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Robin DiAngelo: Think Impact, Not Intention — Transcript

Read the transcript of Caitlin's interview with the author of White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo.
by Carrie M. King | Mar 1 2019

Caitlin: Welcome to Simplify. I’m Caitlin Schiller.

Ben Schuman-Stoler: And I’m Ben Schuman-Stoler.

Caitlin: Hey Ben. How you doin’?

Ben: Pretty good.

Caitlin: Yeah?

Ben: Yeah. What we got today?

Caitlin: Today, we have a woman named Robin DiAngelo. She is a racial justice educator.

Ben: So, why did you want to have her on the show?

Caitlin: I heard about her book, which is called White Fragility, on another podcast—Call Your Girlfriend—and I found her tone really refreshing. She was talking about her work as a racial justice educator, and how incredibly uncomfortable white people get when they’ve been told they’ve hurt someone—sometimes defensive, sometimes weepy, sometimes they just lock up and want to hide from the problem. It’s hard to know what to do differently, I think. But DiAngelo is very, very clear and laser-focused on the fact that there are ways to do better, and she’s got some clear ways to start to change our mindset towards listening more and repairing.

I guess the other reason I wanted to talk to her is that I’m also very aware that we, as white people, — hi, by the way, Ben and I are white people if you didn’t know — should not be looking to our friends and loved ones of color to help us resolve our own fragility around questions of race, so I thought that Robin DiAngelo would be a great person to speak with for some guidance.

Ben: You also can’t expect it just to happen. Sometimes you have to go find some information and find some help and find some things to work on.

Caitlin: Yeah. You know, and, educate yourself.

Ben: So you two talked about that in the interview. I loved how many specific tools she has. So what’s one thing you want people to know. One thing you remember from the interview?

Caitlin: Being white has meaning. Being white has meaning just like being a woman has meaning, or like being an immigrant has meaning, or being Jewish has meaning. Racial identity has meaning that others read off of you, and as white people, we happen to have a racial identity that is so pervasively powerful that, a lot of times, we’ve never had to build the capacity to bear the discomfort of having our position, our identity, or our worldview challenged. We have the privilege of forgetting our race exists—and being free to forget is, I think, probably one of the greatest luxuries there is. We need to remember—especially when it’s uncomfortable

Ben: Okay so, let’s play the interview, and people can keep an ear out for that.

Caitlin: Yeah, and don’t feel like this is going to be a terribly, terribly, heavy, scary interview to listen to. I don’t know why I feel the need to preface that. Maybe I’m pandering to white discomfort here, too. But I think this is a really important listen, and DiAngelo has some really useful, important things to say.

Ben: So let’s get into it and then we can talk about books at the end.

Caitlin: Boom. Let’s do it.

Caitlin Interviews Robin DiAngelo

Caitlin: Hi Robin! Thanks so much for joining me today.

Robin: Hi Caitlin! I’m happy to be here.

Caitlin: Could you introduce yourself the way you like to be introduced?

Robin: Yeah, I am affiliate faculty at the University of Washington and currently write and speak on issues of racial justice with a particular focus on white racial identity.

Caitlin: And today we are going to talk about your book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. To start us off, could you talk a little about what the term ‘white fragility’ actually means?

Robin: Yeah, when I first coined that term, it was meant to capture two key dynamics that are very, very common when white people are asked to engage with the topic of racism. And the fragility part is meant to capture how easy it is, how little it takes to upset us. So for many white people the mere suggestion that being white has meaning will set us off into great umbrage and defensiveness much less that you could know anything about me just because I’m white.

So, our sensibilities are fairly fragile, but the impact of our responses is not fragile at all. In fact, it’s a very powerful means, I would argue, of everyday white racial control. Because it kind of lashes back to repeal that challenge and maintain the racial status quo.

Caitlin: So then, what are some things that white fragility looks like in action?

Robin: It looks like incredible umbrage at the suggestion that being white has meaning: “How dare you”, you know, “suggest you could know anything about me just because I’m white?” And that is because the ideology of individualism is incredibly precious in Western contexts, right? And of course that’s really only granted to white people. But, you know, I moved through the world, a world in which I am pretty relentlessly reflected, and affirmed, and validated, and responded to as if I am unique and different from other people. There’s almost like a social breach that you would suggest that any group membership I’m a part of has meaning.

And yet we understand this around gender. I think we’re really clear that to be identified as male versus female upon birth profoundly shapes the trajectory of your life. That from there forth, you’re going to be receiving some pretty consistent messages. Your response to those may be somewhat individualized, but you cannot avoid receiving those collective messages.

And it’s the same for race. You know, the fact that I’m white allows us to literally predict whether my mother and I were going to survive my birth. And it also allows us to predict how long I’m going to live. Being white has profound meaning in a society that is profoundly separate and unequal by race. And yes, I am an individual. I’m also a white individual. And we need to be willing to grapple with the collective socialization and messages that we get as a result of being white. And yet to suggest that will cause a lot of umbrage.

Other things that set off white fragility would be absolutely to suggest that I have just said or done anything racially problematic. And that leads to another very precious ideology, which is this idea that racists are individuals—always an individual, never a system—who consciously do not like people based on race, must be conscious, and who intentionally seek to be mean to them or to hurt them. Individual conscious malintent — that is the mainstream definition of a racist. And so if you suggest that I have just said or done something, that is hurtful racially. What I’m going to hear as you just said I was a deliberately mean person, who did that on purpose, and now I’m going to need to defend my moral character.

You know that mainstream definition of a racist. I don’t know that you could have come up with a better way to protect the system of racism to make it virtually impossible to talk to the average white person about the inevitable absorption of a racist worldview that we get by living in a culture in which it is the bedrock, right? I think that definition is the root of virtually all white defensiveness. And even people who are feeling defensive right now listening to me, would probably recognize there’s a lot of defensiveness on this topic, and I think it most often comes down to that definition. If we cannot let go of that idea of what it means to participate and benefit from a racist system, we’re never going to be able to challenge it.

Caitlin: Right. It seems to me that so much of the problem is this good-bad binary, because it means there’s a moral judgment on me as a human being for having been racist. And maybe there is, but it’s so much more of a system than anything else.

Robin: Yeah, I mean, I think if you see it as well, it’s fairly inevitable that you would have absorbed racial biases. We live in societies that are very separate around race, and that causes us to have to rely on some pretty narrow and repetitive representations, right? So, when you realize, OK, I would never have wanted to hurt you or offend you across race, and yet it was kind of inevitable that I would have a blind spot or make a problematic assumption, it can change our response to that feedback.

I can focus on my impact and let go of my intent. Right now, most white people believe that if our intentions are good, then the impact of our behavior should not count. And I’m sure you’ve seen that kind of defensive response, too. You know, insistence that “I did not mean to do that, so therefore, you know, get over it.” As opposed to what would be much more constructive in terms of repairing the breach: “I did not mean to do that, and I would never have wanted to do that, but I see that I have indeed done that, and for that I apologize”, you know, “where can we go from here?”

So, you’re in the German context, and another move — I call these “moves,” right — that white people use, conscious or not, to get racism off the table is: “Well, she’s talking about the U.S. context, and she doesn’t know what it’s like here.” And my challenge to that is, well, a couple: one: I get emails from people of color all over the world asking me, “Please help me with these white folks.” Their experience of white fragility is consistent, regardless of the cultural context. And what I would offer is for people who are in a different context than the U.S. is, “OK, it’s not exactly… We don’t have the same history, but what does it look like here?” So, rather than use that to exempt ourselves, which, of course, is a classic move to protect, you know, the racial status quo, just say, “You know, it’s on me to put in the effort to translate that into this context, but not to deny that it occurs in this context, just because she can’t speak to every nuance in every country.”

Caitlin: A thing that I noticed in your book is that there are so many terms about racism and racist speech, but we often conflate them. Prejudice is not the same thing as discrimination. And discrimination is not the same thing as racism. How are prejudice and discrimination related?

Robin: Well, prejudice is thoughts, feelings, attitudes, biases — both conscious and unconscious — so, kind of, what’s in your head, how you’re perceiving. And in fact, most bias is unconscious, and when we act on that bias, we’re now discriminating, so externalized. Internal-external. All human beings, you know, have socially learned prejudgments about other social groups as defined in their given culture. It’s kind of a human dynamic. When you back one group’s collective prejudice with legal authority and institutional control, it is transformed into a far-reaching system. It’s no longer dependent on individual intentions, self-image, friendliness. It just becomes the default of the society.

So, the example I often use in the U.S. context — and I imagine there’s a German version — is that women were granted suffrage or the right to vote, here, in 1920. And prior to suffrage, you know, women could be mean to individual men on individual interactions. They could be prejudiced and discriminate against men, but women as a group couldn’t literally deny every man in the society their civil rights. Men could and did deny every single woman in the society, their civil rights. That’s a pretty profound difference, right? When you back one group’s prejudice with legal authority and institutional control.

And so it is very important that we are very specific about the language we’re using and how we’re using it. Because when we use all those terms interchangeably, we take power off the table.

Caitlin: And related to that: what actually is white supremacy? Because, in reading your book, it became really evident that white supremacy isn’t JUST about white, hooded robes and all that very violent, very visible activity. It’s something more insidious and systemic than that. Could you maybe talk a little bit more about the less visible things that white supremacy means?

Robin: Sure, I mean it certainly includes extremists, what many might think of as neo-nazis. And traditionally, that’s how it’s been used in the popular vernacular, right? Most people use that to refer to those people.

It is also a highly descriptive sociological term for the culture we’re in, the water we’re all swimming in. Water that positions white people as the norm for humanity, the ideal human, the ideal beauty, the ideal image. God himself is white. And subtext is everyone else is a deviation from that ideal and, you know, a defective deviation. So again, it’s a highly descriptive term for the culture we’re in. And while it originated from the U.S. context, it’s certainly been disseminated globally, and circulates globally.

Caitlin: And—I feel like these terms are always sort of related when we read news stories—is there actually such a thing as “reverse racism”?

Robin: No. Keep in mind everybody has prejudice and everybody discriminates. So what I might say about, let’s say African-Americans, I may say, “Yep. They’re just as biased as we are. They’re just as racially biased as we are, and a black person can have automatic bias against me just because I’m white, without knowing me.” And I do like to add that it would probably actually be wise for them to assume that, unless, until I showed them differently.

But the impact of my bias is so profoundly different. Again we go back to African-Americans are not and have never been in the position to enforce that bias in ways that limit my life, right? And across the trajectory of history white people are in the position to enforce that bias in ways that limit the lives of black people, right?

So, all people have bias, when you back one group with power, it’s transformed into a system. And so I reserve the word “racism” to describe my bias and the impact of what it means that my group is at the table, literally every table in which decisions are made that will affect the lives of black people. It’s overwhelmingly my people, my group, that’s at that table. And conscious or not, our biases are going to get embedded in the policies and practices. And we see that in the school-to-prison pipeline, in mass incarceration, in subprime mortgages, in voter suppression.

I could go on, and on, and on about what white people collectively have been able to perpetrate, again conscious or not. I mean just by virtue of homogeneity you are going to exclude. If no one at the table has a physical disability, when we design a building, we’re not going to design it in a way that can be accommodating. We’re going to design it in a way that benefits the way our bodies move, right? Those people at the table. So, you know, sometimes it’s intentional, but most of the time it’s just a function of segregation.

I also want to say something about the term white supremacy. I actually wrote a piece called No, I Won’t Stop Saying White Supremacy. I would say to any white person who takes umbrage at the term, it’s on you to evolve and get up-to-date. It’s not on those of us, who are using that term, to change the language for your delicate sensibilities. I’m just going to be direct there. Clearly, if I say that I collude with white supremacy and you know my work, you know I’m not saying I am an avowed, conscious intentional white supremacist neo-nazi. So that should indicate that I mean something different than what you might mean by it, and so educate yourself and get up-to-date. But it is being used more and more by people who are advocating for racial justice because it moves away from the, kind of, individual, are you racist or are you not, and it puts the kind of pressure, if you will, it puts the spotlight on the white piece of that. And one of the ways that whiteness stays so centered is by being unmarked and unnamed. So it works to expose, you know, really who’s benefiting from these systems.

