granted, a way of interacting, that I had not earned you kind of just have to stay on your game and then if you screw up, clean it up.
Kerri Kelly: Clean up your mess. I so appreciate that about you. I appreciate your candidness and I appreciate the way in which you do tell the stories of making mistakes and repair and what you learn and how you get back up and how you move forward and I certainly try to do that in my own practice but I do think that there's an unlock inside of that, that takes a lot of the sting and defensiveness out of the way in which we are in relationship with this work and I just love social locating as like a constant practice of awareness and revealing and naming and leaning and repairing and how it's just like ongoing all the time.
Kerri Kelly: It's like when it's the ... in the off switch, that's when shit goes down and that's when harm happens and so how can we just keep that light on at all times so that we're just steadfast and diligent.
Robin DiAngelo: Still be authentic and relaxed and real.
Kerri Kelly: Totally. That's right, and still be compassionate and kind and human, right?
Robin DiAngelo: Yeah, I have said many times, there's nothing more intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually challenging and stimulating than this work.
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Robin DiAngelo: Yet, like for me, what's the point of being alive? Yes, it's hard and it's painful and my God, is it rewarding and deep. I don't think anything has ever put me up against my learning edge than being a white person struggling to challenge racism.
Kerri Kelly: I totally agree and I've been doing transformational work forever and I tell people all the time, I was like, you want to transform, get into this work because there is no greater mirror for who we are and where we are and where we need to go and how we need to get there than dismantling racism so welcome to the transformational experience. Robin, thank you so much. Thank you for writing and for leaning in and for doing all that you've done to like ... to get where you are in your understanding and to get brave enough and courageous enough to name your experience in all of this and for the way in which, you're ... I feel like in some ways, it's like, I can't wait to see what you do next because it's going to continue to help our collective community peel the onion and continue to like lift the veil.
Robin DiAngelo: I got ideas.
Kerri Kelly: Good. I love that. Well, keep it coming.
Robin DiAngelo: You are lovely to talk to. You are a wonderful interviewer.
Kerri Kelly: Thank you.
Robin DiAngelo: I definitely found this valuable so thank you so much.
Kerri Kelly: Yeah, thanks Robin and I look forward to seeing more of you in the future.
Robin DiAngelo: Thanks. Bye-bye.
While, this podcast is coming to an end. Our work in the world is just beginning. This week's call to action is to see your whiteness for what it is and to cultivate an everyday and sustained practice of transforming your defensive and fragile behaviors so that we can engage more productively. Get the book, if you don't have it already at Beacon Press and download the free reader's guide at robindiangelo.com. Special thanks to our producer Trevor Exter and DJ Drez for the amazing soundtrack. You can check out his music at djdrez.com and thank you for being here today. You can stay in the know and engage by subscribing to our weekly newsletter firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kerri Kelly: CTZN podcast is community inspired and crowdsourced. That's how we keep it real. Join our community on Patreon for as little as $1 per month so that we can keep doing the work of curating content that matters for citizens who care and don't forget to rate us on Apple Podcasts and share the love by telling your friends to check us out.