In response to the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, many whites began posting #AllLivesMatter. Whatever their conscious intent, the change ignores the fact that white lives already matter and highlights “the fragility of Whiteness.” (More)

Whiteness, Part I: Why #AllLivesMatter Is Wrong

This week Morning Feature explores Robin DiAngelo’s article “White Fragility” in light of current legal and political events. Today we begin with how the Twitter hashtag #AllLivesMatter works to soothe Whiteness by excising race from #BlackLivesMatter. Tomorrow we’ll compare the Twitter hashtags #WhiteGuilt and #CrimingWhileWhite. Saturday we’ll conclude with why race is a problem of Whiteness and why whites must become color-aware – not color-blind – if we are to make progress against racism.

Robin DiAngelo is an associate professor of Multicultural Education at Westfield State University in Massachusetts. She earned her Ph.D from the University of Washington in 2004, has been a workplace diversity trainer for 15 years, and was recently appointed to co-design, develop and deliver the Mayor’s Race and Social Justice Initiative Anti-Racism training for the City of Seattle. She says “I grew up poor and white” to emphasize that her experience of poverty would have been different had she not been white, and writes: “I don’t call myself an ‘anti-racist white’ because I believe that it is for people of color to decide if, in any given moment, I am behaving in anti-racist ways.”

An Apology

I’m not going to apologize for being white, nor will I ask white readers to apologize for being white. But I will apologize, in advance, for making white readers uncomfortable. Dr. DiAngelo’s article made me squirm. It’s only 13 pages, but I had to pause several times and work through my desire to deny or explain or escape. I hope you’ll read her article in full, and if you’re white you should expect to squirm and pause and feel the impulse to deny, explain, and escape.

I’m apologizing because no one likes to be uncomfortable, and no one should like to make others uncomfortable. But I’m writing about Whiteness anyway, because we whites need to be uncomfortable. Race and racism are white problems and, if our society is to make progress, we must acknowledge and accept responsibility for our Whiteness.

“Do they sell bullet proof vests in a size 2T?”

To read the Twitter hashtag #BlackLivesMatter is to step into a roiling ocean of pain and anger. Here are just a few samples:

“Instead of black or white”

#BlackLivesMatter is raw and uncomfortable to read, especially for white people. If you read it, you may find yourself tempted to reply #NotAllWhites or to insist, as Attorney General Eric Holder said last night, that “All lives must be valued. All lives.”

I understand why Attorney General Holder had to say that. Last night we saw a rare consensus, as both progressives and conservatives denounced the grand jury decision in Staten Island. We’ll need that kind of consensus to enact necessary reforms like body cameras to document police interactions and special prosecutors to investigate police abuses.

And don’t buy the emerging narrative that yesterday’s grand jury decision disproves the case for body cameras. Without a video record of Eric Garner’s brutal death, there would be no broad consensus on yesterday’s travesty of justice. Reform cannot hinge on whether bystanders happen to be ready and willing to record police abuses on a cell phone camera.

And perhaps some people are sincere in their calls for #AllLivesMatter:

Others, not so much:

“This is not the time for your pretentious colorblindness”

But here’s the thing. #AllLivesMatter may excise the element of race from #BlackLivesMatter, and that may make some whites more comfortable talking about police abuse. But that doesn’t excise race from the daily experiences of people of color, including huge racial disparities in police stops and arrests and – most horrifyingly final – being killed by law enforcement officers:

#BlackLivesMatter protests the devastating facts that blacks are far more likely to be killed by police, and police are almost never held accountable for those deaths. Taking the race out of a hashtag does not take the race out of Realworldia where, as Dr. DiAngelo writes, “White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress” …

… including death at the hands of a cop who sees a 12-year-old black boy as a 20-year-old man, or as “a demon … bulking up to run through bullets.” Those statements are not isolated racial incidents. They echo common elements of Whiteness, documented in academic studies and passed down as white legends.

Simply, insisting that #AllLivesMatter ignores the fact that white lives already matter in ways that black lives do not. We need to face a painful truth:

Tomorrow we’ll compare and contrast the hashtags #CrimingWhileWhite and #WhiteGuilt to explore the benefits and ego-fragility of Whiteness.

+++++

Happy Thursday!