All posts by Mary Hess

Robin DiAngelo on white fragility

Here is the powerful article Robin DiAngelo has written that is having such a profound impact in discussions of anti-racism work — particularly in predominately white communities. Identifying “white fragility” as a key dynamic to interrupt and engage, she elucidates the challenges white people need to meet to do this work in both transformative and sustainable ways:

For instance:

The disavowal of race as an organizing factor, both of individual white consciousness and the institutions of society at large, is necessary to support current structures of capitalism and domination, for without it, the correlation between the distribution of social resources and unearned white privilege would be evident (Flax, 1998). The existence of structural inequality undermines the claim that privilege is simply a reflection of hard work and virtue. Therefore, inequality must be hidden or justified as resulting from lack of effort (Mills, 1997; Ryan, 2001).


Beyoncé released a very powerful music video a couple of weeks ago, Formation:

There has been much fascinating criticism, such as this piece in RacismReview, this piece in Salon, and this blog post by Jouelzy. The video is provoking a lot of useful engagement with the very diverse ways meaning gets made in the US these days. Even a Jesuit weighed in!

This weekend SNL did a funny take on the reception of the video in certain parts of the white community:

And just because it’s beautiful, here’s a documentary about Beyoncé’s singing of Take My Hand, Precious Lord at the 2015 grammys:

Black America and the Class Divide

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has a compelling and thoughtful piece in the NYTimes  reflecting upon the challenges within Black America as the huge inequality gap which affects all of the US is even more present within Black communities. Excerpts follow (but read the whole thing!):

The class divide is, in my opinion, one of the most important and overlooked factors in the rise of Black Lives Matter, led by a new generation of college graduates and students. I hear about it from my students at Harvard, about the pressure they feel to rise, yes, but also the necessity to then look back to lift others.

I asked Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence, a senior, what was behind the racial unrest on campus. Ms. Matsuda-Lawrence is co-founder of “I, Too, Am Harvard,” a multiplatform campaign that gives voice to students who often go unheard and that brought the concept of micro-aggressions into the light. She described the motivation as “our sense of responsibility to the black communities who do not have access to the universities we attend.” The goal: “to call out the ways our own institutions participate in and perpetuate structures of racism that affect the black communities we represent through our presence at places like Harvard.”

That is, the college campus is a microcosm of practices at work in the larger society, something of a laboratory in which America’s racial experiment might be altered.

Unlike the way they are framed in so many op-eds, modern-day activists, Ms. Matsuda-Lawrence says, are anything but “a bunch of oversensitive, privileged and coddled black college students complaining and whining that they don’t feel safe because of building names and house master titles.”

The nation’s African-American students are searching profoundly and visibly for a definitive end to racial injustice.

Change, even at the symbolic level, is difficult, of course, and it remains to be seen what this current wave of protests will accomplish. Will the fight against police brutality, symbols of the Confederacy and society’s plethora of micro-aggressions become the basis of a broader movement for the improvement of underfunded public school education, for the right to a job with decent wages, and for the end of residential segregation that relegates the poor to neighborhoods with murder rates as alarming as those on the South Side of Chicago?

What is certain is that the outrage that led to Black Lives Matter and its spinoffs will be with us for years to come unless these legacies of slavery and Jim Crow become remnants of a racist past.