Caitlin: So, in your work as a racial justice educator what are some of the typical responses from white people that you’ve heard?

Robin: Probably the very first thing that happens, and it happens immediately as soon as people gather into a room to have some, kind of, you know, professional development or education on race, and if I’m in the workplace, almost always the room will be overwhelmingly white, and so the first thing that happens is great carefulness. No, don’t take any risks. Don’t show yourself, which, of course, only protects whatever blind spots you’re afraid you might have, and you’re not going to find out you have them. So, it’s hard to get white people to the table in an authentic way.

But the next thing that happens is at every opportunity white people focus on what they perceive to be evidence of their lack of racism. So, they will make sure that if they grew up in an overwhelmingly white neighborhood, as most white people do, they’ll be sure to let you know if there were any people of color in the neighborhood and how close that family was to their family. If in their entire life they maybe had one or two teachers, or professors. of color, they’ll make sure that everybody knows that they had one, and that that was their favorite teacher or professor.

And that pattern is actually quite revealing to what we think racism is, right? And apparently, I mean, I think a lot of white people have never thought critically. You know, if this is my evidence that I’m not racist, right, that I have friends, or I know people, or live in large urban cities, or I was in the peace corps, in order for that to be good evidence, a racist must not be able to do that. So, apparently a racist can’t work with people of color, near people of color, live in large cities. You know, and if you really start unpacking that it’s pretty ridiculous, right? It’s pretty thin evidence. And it rests on this idea that a racist apparently can’t tolerate even the sight of a person of color, right?

And now we’re back to individual, conscious, you know, intent. And that evidence that white people give is not remotely convincing to people of color, right? When they hear us say things like, “Oh I was taught to treat everyone the same.” They’re usually not thinking, “Alright, I am talking to a woke white person right now.” They are rolling their eyes. You know, a white person who insists that they were taught to treat everyone the same, one, doesn’t understand basic socialization; two, doesn’t understand culture; and three, is just simply not self-aware. None of us were and none of us could be taught to treat everyone the same. So, that’s a very common pattern in my sessions is, the rush to provide evidence which unbeknownst to the person trying to provide it is not remotely convincing.

Caitlin: So, you gave some examples about how a white person who is trying to defend themselves against any sort of accusations of being racist is likely to say things like “But I had a black teacher and the black teacher was my favorite!” What are some other behaviors that you noticed? Examples of what this might look like in a racial justice workshop might be really interesting and helpful if you’re willing to share.

Robin: Sure, well. As long as the conversation is abstract, most white people are fine, and moving along, and nodding their heads. You know, I mean my presentation has been vetted over close to twenty years. So, you know, it’s scaffolded, it’s effective, right? My goal in those presentations is to get white people out of denial, you know, that they have been impacted by this system, right? So it’s all going fine, until you actually identify something racially problematic that was said or done in the room itself. And I always think that’s kind of ironic, right? We’re here to understand how racism works, but don’t you dare point out how my racism works, right?

You know, I think for a white progressive our worst fear is that we would inadvertently say or do something racist, right? That’s a sincere, “I would never want to accidentally say or do something racist, but don’t you dare tell me I just said or did something racist.” So it’s a pretty tight little spot there for trying to move move people forward, right? If I’m afraid to say the following because it might be racist and I don’t know it, so I’m not going to say it, how will I ever find out? I mean, I’m going to end up protecting it. So, that’s a really common pattern of the way that it looks.

