The connection between Trump’s and Fox News pundits’ hate-filled rhetoric against Latinx immigrants and the recent devastating domestic terrorist attacks that killed or injured more than 100 people, is undeniable. And it has led to nearly one in five people in the country – that’s how many US residents identify as Latinx – to fear for their safety. And while the extent of racist violence fueled from the highest office in the country is appalling, it is not new, and it’s not all Trump.
As Princeton Professor Eddie Glaude says in his now-viral MSNBC interview, “America is not unique in its sins…where we may be singular is our refusal to acknowledge them and the legends and myths we tell about our inherent goodness to hide and cover and conceal so we can maintain a kind of willful ignorance that protects our innocence.” It happens every generation, Glaude says, that certain “communities must bear the brunt of white Americans confronting the danger of their innocence.” This is yet another one of those moments. “It’s easy for us to place it all on Donald Trump’s shoulders,” Glaude says. “This. Is. Us. If we’re gonna get past this, we can’t blame it on him. He’s a manifestation of the ugliness that’s in us.”
That means me and you, my fellow white Americans. If you are horrified by the recent white terror attacks, then you need to also interrogate the spoken and unspoken ways each of us uphold white supremacy. In light of the recent tragedies, we need to recognize that the lives, safety and peace of mind of Black, Indigenous, and people of color are at risk every day and that white people have the responsibility to recognize, interrupt, and transform all the ways we are complicit in this violence.
Where to Begin: White Fragility
Thinking about our role in perpetuating racist violence can feel daunting. The abundance of resources for white people to educate themselves and think more critically about racism, whiteness and class may leave us wondering where to begin. But it is imperative that we do.
The first move white people need to take towards interrogating, disrupting, and transforming interpersonal and systemic racism is to check our white fragility. White fragility is “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves,” including the outward display of anger, fear, guilt, argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. “These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium,” as defined by Robin DiAngelo, the person who literally wrote the book on White Fragility.
As a member of the Radical Communicators Network White Accountability Working Group, I helped put together a webinar for social justice communicators based on DiAngelo’s book –the slides are available here.
Fragility keeps white people complicit in the perpetuation of white supremacy, including the ongoing state-sanctioned murders of Black people by police, the mass incarceration of Black and brown bodies, and domestic terrorist attacks like the ones we just witnessed. It also blocks us from our own personal development and cultivating authentic, meaningful relationships with Black, Indigenous, people of color.
Communications Leadership to Change the Conversation
Confronting racism and white fragility is especially important among public relations and strategic communications professionals because our sector is nearly 90 percent white, which one astute PR executive says is “not just bad optics; it’s strategy malpractice.” Thankfully, organizations like ReFrame are working to correct this malpractice by lifting up a new, diverse, generation of strategic communicators.
At LightBox, we believe that strategic communications is a leadership function, which makes those of us with communications in our job description de facto leaders within our organizations. Communication is power and chances are, if you’re reading this, you have a platform by which you can model what true white anti-racism looks like and influence others to challenge white supremacy in themselves and in society as well.
I encourage my fellow white-identified professionals to pre-order the Me and White Supremacy Workbook, upon which the RadComms White Accountability Working Group is currently running a discussion group because we cannot dismantle our white conditioning alone. Just like not voting is a willful choice to influence an election, only being passively non-racist is a choice to uphold white supremacy. Anti-racism requires action and a boat load of regular discomfort.
In honor of the genius writer and thinker Toni Morrison who died a few days ago, I borrow a quote that my marvelous colleague Janna Zinzi blogged about this week: “The function of freedom is to free someone else.” When white people choose to stare our ugly inheritance in the face and actively denounce white supremacy in all of its forms, the someone we free might just be ourselves.
LightBox Senior Collaborator Anna Ghosh is currently immersed in the book My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, and every Toni Morrison book she can get her hands on.