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structural racism

Opinion: Dear America, I'm not your excuse.

Oct 17, 2016
portrait of eric thomas
Courtesy of Eric Thomas

We’ve always used successful individuals as a barometer of possibility for everyone. “If I made it, then so can you.”

This the siren call of almost every motivational speaker. And it makes perfect sense. It’s encouraging to see someone that’s like you from similar circumstances achieve greatness. 

As a guy that grew up in not so privileged neighborhood, I’m often used as an example of what hard work can achieve. But sometimes people use success stories as an excuse to not care about others. The fact is, when the system is failing people, one or two outliers are often used as an excuse to deflect social responsibility.

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Last week, we brought you a story on the theory of white fragility, which was developed by Robin DiAngelo

DiAngelo developed her theory after years of both leading and observing workshops on racism. Her original paper on it runs 17 pages long. She also wrote a book called What Does it Mean to be White. She has a PhD. She's been doing this work for two decades. 
We had about five minutes to tell you the story on our air.  Since then, we've gotten a lot of comments, with many people looking for more context. Some people went ahead and read DiAngelo's paper on white fragility, which is linked to in our original story. 

But there's also a lot more to my interview with Robin DiAngelo than we were able to share on the radio. 
 

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This is the version of our story that aired on Michigan Radio. To hear an extended version of our interview with Robin DiAngelo on the theory of white fragility, click here

Robin DiAngelo was right out of college when she started thinking about it. She'd landed a job leading workshops on racism. And she met a man who became very angry, and pounded on a table. He said white people are the target of discrimination, white people can’t even find jobs anymore.

DiAngelo looked around the office and she saw nothing but white people, all of them with jobs.   

"It was unnerving," she says now. "It was like, 'This is not rooted in any racial reality that is happening, in this room, in this workplace, or in this man’s life.' And yet, these feelings are real. His rage is real. How do we do that?"