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Generation X and Trans Lives

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So, I’m going to preface this thing I’m about to write by being as clear as I can be about this, so there’s no confusion or ambiguity on this score:

Trans women are women, trans men are men, trans non-binary folks are non-binary folks, and trans rights are human rights. I’m non-squishy on this. I know, like and care for too many trans people to feel otherwise, but even if I didn’t know, like and care for any trans people, I would like to think I would say the same, because the validity of their lives should not be dependent on whether I know them.

Moreover, and fully acknowledging my outsider status on this as a straight, cis man, it seems that any attempt to carve out trans people from queer culture runs smack into the fact that arguably there wouldn’t be a modern queer movement without Marsha P. Johnson throwing that shot glass (or brick, depending on who is telling the tale) at Stonewall. Trans people — and trans people of color — were present at the birth of the gay rights struggle in the United States. It’s their story as much as anyone else’s, as far as I can see. They can’t be separated out, nor should they be.

With that as preamble:

In the last year especially, I have noticed that a not-small number of my contemporaries, some who I like, some who I love, and some whose work has meant so much to me that I find it difficult to express my admiration for it in non-gushy terms, have settled themselves on an essentialist view of who gets to call themselves a man or a woman. Usually there’s some biological component to this, but however it gets put together in their heads, at the end of it is trans people being othered, and estranged from their proper identities.

And while one does not have to be in one’s mid-40s to mid-50s to have this essentialism as part of one’s worldview, I certainly notice it the most in that group of people — in Gen-Xers, that slice of the population curve that I’m part of. There are Gen-Xers who I otherwise find myself in alignment with in terms of issues of the rights of women, with (cis) gays and lesbians and with people of color, but then have a sharp break on matter of the rights and identities of trans people.

It might be that I notice this schism because I’m a Gen-Xer, and so statistically speaking more of the people I know are of my generation. But I don’t think it’s just that. I think it’s possible that — in very general terms — every group identified as a “generation” has a group that it, for whatever reason, still sees as an “other” in some significant way, and for cis Gen-X people, it’s trans people.

It’s certainly true enough that trans jokes other cultural othering were still acceptable in the media Gen-Xers grew up with: the plot of Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, of all movies, hinged on it (as did the plot of Soapdish, pitched to a different demographic). The Crying Game relied on its protagonist being surprised at someone’s trans identity. There was the recurring gag of Chandler’s trans parent in Friends. These are the obvious examples, which is why I name them, but there are a whole bunch of other examples one can name.

This isn’t to excuse cis Gen-Xers denying trans identity as valid, nor is it to make a facile argument that Gen-X trans othering is the fault of popular culture. We can’t blame it all on Friends. There’s a lot going on in the culture, and how we have built our identities as people, that I’m not touching on here, primarily for brevity. But it is to make the point that even as Gen-X had (arguably, and depending heavily on political/social background) understood itself to be racially diverse, and (again arguably and depending on political/social background) made the cause of gay rights its own civil rights struggle, there was still a culture frontier — an other, for its cis members: Trans people.

Millennials seem to me to be far less likely to exclude trans people from their cohort, and from what I see of Generation Z to date, they simply assume gender identity is fluid to a greater or lesser degree. It’s the cis members of Generation X who, it seems, have to do the real work of digging into their own biases and assumptions about gender — and their own discomfort with trans identity — and make the effort to change a worldview that implicitly and explicitly on the outside of it.

And it is work for us — look, folks, I’m gonna be honest with you: I didn’t get to being able to say “trans rights are human rights” and actually meaning it without some real work and effort. As (just) two examples, fifteen years ago, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have seen what the big deal was with deadnaming people, and it literally wasn’t until I saw a friend on Twitter being taken to task for it that I understood that “tranny” was an actual and genuine slur. I can’t think of a time when I was actively transphobic, but I certainly sucked in a lot of passive transphobia over the years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere along the line some of it came out of me, too.

(If somehow you find something out there where I’ve been transphobic: sorry. There’s no excuse for it. I’m not going to say I’m a better person now, but I will say that I’ve done work on myself to do better. And if I fuck up now, well, Jesus. Call me on it, please, and I’ll keep trying to be better from here on out.)

