Here we are again, sadly, for current events in our nation are pushing me to address where we are as a people.
I am currently reading “White Fragility” by Robin Di Angelo, who is white. Her premise is that we white Americans are so “fragile” that we cannot talk about our complicity in the racial strife that is raising its ugly head once more.
On Facebook, I was reading comments about a posting from the NAACP Region III office. One of the comments showed the writer’s “white fragility” when he wrote, “The white protestors at the state capitals in Michigan and Kentucky carried guns, but they did not loot and burn those cities.” I would dare say that if the roles were reversed those same whites would be looting and burning if they faced the same injustice blacks have faced from their arrival in American.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” To put it another way, “We are all God’s children, so when do we start acting like it?”
I have complete faith that as a white man I would never face what George Floyd faced. But that is the problem. Why should anyone of color have to face what Floyd did? I sadly read about a black man who, when going for walks in his own neighborhood, takes one of his daughters and their dog with him to make himself seem less threatening to those “fragile whites” who fear him, a black man.
That is “white fragility.”
I must confess here that as a white man those thoughts enter my head, but much less than in the past. It is impossible for me to be completely removed from those thoughts from my head for I was raised in a white family by white institutions. It is just second nature to me, but that does not mean I cannot confront what lies in me and confess that to people of color.
Actually, that is the best place to start because confessing our “white fragility” makes it our problem, not their problem.
So toughen up, my “fragile” friends; listen and love like you never have before.
A friend of mine posted on Facebook that he wants to start a movement for white men to begin confessing their complicity in racism. While I agreed that confession is good for the soul, one step better is to take action.
I took action by beginning a discussion on race relations in Mayfield between First and Second Christian Church. In a loving setting we found ways to ask the hard questions and to hear the hard answers. That led me to join the Antiracism Pro-Reconciliation team for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Kentucky. Now I find myself leading the local branch of the NAACP.
As a white man, I am humbled and honored the Mayfield-Graves County branch elected me their leader. While it may seem very strange for a white man to be in leadership of a black organization, I have learned the NAACP was started by whites and blacks in 1909. And while I provide the organizational leadership, my most important action must always be to listen and learn about the issues that African-Americans and other people of color deal with daily that I have never experienced for myself.
Dr. Bruce W. Dobyns is president of the Mayfield-Graves County branch of the NAACP. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.