There is a perception that only “bad white people” are racists.
But inherent racial prejudice runs much deeper in all white people, good and bad, according to the bestselling book White Fragility, Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.
However, talking about the complex subject of racism is exactly what the Wilton Presbyterian Church has decided to do.
Discussions of the book White Fragility are being held at the church’s weekly Lenten Book Group meetings on Tuesdays from now through April 9.
“This is a time, during the season of Lent, that Christians are urged to participate in self-reflection and see what things are preventing us from connecting to God on a deeper level,” said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Shannon White, who proposed the book for the group.
White Fragility was written by Robin DiAngelo, a white academic and lecturer. In it, she explores the reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality.
“The book unveils the premise that white people have tended to be very defensive when anything is mentioned about race,” said White.
She recalled an incident when she was a student at the Princeton Theological Seminary that sparked her to reflect on her own racial behaviors. “I was having a conversation with an African-American student and I asked her if something was racist. She told me, ‘Go do your homework, then come back and talk to me.’ She was right. It is not up to African Americans to teach whites about racism. It is up to white people to examine their own lives so they can be in a relationship with people of color.”
More recently, White explored the pervasiveness of racism while attending an anti-racism training class with a presbytery group of churches from Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. “We reviewed how the church historically has played a role in maintaining racism and supporting white supremacy throughout the country,” she said.
White realizes the subject of racism is not a popular topic and there may be pushback by discussing it, but she believes it is an important and timely issue to explore.
Locally, racism reared its ugly head in 2016 at a high school football game when Wilton students chanted “Build the Wall” at Danbury students, believed by many to be a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall along the southern U.S. border with Mexico.
Another chanting incident occurred recently at a basketball game on March 8, when Wilton students began chanting something that some took for “black face” but that students claimed was “leg days” at a New Britain player who was taking a shot from the free throw line. While it is unclear if this chanting was racial in nature, it was considered rude and school administrators apologized for the actions. There have also been a number of instances of swastikas being found in the schools.
“A rush to be defensive doesn’t allow us to have honest conversations with our children about our culture, which is having elevated conversations about race right now. We need to be talking with one another and begin conversations about it,” White said.
The Lenten Book Group meetings discussing White Fragility are being held Tuesdays from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on March 26, April 2 and April 9. The meetings are open to the public. Wilton Library has six copies of the book available in its book club section.
The Wilton Presbyterian Church is at 48 New Canaan Road. For more information, call 203-762-5514, or email shannon.white@wilton presbyterian.org. The church also has a Facebook page and website, wiltonpresbyterian.org.
pgay@wiltonbulletin.com