White Fragility


So, recently in one of my many facebook groups, a storm blew up and it has made me think long and hard about a few things that I wanted to unpick.

It was a group for single adopters (made up of around 95% white women) and someone had posted about racism in relation to their child. It was a white woman, who was shocked to discover how many of her friends and family had racist views and made derogatory comments since she adopted a mixed-race child. She commented that perhaps they had always been like that and she had never noticed, but now that she was aware of it and needing to stand up for her child, she was losing so many friends to racism.

It sparked a lively discussion about white parents adopting children from a different race, which I’ve written about the complexities of before. On the one hand, social services would always prefer an ethnic match for a child where possible. If a black, asian or mixed-race child can be placed with black, asian or mixed-race parents, then that is the best possible outcome for everyone. Those parents will be able to support and understand the child’s cultural identity better than anyone else, as well as being able to support them better when they face racism and micro-agressions that many of us white folk aren’t even aware of or noticing.

However, in the UK there are VASTLY more white adopters than there are adopters of colour, and so there are a disproportionate number of children of colour in the system who need good homes and who cannot be matched with parents of colour. It isn’t fair for children of colour to stay in the care system for longer or be denied a loving home simply because potential parents of the same colour as them are not available. So ultimately there are a lot of white parents who do adopt children of colour, and who love them very much (I am one of them) BUT who therefore have to take on the responsibility of making big changes in their lives to adapt and support their child’s cultural identity.

And it’s not just a case of learning to do their hair (though as you’ll have read from my previous post on this it comes up a LOT for white female transracial parents).

The soul-searching I did when I wanted to move to a cheaper, lovely small town with nice schools where we could have more space is a good example. As a white person, it was an obvious choice to move and all of my white friends agreed with me, but every single person of colour I asked and talked to about it said emphatically no. People with actual lived experiences of it knew how hard it was and made a very compelling argument. It also said a lot about my white privilege that I kept asking over and over trying to find one person of colour who would agree with me or justify my decision – instead of accepting the responses from the other 10 people who disagreed!

There are many many other things I need to do and learn in order to support my daughter in her cultural identity as she grows up and I have been trying very hard to read and learn and educate myself, and in the process have started to really understand what my white privilege is and how white fragility can be so damaging for people of colour.

Which brings me to the post that caused a storm on facebook…

In the comments thread, a white mum of a mixed race child had made a comment about how ridiculous it is that social workers don’t like to match white parents with children of colour, and a male adoptive parent of colour had responded with a long list of reasons why it’s not ideal and why white parents need to do so much more work to ensure their child’s cultural heritage and identity is protected and supported. The woman became instantly defensive and aggressive, and the black male responded in a slightly more heated manner. The argument swiftly got personal and offensive and the admins turned off comments on the post. Then the lady in question posted a tearful new post about how she was under attack and the black man was mean and cruel and aggressive and it wasn’t fair etc etc.

It was a CLASSIC example of white fragility and the use of tears and defensiveness to change the narrative. And then more and more white women leapt to her defence, until the black male left the group and admins deleted all of the posts completely to shut it down. And in shutting the conversation down they also ensured that the space was reflecting the almost all-white make-up of the members and their viewpoints and did not allow for dissenting opinions from minorities on issues such as race.

I personally had agreed with the man and his description of why transracial adoption is complex and not to be undertaken lightly. He was 100% right that a lot of white parents who adopt transracially are simply not willing to do the work required to raise their children with a full sense of cultural identity and support. However I didn’t comment – I didn’t lend my voice to support him, and I later realised that it made me complicit in the white power dynamics that are at play all of the time.

Firstly, both he and the woman started out calmly stating their points and both of them grew heated as the discussion descended into an argument. Yet HE was labelled aggressive and cruel, and she was not, because of the stereotype of an angry black man. She was not labelled aggressive at all because a) she’s a white woman and b) she was defending her parenting (as if that somehow made her responses any less aggressive – objectively her comments were just as aggressive).

Secondly, it made me realise the hypocrisy of my position. I generally don’t engage with internet fights at all, on any subject, because it often feels like there is no point. And yet by saying nothing, I was complicit in the wall of silence and lack of support for that man and his extremely valid point of view.

I recently wrote a long post about sexism and feminism and why it is SO important not only to stand up and call it out, but also to have male supporters to call it out. When women shout about sexism all day every day, we are just dismissed as angry feminists. But when men call it out and stand up for women, it has a far bigger impact.

The same can be said when it comes to race. People of colour have been shouting about it for decades but they need white people to shout about it too if they are ever going to get anywhere. They need people like me to join in and lend my voice, and the weight and privilege that is attached to it, to be heard. And I failed to do so.

Later on, in a private message with the man in question, he reminded me that my silence on these issues (and my general fear of confrontation) will trickle down into my daughter’s consciousness. That staying silent and not speaking out when I see and hear racist comments or microaggressions will reinforce to her the message that it’s not important or that I don’t understand it or haven’t noticed it.

He has spoken to dozens of transracial adoptees, and many of them commented on their parent’s silence when it came to racial issues, and they took it to mean that their parents either weren’t hearing it, or didn’t care, and reinforced their view that their parents could never understand what they were going through on a daily basis. The silence is deafening and it has implications.

It was a sharp wake up call to me that I need to be more pro-active, more of an activist, more actively anti-racist if I am going to be worthy as a parent of a transracially adopted child. There is OVERWHELMING research and evidence of the consequences of failing in this and I am very grateful to this man for helping me understand why sitting back and staying silent is not acceptable. It makes me part of the problem not part of the solution. I am learning more every day, and need constant reminders to do better, and to help my friends and family to do better, so that we don’t raise yet another generation of children who feel their parents cannot understand their lived experience as a person of colour.

2 thoughts on “White Fragility

  1. Wherever the people live some kind of insanity lives with them as well. Human is an insane creature than any other living beings. Hope some kind souls among them will live forever

  2. Pingback: Speaking out ain’t always easy… | Had we but world enough and time…

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