Some time ago I talked about sexism and I made the observation that if one’s understanding of what sexism is stopped in the 1970s, the 21st century was gonna be a real rough ride. Well, guess what: If your understanding of what sex and gender mean is stuck at the turn of the century, 2020 is going to come for you, and it’s not going to be nice about it (2020 isn’t nice about anything). Understanding one’s own sexism, or racism, or homophobia, or transphobia, isn’t about reaching some plateau and getting to stop. You have to keep working at it.

Which can be fucking tiring, you know? Now I get why so many people who were 20 or 30 years older than I was would tell me proudly that they marched with MLK or protested in the 60s: Because it was a way of saying “here’s my resume, I’m on the side of angels.” But the 60s were the 60s, and now is now. The fight’s not the same and sooner or later, generationally speaking, there’s always something to trip over.

I will tell you how it makes me feel seeing people in my age cohort — people I like, people I love, and people whose work I respect and admire — trip over trans rights and identity: It makes me feel old. It makes me feel like my generation has joined all the other generations who had a blind spot in their vision of who gets to be “really real” in the culture. And just as Gen-X looked at older generations and thought smugly to themselves “well, we’ll just wait for them to die off, and that problem will be solved,” now we’re the generation that younger generations will look at, shrug off, and wait to be launched into eternity.

And, yes, #NotAllGen-Xers, but you know what? Enough of us Gen-Xers to be noticable. The Gen-Xers I like, love and admire who are struggling (to charitably put it) with trans issues are all over the board. Some are rich, some are not. Some are educated, others aren’t. Some are famous, some are known only to friends and family. Some are white and some are people of color. Some, I think, might eventually get it. And some of them, well, won’t — either just because, or because eventually too much of one’s identity is tied up into their position on trans identity, and there’s no easy way back from that.

I don’t think it’s the responsibility of Millennials or Gen-Z folk to do anything about Gen-Xers who trip over trans issues or who can’t or won’t listen. Those Gen-Xers (usually) aren’t your parents; you don’t don’t owe them that service. I don’t think it’s the responsibility of the Gen-Xers who are better about trans issues either — but I do think there might be a better chance that the former might listen to the latter better than to anyone else, when it comes time to talk about these things. Because it’s often easier to listen to friends and to members of one’s own cohort, with whom you otherwise have things in common, and some lived experience.

So I come back again to the issue of the Gen-Xers who I like, and who I love, and whose work I honor, who resist the idea that trans women are women, and that trans men are men, and that trans lives are valid as they are. They’re wrong about that, and if it turns out they will listen to me say that — and then explain why, as patiently and with as much kindness as I can provide, to the extent that I as a cis, straight man can — then I will count myself lucky to be able to tell them, and to hope that they will think about what I have to say. It’s not my responsibility, but I remember the times when friends, with patience and kindness, explained to me how and why I was wrong on something important. It helped me then. Maybe I can pay that forward.

Until that time, and again: Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Trans non-binary folks are non-binary folks. Trans rights are human rights.

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jepler
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CrystalDave
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Plastic Dice in Bulk

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I carry 3 red dice in my back pocket so that I can play a game called Cee-lo with people that I meet. Like most betting games, Cee-lo has a rough reputation. But played among friends, not betting for money, it can be rather wholesome.

I really like being able to play a simple dice game with people for a few reasons:

– it’s a really fun game!
– I’ve successfully played it with kindergartners and every age group above,
– I’ve gotten mixed age groups to have a GREAT time playing,
– It never runs out of batteries or needs to be upgraded,
– it’s very portable,
– it gets people to talk in real time,
– I don’t have to hand an expensive device to other people or count on them having one, or having one compatible to mine.

I’ve also found that the game itself is pretty simple, but with the betting aspect things get really interesting. And the world is full of trinkets to bet with. Collect a bunch of stones, or sugar packets, or tear up a piece of paper into bits that are all roughly the same size, or anything you can get a reasonable number of and you’re in business.

