white Americans are *fragile*

480px-Andy_Griffith_Don_Knotts_Andy_Griffith_Show_1960
Rogers & Cowan – Beverly Hills publicity agency | public domain

White” *fragility*?

Thanks to “White” *fragility*, racism is frequently a very difficult topic for white people. So, in deference to any potential discomfort of any white mystical möbius readers, we’ll slowly ease into our discussion of the White supremacy issue this week. 

Not.  

That’s one way White fragility seeks to serve and preserve White privilege. If we won’t even talk about it, then we surely won’t be able to reckon with it and allow healing.

Let’s recall that last week I offered some working definitions for our discussion of race here in this space:

When I use the term ‘white’ (not capitalized) I mean it as a general designation for persons who are naturally described as having light skin color, nothing necessarily more in common than that.

and

When I write ‘White’ (capitalized), I mean to intentionally indicate/evoke the socially constructed granfalloon that serves as the systemic and institutional benchmark for “superior” persons (thus deserving privilege) in America (the category for those who, not coincidentally, are ‘white’).

So, “white Americans are *fragile*” about Whiteness, not about being white—albeit, of course, through guilt and our shadow (e.g., blind spots in our self-awareness, and self-deception) there can often be a good bit of overlap. Hence, the urgent need for recognition, repentance, and healing is pretty much a “Let’s have a round for the house” kind of situation right now. We’ll come back to the part about how we acquire this fragility in just a minute.

Barney and Andy?

I was asked a couple of weeks ago why I had used some particular Black & White photos from the early era of television in America—e.g., publicity photos depicting TV characters from a 1960’s situational comedy, The Andy Griffith Show. I used the images in a Facebook post, and a meme that I’d made. Both concerned racism and systemic White supremacy. The meme:

 

Repent and Activate meme 3

 

If you missed it in my article last week, Bob the Tomato (well, the man who ordinarily uses Bob’s voice, e.g., Veggie Tales creator Phil Vischer) brilliantly breaks down the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the “Oppressive Systems” of systemic White supremacy in his concise analysis/unpacking of the historical structures of racism. Please watch:

 

 

Not terribly difficult understanding how American white people might feel a good bit of guilt about the outrageous policy created and applied in the names of our forebears (and, by succession and complicity, in our names, too) to create the institutional structures for the system of racial oppression that we have inherited. For white Americans, life is either consciously bearing that guilt, or, more frequently, not-consciously tucking the guilt into our shadows forming a dangerous blind spot and our fragility. Authentically facing the issues of systemic White supremacy, and disassembling the institutions and structures, is the only way to dislodge, free, and heal American white peoples’ White guilt.

So, “Why Barney and Andy?”

The answer as to the “Why Barney (Fife) and Andy (Taylor)” question was an evolving one from the beginning. Initially, I used the image of Barney in a Facebook post regarding what has been referred to by many as the lynching of George Floyd, e.g., the indictments of Derek Chauvin and the three other former police officers who have been charged with the murder of George Floyd. I selected the particular image of Barney that I did for that application because I wanted it to best reflect a Barney Fife quote that I used in the text of the post. I was reflecting on the historical pattern of what happens whenever there are any efforts to bring police brutality to justice. I wondered if money would mysteriously appear for expensive lawyers who will fight to prevent the imposition of any additional accountability over police officers. With regard to use-of-force accountability, to simply, “Nip it! Nip it in the bud!”

 

Barney Fife illustration

 

I felt the provocation of invoking an early 1960’s image of iconic white policemen who were portrayed as always kind, within our George Floyd context, might act a bit like a kōan to dislodge some folks from their not-conscious relationship with their own White fragility.

Otherwise, in the Facebook post I would have used an image of Barney that visually illustrates that the (Andy) system of policing in which he is a part only allows him one ‘official-issue bullet.’ However, my initial appropriation to support the “Nip it!” quote, later led me to using the image of both Barney and Andy in the meme above. These two characters, and the course of the TV program, tell a wonderful story about problems and solutions regarding dangers around policing and the use of lethal force.

 

Barney and his bullet - public domain

 

On my retro-reading of the narrative arc, Andy—representing the vision of a transformed criminal justice system that is smart and humane—had found a structural way to hold Barney (representing ‘policing’) accountable and keep his license to use lethal force in safe check. Andy’s wisdom made it policy that Barney could only have one bullet in his possession. He wasn’t allowed to keep it loaded in his gun, he had to keep his bullet tucked away in his shirt pocket. Further, he was only able to retrieve and load his bullet into his gun on the direct OK of Andy.

It’s only a rough-draft of a pencil sketch, however, I feel the Andy-vision is on track as to the dynamics needed. Make no mistake, anything ‘smart and humane’ like this will require systemic change on the scale of societal transformation, perhaps even new ways of conceiving community connection. It will require a process that includes recognition, ownership, repentance, healing, along with the creation of a new system designed for sustaining the peace more humanely and peacefully.

