I have been meaning to read White Fragility by Robin Diangelo for a while. At first, I left the book for what it was. I have always believed that all people are equal and feel angry hearing stories, in America at the moment, for example, where it is minority groups who are hit the most by corona. (In Chicago and Louisiana, 30% of the population are black but around 70% of the people who die of corona in Chicago and Louisiana is black.) However, I have realised that if we as a shared species want to create an environment in which everyone is equal, believing that everyone is equal is not enough. For this, the minority groups and the masses need to communicate. The problem is, however, that groups get caught up in the hurt and wrongdoing they have felt and or still experience. The fight then becomes about blaming and often involves a lot of hate and the original objective of creating equality is overlooked.
I watch a show called Good Trouble, which is a spin-off series from The Fosters, which you might have heard about. The show prides itself on representing diversity and real stories and there’s a character named Davia, a 25-year-old white woman who teaches at an underfinanced school with mostly black people. Over the course of several episodes, Davia struggles to teach the kids as they seem uninterested and don’t want to listen to her. She is a good person at heart and wants to help them learn but her class seems uninterested in being engaged. She asks for advice from another teacher (a black woman) and she suggests that she should find something the kids can relate to. As a result, she prepares and performs the Gumboot dance (in the past, a codified tap used by black miners deprived of conversation) in front of the class, thinking it’s something cool and empowering that black people did. She hopes to engage with the kids through their culture and doesn’t realise that this is, in fact, harmful, then starts to wonder she did wrong as she intended well. Malika, a black woman who lives in the same shared housing says that she should read White Fragility.
In the meantime, one of Davia’s student (a black kid) has the police attack him because he carries a marker pen with him, with which they claim he could write offensive language or ruin the walls. Davia sees this and tells the police to back off. When they leave, the kid starts walking away angrily and Davia calls out that she only wanted to help. He remarks that there is nothing she can do for a black kid and she says that she doesn’t see colour. “That’s the problem,” he says and then walks away.
Back home, Malika laughs at the video that has appeared of Davia performing the Gumboot dance. Davia exclaims that she only wanted to help but doesn’t know how to and that Malika doesn’t even want to talk to her about it. She repeats that she doesn’t see colour and Malika remarks that that’s the problem; You can’t just ignore the history and inequality that is still present. The problem is that it’s still unequal and that needs to be addressed rather than overlooked. Sometimes we need to break the silence, like when a kid in school is being bullied and needs someone to stand up for them.
If I’m honest, like I mentioned in my first paragraph, I felt like I could relate to the statement of “I am colour blind” when Davia first said it in that I believe all people are equal. Until I had seen these episodes, I wasn’t aware that we can’t only state that we’re all equal because by doing so we ignore the fact that not everything is equal at this moment in time. It is important to realise this because minority groups cannot win their fights alone and if we truly believe that everyone is equal then we all need to fight for equal rights. Diangelo gives an example which illustrates this.
“If being a woman denies you the right to vote, you ipso facto cannot grant it to yourself. And you certainly cannot vote for your right to vote. If men control all the mechanism that exclude women from voting as well as the mechanisms that can reverse that exclusion, women must call on men for justice.”
Davia finally picks up the book and starts realising the problem with being colour blind. She apologises to Malika who has the conversation about black history with her now. She tells Davia that she is a good person and helps her out in dealing with the situation. Davia returns to her class to apologise and admit that it was wrong of her to Gumboot dance. She then explains that she only wanted to help but says that she should have asked them about it, rather than assuming and taking something that was theirs. The students feel heard and also understand that they might have made it rather difficult for her to communicate with them. They start helping her to get it right this time and so together start collaborating to make a positive change.
If the students had not been open for this conversation nothing would have changed. Davia would have remained standing in front of the class feeling lost over how she can help these kids, while the kids would continue to remain uneducated, fail their tests and likely end up in financial hardship later on in their lives. In order to bring along change, it is imperative that both sides listen to each other. It doesn’t matter who has been hurt the most or who is right; If you listen to each other you’ll often find that the other will recognise and acknowledge the mistakes they’ve made.
We need to have conversations, not fights. We need to come together not divide. And this is the case in every community.