That said, my personal favorite thing to bet with is the little scraps that people have in their pockets: twist ties, tooth picks, vitamin pills, movie stubs. It is amazing to see how people will value these little bits of nothing while they are playing, but once the game is over, it all goes back to being little bits of trash. (I also like to see what people do to get that one important item back, that they really shouldn’t have played in the game…)

One thing about dice games: everyone plays them different. To paraphrase the Cee-lo advice U-God of Wu Tang in this NSFW (language) video: state the rules and save some fools. Better to spend a bit of time outlining the rules at the beginning then to get into any sort of fight later. (And not a bad rule in life in general.)

So, here is how I play Cee-lo:

Cee-lo – 2 or more players – 3 dice

Determine who is going to be playing and who is going to be the first player.

If betting, all players put in their bet.

The first player rolls all three dice until they get a recognized combination, or are otherwise disqualified

The combinations are, ranked from best to worst:

4-5-6
The highest possible roll. Instant win of the round for the player who rolled it. They take the entire pot, and the next round begins. This skips the turns of anyone who has not gone.

“Trips”
Rolling three of the same number is known as “trips”. Higher trips beat lower trips, so 4-4-4 is better than 3-3-3.

“Spare and a Pair”
Rolling a pair, and another number, establishes the singleton as a “point.” A higher point beats a lower point, so 1-1-3 is better than 6-6-2.

1-2-3
Automatic loss. Play forfeits turn, but the game continues.

Any other roll is a meaningless combination and must be rerolled until one of the above combinations occurs. It is also an automatic loss if a player rolls the dice 5 times without getting a meaningful combination.

If either of the dice roll off the playing surface, it is also an automatic loss for the player.

Play then proceeds around to other players, going clockwise.

The player who rolls the best combination wins. In cases of a tie for the best combination, there is a a shoot-out: the players who tied will play another round of the game until there is a single winner.

The winner gets to stat the next round.

And that is all there is to it! I also like it the way the game is explained in this video.

There are PLENTY of other games you can play with dice. But, Cee-lo one my favorite!

I usually buy dice by the 100, so after I teach people, I can give them their own set.

-- Mark Krawczuk

[This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2014]

100 Red Dice

Available from Amazon

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CrystalDave
47 days ago
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MotherHydra
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Used to play this in the schoolyard waiting for class to start in the morning.
Space City, USA

ongoing by Tim Bray · Bye, Amazon

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May 1st was my last day as a VP and Distinguished Engineer at Amazon Web Services, after five years and five months of rewarding fun. I quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19.

What with big-tech salaries and share vestings, this will probably cost me over a million (pre-tax) dollars, not to mention the best job I’ve ever had, working with awfully good people. So I’m pretty blue.

What happened · Last year, Amazonians on the tech side banded together as Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ), first coming to the world’s notice with an open letter promoting a shareholders’ resolution calling for dramatic action and leadership from Amazon on the global climate emergency. I was one of its 8,702 signatories. ¶

While the resolution got a lot of votes, it didn’t pass. Four months later, 3,000 Amazon tech workers from around the world joined in the Global Climate Strike walkout. The day before the walkout, Amazon announced a large-scale plan aimed at making the company part of the climate-crisis solution. It’s not as though the activists were acknowledged by their employer for being forward-thinking; in fact, leaders were threatened with dismissal.

Fast-forward to the Covid-19 era. Stories surfaced of unrest in Amazon warehouses, workers raising alarms about being uninformed, unprotected, and frightened. Official statements claimed every possible safety precaution was being taken. Then a worker organizing for better safety conditions was fired, and brutally insensitive remarks appeared in leaked executive meeting notes where the focus was on defending Amazon “talking points”.

Warehouse workers reached out to AECJ for support. They responded by internally promoting a petition and organizing a video call for Thursday April 16 featuring warehouse workers from around the world, with guest activist Naomi Klein. An announcement sent to internal mailing lists on Friday April 10th was apparently the flashpoint. Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, two visible AECJ leaders, were fired on the spot that day. The justifications were laughable; it was clear to any reasonable observer that they were turfed for whistleblowing.

Management could have objected to the event, or demanded that outsiders be excluded, or that leadership be represented, or any number of other things; there was plenty of time. Instead, they just fired the activists.

Snap! · At that point I snapped. VPs shouldn’t go publicly rogue, so I escalated through the proper channels and by the book. I’m not at liberty to disclose those discussions, but I made many of the arguments appearing in this essay. I think I made them to the appropriate people. ¶

That done, remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned.