I know I share several examples of how a room just breaks down the moment you try to identify something going on in that room. And it usually breaks down into two camps: those who think you mistreated the white person by pointing out what was racially problematic, and those who don’t think you mistreated them. And then the entire session becomes “Did you or didn’t you just mistreat this person?” And the original offence, if you will, is long-lost, the impact that it had on a person of color is long forgotten, the white person becomes the victim, and whoever gave that feedback is now the aggressor. It’s a kind of a brilliant way to turn it around on its head.

Caitlin: Yeah, recentering of the original offender. And it’s tricky because people feel like they have a right to defend themselves.

Robin: Well, even that term though “defend,” right? It suggests that there’s some kind of bad thing happening to you, or unfair, or a false accusation. I mean, do you want to defend yourself against some problematic assumptions you’re making that you don’t know you’re making, or do you want to find out what those are so that you can stop making them?

Caitlin: So then, instead of getting offended over how a racist behavior that I might have exhibited is being brought to my attention, what is an orientation I can have, what are some things that I can do to act better? Or how can we act better as white people when these things happen?

Robin: I just really believe that we can’t act better from the current paradigm, right? So, as long as we’re holding that paradigm of individual conscious intent, we’re probably not going to have constructive conversations. So, you have to transform what you understand it means to be racist. What is racism and what does it mean to be racist, right? What does it mean to have been socialized. So that in fact I’m excited that you helped me see a piece of my worldview that was problematic and I didn’t know was problematic, right?

So instead of getting defensive, I’m actually grateful, I recognized it was a risk. Because, you know, the reason even white people don’t break with white solidarity with other white people is because, you know, we’re going to get lashed back at: “Lighten up, it was just a joke. You see it everywhere. You’re ruining the party,” right? So, you actually realize that it takes a risk on the other side too to give you that feedback. And so, you value it, and you’re grateful for it, and you use it to move on. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, it’s embarrassing. But I don’t know if I’ve ever grown from a place of complacency. Where is our learning edge? Usually when we experience discomfort, when we’re unsettled in something that we were taking for granted.

Caitlin: What’s really amazing to me is this unwillingness to see racism as a system, rather than a conscious malevolent intent. Because being able to see it as a system takes some of the pressure off a person so that they CAN learn, so that they CAN feel like maybe they don’t have all of the fault fully on their shoulders. I mean, they might, but seeing it as a system is kind of exhilarating in that you can look at it with the person next to you telling you that something you did was not okay and work on addressing that system and the behaviors that arose together. It’s just amazing that this isn’t more of an exciting prospect than a threatening one.

Robin: Right, exactly right. I mean this is the most transformative and liberating, and stimulating on every level, you know, journey I’ve ever engaged on. And you know, once you start from the premise that of course you have these patterns, you can stop trying to defend and deflect about them, and you can get to work aligning what you profess to believe with how you’re actually behaving in the world.

Now, I draw from gender a lot. It’s been a place where I’ve been able to get insight. I’m really clear that, you know, all people who are born and assigned male gender understand pretty immediately it’s better to be a boy than a girl. No boy misses that message. And how do you train boys into performing masculinity? “Don’t be a girl.” And I won’t say the words, “don’t be this, don’t be that” — they’re all very bad words for gay people or female, right? So you know, you can’t miss it. We live in patriarchy. We live in an androcentric male-dominated society, right? And so I just wish that rather than get defensive about it, men would say, “Yeah, so how has my internalization of that message? How was it manifesting in my relationships with women, right? And I wish white people would say, there’s no way you missed the message. The research shows that by age three to four, all children who grow up here understand it’s better to be white. They do not miss the message and it’s not isolated or singular, it’s relentless, it’s better to be white.

I have been getting that message since I opened my eyes. And so it just changed the question from “if I’m racist” to “how has the internalization of that message shaped my life, and how is it coming out in my relationships, or lack thereof? Why am I so comfortable in a segregated life? What does it mean when we label white space as good, as superior to other kinds of space? What makes a school good? What makes a neighborhood good? You know, what makes it good: whiteness. That’s powerful. And every moment that we communicate that to one another, we’re being reinforced.

