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How best to discuss white fragility
James Smith
19 Posts

How do you think we should discuss the topic of white privilege, without triggering white fragility when the majority of our institution’s members are older and white and may not be familiar with the topic?

5 Replies
whjohnson
537 Posts

What white privilege? Have you looked at the latest school attainment results broken down by ethnicity recently?

Why not just park the subject and leave it to the social justice warriors to play with instead.

Andy Millar
1633 Posts

A good start is to show people these two posts…if they get the irony that the second post exactly demonstrates the issue then you can start the discussion, if they don't then yes, it will be a challenge.

Wish I knew the answer (applies equally to male privilege, educational privilege, etc etc), we do have this very sensitive generation of white middle aged males who feel they are at risk of losing something, which is probably true. The fact that they will still probably end up as net winners (at least for the foreseeable future) is not the point: as an analogy, pretty much everyone will feel hurt and defensive if they have to have a pay cut, even if they are still being paid more than everyone else around them. And will create all sorts of reasons, which they will genuinely believe, to justify their higher pay. 

Ideally this discussion would start from a position of social justice, if one person is more competent than another, why should the other get the job just because (in the UK) they are a white male who went to the right school? However, as the original poster implies, this completely misses the problem that the perceived risk of loss of privilege can, and often does, lead to the complex collections of justifications as to why this is ok - “they just aren't somebody I can work with” “they don't understand the culture” “they wouldn't fit in” and the most irritating (to me) self fulfilling prophecy of “if they'd really wanted the job / were competent to do the job they could have got it”. 

It's really difficult. I have now sat in numerous UK IET volunteers conferences where this issue gets raised (in fact every one I can remember going to!), where the person raises it uses phrases along the lines of “look at the people in this room for example”, and of course you can feel the hackles and defences going up around the room, and as soon as most of the room is on the defensive because they perceive (italics again) that they are under attack then the discussion is not going to go anywhere. (And indeed it usually doesn't.) But it's also hugely important, and I think becoming more so. It feels to me that racism is on the rise in the UK (and in many parts of the world), and whilst we can't sort all the world's problems it would be good if we could at least start in our own profession. There's sometimes a debate as to whether (in this example) white middle aged males are in a position to comment on the issue - my view is that we're the one's who hear the locker-room gossip, and probably one of the of the best solutions is for us to say in that environment “that's not on to say that”, which comes back to the OP post as to how to say that effectively…there are SO many cases in my career where, looking back, I wish I'd stood up against nasty “banter” more effectively.

 

These days I don't normally respond to posts on these forums unless I think I've got a useful answer to propose, and in this case I definitely haven't. But in the end I decided to post this as it was such an important issue, in the hope that it might counteract the second post potentially (if unintentionally) cutting off the discussion and give a prompt to anyone who might have some ideas!

And yes, I am a white middle-aged (some might say past middle-aged) male…who thank goodness has found a niche where I can work with superb engineers of a wide variety of ages, shapes and colours! Took a long time to get to that position though, and as a consultant going into many different organisations I'm well aware that it's unusual…

Right, launching this into the eather to see what happens…

Cheers, Andy

James Smith
19 Posts
You make very good points Andy Millar‍ .  I guess we have to remember that fear is what drives a lot of White fragility.  It is a difficult topic to discuss because of that.
whjohnson
537 Posts

There is indeed a fear, a genuine fear, not of a threat to one's self status but of division. Begin to divide society up upon ethnic and gender lines and you will sew the seeds of discontent and resentment across the board. Why can these woke nutjobs not see that? Or is this exactly what these people seek to accomplish? There are far too many useful idiots lower down the food chain who cannot see how they are being manipulated by troublemakers - you only have to look at recent events on the M25 to see this.

James Smith
19 Posts

Unfortunately it is not naming the issue that causes the problem. Not mentioning a problem does not make it go away.
Saying that naming the discrimination that marginalised groups face is what is causing division is an example of White Fragility itself.
 

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