The victims weren’t abstract entities but real people; here are some of their names: Courtney Bowden, Gerald Bryson, Maren Costa, Emily Cunningham, Bashir Mohammed, and Chris Smalls.

I’m sure it’s a coincidence that every one of them is a person of color, a woman, or both. Right?

Let’s give one of those names a voice. Bashir Mohamed said “They fired me to make others scared.” Do you disagree?

Adjectives · Here are some descriptive phrases you might use to describe the activist-firing. ¶

  1. “Chickenshit.”

  2. “Kill the messenger.”

  3. “Never heard of the Streisand effect.”

  4. “Designed to create a climate of fear.”

  5. “Like painting a sign on your forehead saying ‘Either guilty, or has something to hide.’”

Which do you like?

What about the warehouses? · It’s a matter of fact that workers are saying they’re at risk in the warehouses. I don’t think the media’s done a terribly good job of telling their stories. I went to the video chat that got Maren and Emily fired, and found listening to them moving. You can listen too if you’d like. Up on YouTube is another full-day videochat; it’s nine hours long, but there’s a table of contents, you can decide whether you want to hear people from Poland, Germany, France, or multiple places in the USA. Here’s more reportage from the NY Times. ¶

It’s not just workers who are upset. Here are Attorneys-general from 14 states speaking out. Here’s the New York State Attorney-general with more detailed complaints. Here’s Amazon losing in French courts, twice.

On the other hand, Amazon’s messaging has been urgent that they are prioritizing this issue and putting massive efforts into warehouse safety. I actually believe this: I have heard detailed descriptions from people I trust of the intense work and huge investments. Good for them; and let’s grant that you don’t turn a supertanker on a dime.

But I believe the worker testimony too. And at the end of the day, the big problem isn’t the specifics of Covid-19 response. It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential. Only that’s not just Amazon, it’s how 21st-century capitalism is done.

Amazon is exceptionally well-managed and has demonstrated great skill at spotting opportunities and building repeatable processes for exploiting them. It has a corresponding lack of vision about the human costs of the relentless growth and accumulation of wealth and power. If we don’t like certain things Amazon is doing, we need to put legal guardrails in place to stop those things. We don’t need to invent anything new; a combination of antitrust and living-wage and worker-empowerment legislation, rigorously enforced, offers a clear path forward.

Don’t say it can’t be done, because France is doing it.

Poison · Firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets. It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison. ¶

What about AWS? · Amazon Web Services (the “Cloud Computing” arm of the company), where I worked, is a different story. It treats its workers humanely, strives for work/life balance, struggles to move the diversity needle (and mostly fails, but so does everyone else), and is by and large an ethical organization. I genuinely admire its leadership. ¶

Of course, its workers have power. The average pay is very high, and anyone who’s unhappy can walk across the street and get another job paying the same or better.

Spot a pattern? · At the end of the day, it’s all about power balances. The warehouse workers are weak and getting weaker, what with mass unemployment and (in the US) job-linked health insurance. So they’re gonna get treated like crap, because capitalism. Any plausible solution has to start with increasing their collective strength. ¶

What’s next? · For me? I don’t know, genuinely haven’t taken time to think about it. I’m sad, but I’m breathing more freely. ¶



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CrystalDave
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That’s putting your money where your convictions are
Washington, DC

Consent

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I was walking down the platform at the train station when I caught eyes with a police officer. Instinctively, I smiled and he smiled back. When I got closer, he said “Excuse me, do you mind if I swipe down your bag?” He gestured to a machine he was holding. “Just a random check.”

The slight tension I’d felt since I first saw him grabbed hold of my spine, shoulders, and jaw. I stood up a little straighter and clenched my teeth down.

“Sure, I guess,” I said uncertainly.

He could hear something in my voice, or read something in my change of posture. “You have to consent in order for me to be allowed to do it.”

Consent. I’d just been writing about consent that morning, before going to catch the train down to New York for Thanksgiving. It set me on edge and made more real what was happening: someone wanted to move into my personal space. There was now a legal interaction happening. “I don’t want to be difficult, but I’d rather you didn’t if you don’t have to.”

“It’s just a random check,” he said. “You don’t have to consent.”

“What happens if I say no?”

