Starting on November 22nd and running for the final 40 days of 2019, I’m offering the “40-Day Practice: Strengthening Emotional Literacies to Counter White Fragility.” Every time I offer this practice (this will be my third and second online), I get a lot of questions, including what this work involves, why it asks for a commitment of 40 days, and why it focuses on emotions.
This post, therefore, answers the most frequently asked question: WHY?
- Why do sustained work with emotional literacies?
- Why counter white fragility (the myth, the harm, and the learned behaviors)?
- Why commit to a daily practice?
Three Reasons Why:
1. To shift habits by practicing—again and again and again.
Like holidays, the period of 40 days has a spiritual significance, as many faith, cultural, and wisdom traditions use 40 days to mark transformation (birth, death, and change). Forty days are linked with habit formation and with creation of daily routines. This time period, therefore, is intentional for building a self-work practice that can be repeated and carried well beyond the 40 days.
Committing to daily practice matters because small actions, when sustained, add up to significant change. Learning and unlearning requires time to make shifts in thinking, feeling, being, acting, and showing up. So, repeated practice—with the attitude of “try-try again”—allows for making change.
And so many changes are needed now—throughout our everyday lives.
White supremacy is both internalized and institutional; it’s both systemic and enacted through everyday interactions. It’s woven into the fabric of society, shaping relations with ourselves, with others, and within institutions, including families, workplaces, and holidays.
We need, therefore, long-term commitments to antiracism and racial justice, along with daily practice acting on these commitments. We need daily practice in witnessing and interrupting microaggressions, crying out against oppression, investing in ancestral healing, and more. And those of us who are white—who experience the world through whiteness and have internalized white supremacy and white fragility—need these practices especially.
2. To invest in the critique for racial justice.
Much of our schooling, when it addresses injustice at all, addresses it as a problem to study. Our energies get directed, therefore, toward the critique against injustice, which is absolutely needed and important. However, we need *both* the critique against *and* the critique for. And we need ongoing education that builds our literacies and capacities to strive toward social, racial, and environmental justice.
Said differently, if we look only at the problem (e.g., white fragility), we can get stuck and fail to imagine ways out of the mess. To invest in visioning and striving toward racial justice, we need to feel-think-act into the critique for, which includes deep emotional work.
The self-work or “shadow work” of countering white fragility involves recognizing that “fragility” is a socialized state and a functioning apparatus of oppression and, therefore, truly a myth—but a powerful myth that does harm. From this recognition, work toward investigating and disinvesting from white fragility can happen. And then it’s possible to create new emotional patterns.
Bottom line: it’s not enough to understand the critique against racism and injustice. We need active engagement with fully embodied ways of enacting a critique for, too.
3. To do emotionally messy work toward unlearning whiteness and white fragility.
How can those of us who experience internalized whiteness and white supremacy recognize and respond to emotions before they do harm? How can we take accountability when they do? And how can we recognize complicity with the long-standing harm and systems that prevent taking accountability?
In many ways, reckoning with white fragility begins with reckoning with whiteness, which is all around and in us—like the air we breathe. Here’s a definition from Robin DiAngelo’s 2011 article “White Fragility,” citing sociologist Ruth Frankenberg, who defined whiteness as multi-dimensional:
“Whiteness is a location of structural advantage, of race privilege. Second, it is a ‘standpoint,’ a place from which White people look at ourselves, at others, and at society. Third, ‘Whiteness’ refers to a set of cultural practices that are usually unmarked and unnamed. (p.1)” (page 56, emphasis added)
These three components of whiteness—(1) structural advantage, (2) standpoint or perspective, and (3) cultural practices—add up to triple trouble. Particular ways of being and doing—and, therefore, people involved in this being and doing—are privileged over others. These three components reinforce and concretize dehumanization so that hierarchical power structures (including white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and interconnected oppressions) show up throughout everyday life. The work of unlearning whiteness is critical, and yet the unlearning process is messy, messy, messy.
Performances of white fragility come out especially through the unlearning process and in multiracial educational spaces, doing further harm and asking us to take seriously calls for white caucus spaces. The 40-day practice takes up these calls, acting on the YWCA’s goals for white caucuses to help with deepening self-reflection, commitment, and accountability among white folks.
By holding space for emotionally messy and imperfect work, the 40-day practice strives to shift habits, to facilitate learning + unlearning, and to build the critique for racial justice, hopefully in a form that lessens harm along the way.
While there are many reasons to participate in the “40-Day Practice: Strengthening Emotional Literacies to Counter White Fragility,” my hope is that these three reasons begin to answer why I believe in this work and why I ask others to commit to the 40 days, too.
This post is written by Beth Godbee, Ph.D. for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For related posts, you might try “My New Year’s Resolution = Self-Love for Countering White Fragility” and “Self-Inquiry and Social Justice: What’s Walking Got to Do with It?”
Consider joining or sharing with others “The 40-Day Practice: Strengthening Emotional Literacies to Counter White Fragility.” And reach out with questions or feedback at any time.