So yeah, I bring that to the table with me. It behooves me to figure out and so how is it coming out. And oftentimes it comes out by not wanting to get racism on the table, right? Let’s not look at our policies and why we keep getting racially unequal outcomes.

I would also offer that it benefits us not to look at this. I mean, it’s not just that “Gosh, we couldn’t help it.” I mean, I think we, you know, I have internalized superiority. How would I not? I think under there is also a lot of contempt. I don’t know in the German context, I can tell you in the U.S. context, anti-blackness is deep and profound in this culture. And in the white mind, black people are the ultimate racial other. We have a lot of energy about black people, and you know barely concealed resentment. Carol Anderson has a national award-winning book called White Rage, in which she argues that every inch of black advancement has been met with a backlash of white rage. And I don’t know how anyone could deny that we are in that moment now.

Caitlin: Oh, absolutely. I look at the U.S. from afar now and it boggles the mind.

Robin: And I have had the opportunity to hear some German scholars of color, you know, talk about how racism manifests in Germany. So, you know, this is another pattern whenever I have a European, white participant, in my trainings, they will deny that racism is, you know, at play in their context. I actually write about a German woman in my book who insisted, you know, there’s no racism in Germany. And I would counter that, and I think the people of color that live in Germany would counter that.

Just had to get that out there because, you know, I can tell you that when you ask what are the kind of common responses, that’s going to be a really strong one to any white German listening to this station is going to want to say that it’s different there. I’ve had so many conversations with white Germans who want to tell me that there’s no racism in Germany, which I think is kind of unbelievable. But I also know that a lot of white Americans and white Canadians would travel the world and say that there’s no racism in these countries too, right? So I take it with a grain of salt, you know, the whole colorblind thing.

Caitlin: I think that Germans say we’re not racist here, because they also associate racism with being bad, and they don’t want to be bad.

Robin: Right, you know and it’s not benign. This is part of why I like to push on progressives, right? So the average white person – and I would say in the German context and the U.S. context cannot answer the question “what does it mean to be white,” right? With any depth whatsoever. You know, generally, the answer would be “it doesn’t mean anything,” right. Even in the context that is deeply separate and unequal by race, white people will claim that the race has no meaning. But that is not benign that we can’t answer that question, right? We bring it to the table with us. And the people of color working in overwhelmingly white environments know that most of the white people they work with every day can’t answer that question. And if I cannot answer what it means to be white, I cannot hold what it means not to be white. I am not going to be able to to hold your experience, particularly if it fundamentally challenges my own, right? So, I’m going to kind of refuse your experience. And the people of color in these environments, I mean over and over and over share with me that they turn themselves in knots every day not to racially upset their white co-workers, not to bring up race or share their experiences because their white co-workers can’t handle it.

So, I just really want to be really clear that that lack of criticality is not innocence, and it certainly isn’t benign, right? It’s another form, if you will, of white fragility, right? It makes us really fragile. And people of color know we’re fragile and they’re stepping all delicately around us lest we lash out at them, if they challenge us. And so they they take all that home with them, they endure incredible amounts of indignities and slights, subtle from the white point of view, but certainly not to them, and they take it home. And I think it has something to do with the difference in how long people live.

Caitlin: What is your definition of whiteness?

Robin: I think about it as all of the aspects that go into elevating people who are perceived and defined as white. So whiteness is kind of not naming or acknowledging what it means to be white. It’s the representation, the validation, the assumption of a white position. The putting forth of a white world view as an objective just human world view, right? It’s never really tagging white people by their race, but always tagging people of color by their race, right? All of those kind of dimensions and dynamics that go into positioning white as superior.

Caitlin: Robin, if there was one idea that you could leave people with about white fragility, what would it be?

Robin: One idea would be change the question from “if you’re racist,” right? “Am I or am I not?” And if you post that question, most white people will say, “I’m not.” Change it from “if” to “how.” How is all of this manifesting in my life and in my relationships or lack of them, right? If you’re wondering is it me, you know, when I say people of color and overwhelmingly white environments, you know, go home having endured many indignities, and you’re wondering how is it me? Yes, it’s you. Any white person listening to this show just assume it’s you. And then get to work trying to figure out how it’s you.