So, “White *fragility*” is the obstacle, then?

OK, so, one challenging problem obstructing racial transformation in American society is the “fragility” white people have internalized when it comes to even considering the issue of White supremacy. As Bob the Tomato (Phil) has well enumerated, the troubling history of White supremacy provides more than enough reason for white people to need a spiritual, holistic healing of racism on somatic (body), psychological (mind), and societal (community) levels.

However, many/most white people are satisfied to declare: “I am not racist”—based on a very individualized conception of human beings and of racism—and with that consider the discussion complete and finished. The problem with this is that it does absolutely nothing about recognizing, owning, repenting-from, or dismantling the institutional racism in America, or healing the blindness of those who are [not-consciously] complicit in the existing system. Repentance and the attending action of disassembling the extant structural legacy of overt, intentional White supremacy that has been systematized and institutionalized in America is the course forward. 

 

Closeup of a large stone pathway with greenery on each side
iStock

I’ve mentioned several times previously that Barbara DiAngelo has written a very helpful book that narrates the fragility evident in white people when confronted with the reality of White supremacy and the racial injustice it has systematized/institutionalized. Not surprisingly it’s entitled, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.

 

51aDh-YMFAL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

 

My article Whitefish | systems thinking? from two weeks ago documented the White fragility phenomenon personalized in the story of Mr. Jay Snowden’s behavior in the context of a Black Lives Matter protest in 98% white, Whitefish, Montana (government records indicate one African-American is listed in the population records of Whitefish).

We have decades of receipts on it

Let’s take a look at a little higher profile voice recently illustrating his recognition of, and appreciation for, White fragility. In this story Vice President Mike Pence makes efforts to reinforce his boss’s strategy of protecting white Americans from having to face and deal with their White fragility. This allows many to remain comfortable and complicit in the racist system that enables white people to acquiesce to Whiteness: the system that is drowning America, e.g., “I can’t breathe!”

Opportunity declined by V.P.

The abc6 Philadelphia host, Brian Taff, could not have set-up a softball question for Mike Pence any better in this Juneteenth interview with the V.P.:

 

 

You know good and well that Pence couldn’t say it. Let’s watch and confirm what we probably feel we already know:

 

 

Huge, surprise! Pence will not say Black Lives Matter and instead must insist that all lives matter. White fragility resists any possibility of white people being left out of any concern about humans, even if it is a concern for protecting the humanity of black lives in the face of systemic oppression. Props to Brian Taff as he does his best to help Pence help himself.

 

 

Of course, once again, Vice President Pence fails to model human compassion. Strike two.

 

 

Really, Mr. Vice President?

Well, I guess David Duke, Richard Spencer, soon to be former-Representative Steve King, Jay Snowden, et al., don’t figure in VP Pence’s accounting of America.

A final receipt from a recent Montana story

As I said above, two weeks ago I wrote about a situation in Whitefish, Montana, that pretty much proves that V.P. Pence is having extremely problematic difficulty with his discernment. Here’s a short video clip from Whitefish. || Extreme Language Warning: Snowden wastes no time in dropping F-bombs.

Whitefish resident Jay Snowden begins his hateful tirade in this 10 second clip:

“Black lives matter? … F#@& You! … F#@& You! … F#@& You!”

 

 

And later Snowden hollers, “Black lives matter? Not to me.”

Vice President Pence, would you care to reconsider your remarks in light of Mr. Snowden’s willingness to publicly declare himself a part of the group that you claim doesn’t exist? This insistence on all lives matter essentially reflects an inability to allow Black Lives Matter protesters to define what their own slogan means. Recall this same incapacity (and refusal) to allow Colin Kaepernick to define what his taking a knee in protest meant.

I would suggest this is the smoking-gun evidence that at least part of the administration’s cynical strategy for energizing their base is for Trump (and spokespersons) to play the champion that protects white people from having to deal with their White fragility [or the extremely limiting theology that generates it, or even the White guilt that attends an honest understanding of American history.].

To go, here’s an insightful article by Rev. Morgan Guyton that reflects theologically on the evangelical view held by Pence, and many in the Trump base: #AllLivesMatter: a theology of generic humanity. An All Lives Matter, “generic humanity” framing helps form the (theological/intellectual) ground of “color blind” approaches, and, many argue, errantly so.

This is another very significant piece of how many white Americans got *fragile* and it does offer the most benevolent reading of that reality.

[this post approx. 1,850 words (~ 8 min. read)]

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: I know, trying to introduce a big-picture idea like Spiral Dynamics (a complex developmental anthropology) in this format is ambitious. So, I’m using a serial-approach. Blog introduction (June 30, 2018). First in series (July 1, 2018).

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