“You can’t get on the train,” he gestured to the track with his machine.

“So, my options are to let you search my bag or not go see my family for Thanksgiving?”

“You could take a bus,” he offered.

I thought about how I wanted to say this. Words are powerful and important.

“I consent to this in as much as I must without having any other reasonable option presented to me.”

He looked unconvinced, but swiped down my bag anyway, declared it safe, and sent me off.

Did I really have the right to withhold consent in this situation? Technically, yes. I could have told him no, but I had no other reasonable option.

At the heart of user freedom is the idea that we must be able to consent to the technology we’re directly and indirectly using. It is also important to note that we should not suffer unduly by denying consent.

If I don’t want to interact with a facial recognition system at an airport, I should be able to say no, but I should not be required to give up my seat or risk missing my flight spending exceptional effort as a consequence of refusing to consent. Consenting to something that you don’t want to do should not be incentivized, especially by making you take on extra risk or make extra sacrifices.

In many situations, especially with technology, we are presented with the option to opt out, but that doesn’t just mean opting out of playing a particular game: it can mean choosing whether or not to get a life saving medical implant; not filing your taxes because of government mandated tax software; or being unable to count yourself in a census.

When the choice is “agree or suffer the consequences” we do not have an option to actually consent.

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CrystalDave
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angelchrys
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How White People Handle Diversity Training in the Workplace

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As a former professor and current facilitator and consultant, I am in a position to give white people feedback on how their unintentional racism is manifesting itself. In this position, I have observed countless enactments of white fragility. One of the most common is outrage: “How dare you suggest that I could have said or done something racist!” Although these are unpleasant moments for me, they are also rather amusing. The reason I’m there in the first place is because I have been hired specifically to do just that; I have been asked to help the members of the organization understand why their workplace continues to remain white, why they are having so much trouble recruiting people of color, and/or why the people of color they hire don’t stay. They want to know what they are doing that is unsupportive to people of color.

At this point in my career, I rarely encounter the kind of open hostility that I was met with in my early days as a facilitator. I attribute this change to the years of experience behind my pedagogy. Of course, I am also white, which makes other white people much more receptive to the message. I am often amazed at what I can say to groups of primarily white people. I can describe our culture as white supremacist and say things like, “All white people are invested in and collude with the system of racism,” without my fellow white people running from the room or reeling from trauma. Naturally, I don’t walk in and lead with those statements; I strategically guide people to a shared understanding of what I mean by those claims. Still, white people tend to be more receptive to my presentation as long as it remains abstract. The moment I name some racially problematic dynamic or action happening in the room in the moment — for example, “Sharon, may I give you some feedback? While I understand it wasn’t intentional, your response to Jason’s story invalidates his experience as a black man” — white fragility erupts. Sharon defensively explains that she was misunderstood and then angrily withdraws, while others run in to defend her by reexplaining “what she really meant.” The point of the feedback is now lost, and hours must be spent repairing this perceived breach. And, of course, no one appears concerned about Jason. Shaking my head, I think to myself, “You asked me here to help you see your racism, but by god, I’d better not actually help you see your racism.”

The goal of my work is to make visible the inevitable racist assumptions held, and patterns displayed, by white people conditioned from living in a white supremacist culture. When these patterns are named or questioned, we have predictable responses. The responses begin with a set of unexamined assumptions, which, when questioned, trigger various emotions, which activate some expected behaviors. These behaviors are then justified by numerous claims. These responses, emotions, behaviors, and claims are illustrated in the following example of a recent eruption of white fragility.

I was co-leading a community workshop. Because an employer had not sponsored it, the participants had all voluntarily signed up and paid a fee to attend. For this reason, we could assume that they were open and interested in the content. I was working with a small group of white participants when a woman I will refer to as Eva stated that because she grew up in Germany, where she said there were no black people, she had learned nothing about race and held no racism. I pushed back on this claim by asking her to reflect on the messages she had received from her childhood about people who lived in Africa. Surely she was aware of Africa and had some impressions of the people there? Had she ever watched American films? If so, what impression did she get about African Americans? I also asked her to reflect on what she had absorbed from living in the U.S. for the last 23 years, whether she had any relationships with African Americans here, and if not, then why not.