I will never forget asking this room, it was a very multiracial room, and I asked the people of color, “How often have you given white people feedback on our inevitable and often unaware racist patterns and assumptions, and had that go well for you?” And they just laugh, right? “Like, never. Rarely.” And then I asked what would it be like, if you could just tell us, you know, when we step in it, and have us receive that feedback with grace, reflect on the behavior and seek to change it, what would that be like? I’ll never forget this man of color raising his hand and saying, “it would be revolutionary.” And I’m just like damn, revolutionary. That we would receive the feedback with grace, reflect, and seek to change our behavior. That’s how difficult we are, that that is a revolution. But it’s also how easy it is. Wow, that’s a revolution? Okay, I can do that, but I can only do that if I change what I understand It means to get that feedback.

Caitlin: Great. And there’s one last thing that I like to ask every guest on Simplify. What have you read lately — especially in your field, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be in your field— that you’ve really enjoyed and would really recommend?

Robin: Ibram Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning, So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo, How to Be Less Stupid About Race by Crystal Fleming. And there’s one over on my coffee table, I can’t recall the author but: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge.

Caitlin: Robin DiAngelo, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. I really appreciate it.

Robin: You are most welcome. And I sincerely hope it makes a difference.

Caitlin: Thank you so much!

The Bookend

Ben: Welcome to The Bookend, where we end with books!

Caitlin: Wow! That was an excited one! I don’t know that I’ve ever heard you that joyous about books. You got some good recs this time?

Ben: I have a good rec.

Caitlin: Okay, good.

Ben: But before we get into the recs to sorta wrap up the interview, I think there’s a couple things that stuck out in my mind.

Caitlin: What are they? Tell me about them.

Ben: You mentioned this meaning thing. I guess, to me, what’s really helped open my eyes to a lot of these issues is…Like, I find it a little bit too vague to say it has meaning, but when I look at it the way that we think about gender, and her example in the interview of when you’re born and it is decided that you’re male or female, it’s not that it has meaning, but it really does change everything. I guess that is what meaning means. To me then, like, it’s then immediately you get the blue socks from Oma, right? And I guess that’s what maybe sticks out to me about this. It’s just a little bit of broader perspective. A little bit of understanding.

Caitlin: Another thing that I really loved about this interview is that we got to explicitly talk about racism as a system rather than a question of morality. Of course, I think it’s kind of immoral to be a racist and to oppress people based upon race, but when you think about racism as a system into which we’ve all been born it gives you the ability to step outside of it and think about the system itself and not what you did right or wrong necessarily—that’s also important—but rather how the system has impacted the way that you made the choices that you did and how you can make different choices next time.

Ben: Right. And that, therefore, you have a little control

Caitlin: You have a little bit of control and you don’t need to feel as defensive about it because—I think that the thing that keeps you, in any uncomfortable situation, whether it’s an argument with your partner or you know, your sister, what makes you uncomfortable is feeling like you did something right or wrong and someone is judging you. And if you can find a reframe for it to be able to remove judgment for a second and look at what the facts are, and take the importance away from what your intention was and look at what the actual impact was, that’s really, really important. And I love that message of DiAngelo’s: look at look at the impact, not the intention.

Ben: The impact, not the intention. That’s cool. So should we go into the books?

Caitlin: We should. Let’s do it.

Caitlin: The first one that I want to recommend is called Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X Kendi. My friend, Alex Manevitz—Hey, Alex!—who’s a professor of American Studies at my alma mater, Trinity College, recommended this book to me when I was back in the States for the holidays a couple years ago, and he had so many great things to say about it that I bought it for my Kindle immediately. And it’s been there for a while, but I went back to it just last night and started of reading it again.

So it’s written by a historian and he goes through and just chronicles the entire story of anti-black racist ideas and their power over the course of history. And so by helping us understand the history, Stamped From The Beginning gives us a greater ability to identify racist thinking so that interrogating it becomes second nature rather than awkward and uncomfortable.

