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What is white fragility?

White fragility was coined by sociologist Robin DiAngel in 2018. White fragility refers to the discomfort and angst white people feel when they are confronted with issues regarding racial inequality, racism, and white privilege. Because of this discomfort, white people will often respond to conversations about racism with defensiveness, anger, guilt, fear, silence, or even walking away. This may cause people of color to feel the need to comfort white people, feel unsafe in the situation, or to avoid discussing race and racism with white people all together. Examples of events that can trigger a white person’s racial angst include: a white person being told that their actions/thoughts are racist, a person of color disclosing their experiences with racism, or another white person disagreeing with their beliefs on racism.

Why is white fragility harmful?

Often, people experiencing white fragility or racial angst, may be quick to deny that they are racist. People experiencing white fragility may, in fact, not be racist. However, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors promote racism and have a racist impact. Because white people rarely experience racism, it is difficult for them to understand racism or to recognize it when it is happening. In order to combat the detrimental and cyclical effects of structural racism, we need to be able to discuss uncomfortable topics and acknowledge when our actions are racist (even if we are not racist). When we avoid topics of race and racism, we continue to perpetuate racism throughout society.

How do we challenge white fragility?

The first step in being able to challenge white fragility is to get comfortable with your discomfort – the most productive work happens when we’re uncomfortable. Second, it’s important to understand that just because you may not be “racist” does not mean that your behaviors may not be racist or have a racial impact. Third, one must learn to listen to people of color and become comfortable having conversations surrounding racism. Finally, in discussing topics of race and racial injustices, it’s necessary to learn the importance of intent versus impact. It’s great if it wasn’t our intent to be racist, but if that was our impact, we must not only own our intent but our impact as well. If you find you are consistently struggling with white fragility and racial angst, your therapist can help you learn to challenge these thought and feelings, so that you can learn to promote positive racial change.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.