We moved on, and I forgot about the interaction until Eva approached me after the workshop ended. She was furious and said that she had been deeply offended by our exchange and did not “feel seen.” “You made assumptions about me!” she said. I apologized and told her that I would never want her to feel unseen or invalidated. However, I also held to my challenge that growing up in Germany would not preclude her from absorbing problematic racial messages about black people. She countered by telling me that she had never even seen a black person “before the American soldiers came.” And when they did come, “all the German women thought them so beautiful that they wanted to connect with them.” This was her evidence that she held no racism. With an internal sigh of defeat, I gave up at that point and repeated my apology. We parted ways, but her anger was unabated.

A few months later, one of my co-facilitators contacted Eva to tell her about an upcoming workshop. Eva was apparently still angry. She replied that she would never again attend a workshop led by me. Notice that I did not tell Eva that she was racist or that her story was racist. But what I did do was challenge her self-image as someone exempt from racism. Paradoxically, Eva’s anger that I did not take her claims at face value surfaced within the context of a volunteer workshop on racism, which she ostensibly attended to deepen her understanding of racism.

White fragility functions as a form of bullying: “I am going to make it so miserable for you to confront me that you will simply back off.”

Another example: I am coaching a small group of white employees on how racism manifests in their workplace. One member of the group, Karen, is upset about a request from Joan, her only colleague of color, to stop talking over her. Karen doesn’t understand what talking over Joan has to do with race; she is an extrovert and tends to talk over everyone. I try to explain how the impact is different when we interrupt across race because we bring our histories with us. While Karen sees herself as a unique individual, Joan sees Karen as a white individual. Being interrupted and talked over by white people is not a unique experience for Joan, nor is it separate from the larger cultural context. Karen exclaims, “Forget it! I can’t say anything right, so I am going to stop talking!”

The episode highlights Karen’s white fragility. She is unable to see herself in racial terms. When she is pressed to do so, she refuses to engage further, positioning herself as the one being treated unfairly. In the post–civil rights era, we have been taught that racists are mean people who intentionally dislike others because of their race; a racist is consciously prejudiced and intends to be hurtful. Because this definition requires conscious intent, it exempts virtually all white people and functions beautifully to obscure and protect racism as a system in which we are all implicated. This definition also ensures that any suggestion of racially problematic behavior will trigger moral outrage and defense.

The large body of research on children and race demonstrates that children start to construct their ideas about race very early. Remarkably, a sense of white superiority and knowledge of racial power codes appear to develop as early as preschool. Professor of communications Judith Martin describes white children’s upbringing:

As in other Western nations, white children born in the United States inherit the moral predicament of living in a white supremacist society. Raised to experience their racially based advantages as fair and normal, white children receive little if any instruction regarding the predicament they face, let alone any guidance in how to resolve it. Therefore, they experience or learn about racial tension without understanding euro-Americans’ historical responsibility for it and knowing virtually nothing about their contemporary roles in perpetuating it.

Despite its ubiquity, white superiority is also unnamed and denied by most whites. If we become adults who explicitly oppose racism, as do many, we often organize our identity around a denial of our racially based privileges that reinforce racist disadvantage for others. What is particularly problematic about this contradiction is that white people’s moral objection to racism increases their resistance to acknowledging complicity with it. In a white supremacist context, white identity largely rests on a foundation of (superficial) racial tolerance and acceptance. We whites who position ourselves as liberal often opt to protect what we perceive as our moral reputations, rather than recognize or change our participation in systems of inequity and domination.

One way that whites protect their positions when challenged on race is to invoke the discourse of self-defense. Through this discourse, whites characterize themselves as victimized, slammed, blamed, and attacked. Whites who describe the interactions this way are responding to the articulation of counternarratives alone; no physical violence has ever occurred in any interracial discussion or training that I am aware of. These self-defense claims work on multiple levels. They identify the speakers as morally superior while obscuring the true power of their social positions. The claims blame others with less social power for their discomfort and falsely describe that discomfort as dangerous. The self-defense approach also reinscribes racist imagery. By positioning themselves as the victim of anti-racist efforts, they cannot be the beneficiaries of whiteness. Claiming that it is they who have been unfairly treated — through a challenge to their position or an expectation that they listen to the perspectives and experiences of people of color — they can demand that more social resources (such as time and attention) be channeled in their direction to help them cope with this mistreatment.