Actually, if I’m not wrong, Ibram X. Kendi also speaks on this other really amazing podcast series called Seeing White, and it’s on Scene on Radio, which is a great podcast that I really recommend. It’s like audio documentaries.

Ben: Cool Okay, so mine?

Caitlin: Yes. Do yours.

Ben: Do you remember this book that came out, I think a couple years ago, by Ta-Nehisi Coates? Between the World and Me?

Caitlin: Hmm. I’ve actually still never read that book. But yeah.

Ben: So it’s a book that’s written as a letter to his teenage son. They’re both black—him and his son—and he writes about, this is what it means to be black in America and to grow up, and he also believes that racism is a system. And it’s something that we sort of have to learn how to deal with in our lives.

For me, it’s also just been a very powerful book to go back to I mean, I have a son. I have a two year-old son. And this is about when you start teaching them “Here’s how you cross the street. Here’s how you do this or that,” and when you think about privilege or my background or who I was born as or the color my skin, I wonder, you know, if my kid was black how different would his life be? Would I have to start teaching him already, “This is what a police officer looks like. This is how you act.” It’s like a quite a scary thought, and this book brings up a lot of those issues, I think quite quickly to home, so, Between The World and Me. Great book, highly recommended.

Caitlin: Awesome. I will definitely put that on my list now. Okay. So the last recommendation that I’ll make, because so much of this this talk with Robin DiAngelo is about communicating and listening, is the classic—I think I’ve recommended it on this podcast at least once before, because it’s a big fan here at Blinkist. It’s a big fan! Um, I mean we’re big fans here at Blinkist. It’s Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. It offers strategies for more nourishing, fruitful conversations and the major lesson for me here, which is a thing that DiAngelo also talks about, is to zoom out and be an observer, taking on responsibility for your feelings about a situation to a greater degree rather than saying, like, “Ben, you make me so mad when you X.” It would be like, “I feel like this when you X, right?” So, yes. Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. It’s great for communication strategies.

Ben: Yeah. I mean honestly, probably every single listener of Simplify would enjoy it.

Caitlin: Yeah, I think that’s probably true. It’s just really useful. Yeah: have better fights.

Ben: Argue better.

Caitlin: Argue better, have more nourishing conversations, and learn how to listen better. I think it really does that well, too. And listen to the other person and listen to yourself, and what you’re really saying—what impact, and how what you’re saying might have an impact on the other person?

Ben: Yeah.

Caitlin: There we go. Okay, that was very difficult for me to get out.

Ben: Cool.

Caitlin: This episode of Simplify was produced by me, Caitlin Schiller, Benjamin Schuman-Stoler. Hey Ben!

Ben: Hello.

Caitlin: Nat Darozhkina, and Ben Jackson, what do you know about Ben Jackson lately?

Ben: But you had—you’ve spoken with him this morning, right?

Caitlin: I did. And he was telling me that he wanted me and everyone listening to know that Bluetooth is a form of modern witchcraft. So be careful draw your pentagram when you use your Bluetooth headphones.

Ben: Give us a rating. Give us a shout out. Also, I mean we feel like there’s a really important issue. It’s something that we wanted to bring to to the Simplify audience and let us know what you thought about it. If you wanna hear more like this, I mean, this is a topic that we feel we need to talk about no matter what but if you have other authors of or anyone else who you think has a cool perspective on racial justice, racial injustice, I’d love to hear about it.

Caitlin: And you know, I also wanted to note that racism is very complex and to say that you can Simplify it would be doing an injustice—a racial injustice—but you can simplify your thinking about it a little bit to a degree that will help you be better in the world. And that’s what we tried to do with this episode.

Ben: Yeah. Good point. Tough one. I’m on Twitter @bsto, and Caitlin’s also on Twitter.

Caitlin: I am @caitlinschiller, and email us at [email protected] that come if you’ve anything? I dare ya.

All right. Let’s get out of here. Bye! Checking out!

Caitlin: Bye! Checking out.

Read the show notes for this episode here!

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