White Fragility

Robin DiAngelo

White Fragility



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White fragility prevents a constructive dialogue on racism, but very often those involved do not realise it. The term white fragility was coined in 2011 by Robin DiAngelo to describe the instinctive defensive reaction a white person has when they receive a comment about their unintentional racist behaviour. White fragility, however, is much more than that: it is a powerful means of controlling others, defending one's privileges and perpetuating racism, even without meaning to. As Robin DiAngelo clearly explains in her book White Fragility. The fact that white people find it so difficult to talk about racism, means that addressing these issues is not easy, and involves questioning many of the founding principles of the social system in which a white person is born and raised. To eradicate racism from our society, it is no longer enough to declare oneself against it: it is necessary for all whites to take responsibility for changing the status quo, first-hand.

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Analysis and key concepts


White fragility is not a weakness but a powerful means to maintain acquired privilege


The culture of individualism, objectivity, and the conviction that only ‘bad’ people are racists are the foundations of white identity which sustain white fragility


Racism is a social construct that in the United States was originally used to justify slavery, and to preserve the economic interests of a particular group of people


To understand racism and white fragility, it is necessary to distinguish between prejudice and discrimination


Racism has the capacity to adapt over time and become explicit in actions that do not seem racist at all, but which are in fact deeply so


White fragility is a complex phenomenon whose aim is to maintain white supremacy


The first step in defeating white fragility is for whites to begin to think of themselves in racial terms


It is possible to overcome white fragility, but the process is not going to be painless. Doing so requires that people stop feeling guilty and choose to take responsibility for change




Take-home message

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Many useful tips to:

  • Understand what white fragility is.
  • Learn to go beyond common prejudices and discrimination.
  • Begin a constructive dialogue about racism.

Robin DiAngelo is a researcher, trainer and author who specialises in the field of racial and social justice, in the critical analysis of discourse, and on "white fragility", a term that she herself coined in 2011, and then developed in the book of the same name. She taught multicultural education at Westfield State University, and is now an associate professor at the University of Washington. For over twenty years she has also acted as consultant and facilitator during racial awareness workshops.

Publishing house:

Beacon Press