When I consult with organizations that want me to help them recruit and retain a more diverse workforce, I am consistently warned that past efforts to address the lack of diversity have resulted in trauma for white employees. This is literally the term used to describe the impact of a brief and isolated workshop: trauma. This trauma has required years of avoiding the topic altogether, and although the business leaders feel they are ready to begin again, I am cautioned to proceed slowly and be careful. Of course, this white racial trauma in response to equity efforts has also ensured that the organization has remained overwhelmingly white.

The language of violence that many whites use to describe anti-racist endeavors is not without significance, as it is another example of how white fragility distorts reality. By employing terms that connote physical abuse, whites tap into the classic story that people of color (particularly African Americans) are dangerous and violent. In so doing, whites distort the real direction of danger between whites and others. This history becomes profoundly minimized when whites claim they don’t feel safe or are under attack when they find themselves in the rare situation of merely talking about race with people of color. The use of this language of violence illustrates how fragile and ill-equipped most white people are to confront racial tensions and their subsequent projection of this tension onto people of color.

A cogent example of white fragility occurred during a workplace anti-racism training I co-facilitated with an interracial team. One of the white participants left the session and went back to her desk, upset at receiving (what appeared to the training team as) sensitive and diplomatic feedback on how some of her statements had impacted several of the people of color in the room. At break, several other white participants approached me and my fellow trainers and reported that they had talked to the woman at her desk and that she was very upset that her statements had been challenged. (Of course, “challenged” was not how she phrased her concern. It was framed as her being “falsely accused” of having a racist impact.) Her friends wanted to alert us to the fact that she was in poor health and “might be having a heart attack.”

Upon questioning from us, they clarified that they meant this literally. These co-workers were sincere in their fear that the young woman might actually die as a result of the feedback. Of course, when news of the women’s potentially fatal condition reached the rest of the participant group, all attention was immediately focused back onto her and away from engagement with the impact she had on the people of color. As professor of social work Rich Vodde states, “If privilege is defined as a legitimization of one’s entitlement to resources, it can also be defined as permission to escape or avoid any challenges to this entitlement.”

Let me be clear: While the capacity for white people to sustain challenges to our racial positions is limited — and, in this way, fragile — the effects of our responses are not fragile at all; they are quite powerful, because they take advantage of historical and institutional power and control. We wield this power and control in whatever way is most useful in the moment to protect our positions. If we need to cry so that all the resources rush back to us and attention is diverted away from a discussion of our racism, then we will cry (a strategy most commonly employed by white middle-class women). If we need to take umbrage and respond with righteous outrage, then we will take umbrage. If we need to argue, minimize, explain, play devil’s advocate, pout, tune out, or withdraw to stop the challenge, then we will.

White fragility functions as a form of bullying: “I am going to make it so miserable for you to confront me — no matter how diplomatically you try to do so — that you will simply back off, give up, and never raise the issue again.” White fragility keeps people of color in line and “in their place.” In this way, it is a powerful form of white racial control. Social power is not fixed; it is constantly challenged and needs to be maintained.

In my workshops, I often ask people of color, “How often have you given white people feedback on our unaware yet inevitable racism? How often has that gone well for you?” Eye rolling, head shaking, and outright laughter follow, along with the consensus of rarely, if ever. I then ask, I ask my fellow whites to consider the profundity of that response. It would be revolutionary if we could receive, reflect, and work to change the behavior. On the one hand, the man’s response points to how difficult and fragile we are. But on the other hand, it indicates how simple it can be to take responsibility for our racism. But we aren’t likely to get there if we are operating from the dominant worldview that only intentionally mean people can participate in racism.

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CrystalDave
244 days ago
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Seattle, WA
angelchrys
244 days ago
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Overland Park, KS
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#1496; Requiescat in Peonies

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You know it's a good system because it involves coming up with elaborate new ideas to manage your elaborate old ideas.

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CrystalDave
295 days ago
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Seattle, WA
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ScottInPDX
295 days ago
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I can relate to this waaaayy too much. It would be a really healthy thing to practice.
Portland, Oregon, USA, Earth
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