White Fragility and the Benefits of Being Uncomfortable About Racism

refuse to be blind to privilege

The reality of racism shatters the comfortable (for white people) myth that the US today is a colorblind society which gives everyone an equal chance at everything. When that cherished myth of colorblindness is disturbed by evidence that racism is not only real but pervasive, many white folks get uncomfortable talking about racial inequality. I myself have felt extremely uncomfortable in discussions of race and white privilege when they have moved from an abstract level of “look at those images on TV” to “look at how this plays out in my own life right now.”

At first I thought that this was a bad sign, that the fact that talking about racism made me and others uncomfortable meant that I was doing it wrong, that maybe I should not do it at all. Best to keep it at a theoretical level, because real life racism in my friends, family, and myself made us all so uncomfortable to address directly that is seemed almost rude.

It is not rude to talk about racism, even though it can make people uncomfortable. Rather, it is long past time that white people begin to bear the discomfort of race and racism. People of color have had to deal with far, far worse than mere social discomfort. Blatant racist injustice in our law enforcement, judicial, and prison systems are just the most recent tip of the ugly reality of centuries of white brutality against people of color. Far from rude, it is an ethical imperative to talk about racism and bear the discomfort it causes us. It is the least we can do, especially because the rest of US society is designed for our benefit and comfort.

If you are a white person discussing racism and it makes you uncomfortable, then that is a very good sign. It means you are stretching, growing, and maybe even changing. Realizing the painful reality that racism is real and white people benefit from it in all sorts of ways is the first step towards recognizing white privilege. Once we acknowledge white privilege, we can begin identifying and naming it in our social environments. Calling out white privilege makes it visible, and much more difficult to ignore. It will make white people uncomfortable, but that is the only way we will have any real social change.

WHITE PEOPLE HAVE TO CHANGE in order for society to change, because white people control social institutions like the economy and government (Yes, I realize we have a Black president right now, but white people still control almost all of the rest of the positions of power so wealthy whites still pretty much run the country). It is time for us white folks to embrace the discomfort of talking about race, brave the unease, and use it to move ourselves and our entire society to a new, more equitable environment for everyone.

Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, PhD, CASA, CSE

One of a handful of global experts on polyamory and the foremost international expert on children in polyamorous families, Dr. Elisabeth Sheff has studied gender and
families of sexual minorities for the last 16 years. Sheff’s television appearances include CNN, and the National Geographic, and she has given more than 20 radio, podcast, print, and television interviews with sources from Radio Slovenia to National Public Radio, the Sunday London Times to the Boston Globe and Newsweek. By emphasizing research methodology and findings in her discussions, Dr. Sheff presents the kind of public intellectualism that encourages audience members to think critically regarding gender, sexualities, and families.

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  1. Reblogged this on worldpoet546 and commented:
    “We all have the same colour and that’s the love in the heart!
    It connects us with the whole human race.
    The colour of love will remain on every face!”
    Petra Hermans – Worldpoet 546, The Netherlands

    1. Hey Babaji301,

      Wouldn’t that be wonderful if the color of our skin really did not influence how others treated us? That might be the case in the Netherlands, where the quote comes from, but in the United States skin tone still has a lot to do with life chances and treatment in social institutions.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


      1. Dear Elisabeth, I think that my message I sent you, was not supposed
        to be as a quote, but as a way… a new way of living, thinking and breathing!
        In all countries all over our world, we all have to change our way
        of thinking, one by one.
        Thank you for your intelligence, love and peace!
        Petra Hermans – Worldpoet 546 always working, writing and reading
        for a better and new world to all of us!

  2. […] Source: White Fragility and the Benefits of Being Uncomfortable About Racism […]

  3. Remember that story about the cool handicapped person your aunt or cousin or stepbrother told you about that would make jokes about being aware of their own reality. You too, can be like that cool person. Just be cool yo.

    Cool guys don’t flip off the handle as soon as people in their surroundings make generalized autobiographical statements. If you meet other cool dudes, don’t tear them down for having the same shtick.

    1. Hey Spamforwilliam,

      I am not really sure what you mean — can you explain?

      Thanks, Elisabeth

  4. Fine, but there is the danger of an ideologically distorting influence inherent in the phrase “white privilege”, which tends to frame these discussions. Whites are not privileged. Black people are oppressed, and white people are not, generally speaking, not to the same extent, not necessarily for the same reasons, although white people are also oppressed if they are poor or occupy an economically precarious position. This should not be forgotten and implicates the unwholesome influence of identity politics, which is beyond this comment. The terminology should be explicitly political: that of rights (the works: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness) being violated in the case of blacks, not privileges being had in the case of whites. This linguistic orientation is not mere semantics. “White privilege” subtly tends to suggest that the people at a higher social position should be brought down, instead of that the people at a lower social position should be raised up, taking their equality for granted. It is this aspect of the “discussion about race” that, I would argue, makes white people like me uncomfortable or not inclined to enter this constricting discourse frame.

    1. Hi Wormanberger,

      Your comment was very thought provoking for me and I ended up writing a fairly extensive response that turned out to be pretty much its own blog post. Would you be OK with me using your question at the beginning of the blog? Obviously you have some expectation of public discussion because you posted a comment on the blog, but I am not sure if that extends to having your words included at the top of a post.

      I want to use your question because it is a great explanation of a common response to the language of white privilege. What do you think?

      Cheers, Elisabeth

      1. By all means. Feel free to use what i posted.

  5. […] of my readers, Wortmanberbger, responded one of my previous blogs on White Fragility with the following […]

  6. […] Educate Yourself — Do not expect people of color to educate you about racism — that is exhausting for them and inappropriate for you. There are books, websites, podcasts,  and You Tube presentations on white privilege (be aware of the white power folks on You Tube who also engage with the term, they are coming from a very different philosophical orientation than this blog). Plus, Google exists. Take some self-responsibility for your education and start expanding your envelop. Tim Wise is a great place to start. If you are in Atlanta, come to the Sex Down South Conference and see my presentation on Thursday October 13, How White People Can Be Allies to POC in AltSex Communities. You can also check out my blogs on using the term white privilege and some of the benefits of being uncomfortable about race . […]

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