Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable Conversation about Race

By WISE National

A WISE virtual fireside chat with Kathleen Francis for the book "White Fragility, why it's so hard for white people to talk about racism" by Robin Diangelo foreword by Michael Eric Dyson

On Sept. 23, 2020, Dr. Robin DiAngelo — a racial and social justice consultant and trainer and author of the New York Times bestseller White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism — joined WISE National board chair and president Kathleen Francis and more than 500 attendees for a WISE Virtual Fireside Chat. The hour-plus conversation was framed as a “starting point rather than an ending point” for those committed to societal change when it comes to racism in America. 

Understanding Systemic Racism

During the conversation, DiAngelo and Francis explored the term white fragility, which DiAngelo introduced in a 2011 academic article to describe the low tolerance white people have toward issues of racial inequity; the distinction between racism and prejudice; and challenging one’s white solidarity. And DiAngelo, who is white and wrote White Fragility to white people, provided much more for attendees to reflect and act on, including the following:

  • For white people to understand racism and their roles in perpetuating it, they must not only listen to Black people and other people of color, but also participate in the conversation and own their part. If white people are only listening, then they’re offloading “all of the tensions onto people of color — you know, this is your issue, your problem, you take all the risks, you bring it to us,” said DiAngelo of the message it sends and burden it creates. “It reinforces this idea of white racial innocence: I don’t know anything about this, so I will just turn to you.”
  • The belief that racism is all or nothing — that there are racist people intentionally committing hurtful acts of racism and non-racist people incapable of racist acts — denies the realities at play. It protects the system of racism, said DiAngelo. “That good/bad binary allows us to exempt ourselves.” 
  • For white people, changing their assumptions about racism can begin by asking not if they’ve been shaped by the forces of racism, but rather how. “That sets me on a lifelong path of discovery and examination and action,” said DiAngelo. 

In a post-event poll, nearly all of the 100-plus respondents reported that the content of the discussion had resonated with them, while more than 65% said they felt more comfortable talking about racism after the discussion than before. Attendees, who represented sports organizations, teams and leagues, cited several reasons for registering for the event, including a desire to be better allies, to better understand their own biases and privilege, and to support long-lasting societal change. 

Continuing the Conversation and Taking Action 

Francis and DiAngelo concluded the event by talking about the importance of continuing the conversation and going beyond reflection. “Awareness without action is meaningless,” said DiAngelo. Continue with some of the resources DiAngelo referenced during the discussion: