This is a talk in the graduate seminar MTH 607: Building Inclusive, Equitable, Respectful and Welcoming Mathematical Communities.
In 2011 Robin DiAngelo identified “white fragility” as an emotional/psychological state for white people in which racial stress is intolerable. This racial stress arises when white folks are confronted by their own racial privilege or find themselves in situations that are not racially familiar. This state leads to a number of defensive maneuvers—including outward displays of emotion, argumentation, silence, and withdrawal—in order to restore racial equilibrium. This notion of fragility also makes sense across other forms of social difference—gender, sexuality, and religion. Fragility within dominant groups makes authentic conversations about difference incredibly difficult and often causes dominant groups to try to reinforce superiority through policies, procedures, and practices that maintain discrimination. Fragility can show up in the university in classrooms, faculty meetings, graduate committees, and hiring and promotion committees. Movement toward greater inclusion, equity, and justice then requires attentiveness to fragility and action toward dismantling it.