For the past two years, the Independent Consulting TIG has had a book club, designed to help evaluation professionals get out of our silos. I am grateful to Michelle Molina for saying yes to adding White Fragility as an option. I’m Rita Fierro, founder of Fierro Consulting, LLC and I co-facilitated the sessions with Michelle. We had a daunting task: four sessions, one-hour each, unpacking the impact of white fragility on our profession.
Here are three ways we saw white fragility undermining the transformative power that evaluative thinking may have. Three ways white fragility diverts, sabotages, or misdirects the work of social change. Sometimes we do this intentionally, because we fear that the social change generated will not fall in our favor. Other times we do it unconsciously, by perpetuating gatekeeping behavior that favors the status quo.
- As whites, we’ve been socialized to not value the contribution of people of color and not question how we use our power. So when someone notices our actions perpetuated the established power, we get defensive.
Example: “I think it’s disrespectful that you excluded parents from the measures of success of the program that is supposed to serve them.” Typical response: “Oh, I just didn’t want to bother them, they are already so busy.”
- Intention over Impact. Defensiveness is exacerbated by long descriptions of good intentions. As white people, we try to “prove” we’re not racist, by defending our “good people” status.
Example: “You ignored the director’s input and talked over her, I’ve seen you do it before with other leaders of color.” Typical response: “I didn’t intend to disrespect her, she knows I value her. She knows I’m not racist; I have Black friends.”
- White women’s tears. Typically, when a white woman is distressed or starts crying, the whole group runs to nurture her, and the conversation goes off track. We reenact the plantation narrative—one African Americans are very aware of– where with the pretext of protecting white women, racist dynamics and retaliation get stronger. This is especially important in our profession which has become predominantly white and female. Is your distress forwarding social change or sabotaging it?
It’s time for us to admit that fostering a socially just world is an ongoing learning process, not a one-time achievement. Robin D’Angelo offers that is would be amazing to live in a world, where, when someone’s white privilege is challenged we simply respond:
“I appreciate the feedback. Thank you. I have work to do.”
Self-reflective practice exercise: After a tense conversation ask yourself: 1) How was power distributed in the conversation? 2) How much airtime did I take up? 3) Was anyone silenced? 4) What could I do differently? 6) Is there a restorative action I can take to take responsibility for the role I played?
- Buy the book.
- Read an article on the main takeaways.
- Here’s an article on white privilege 101.
- Sign up to join our next reading group!
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