The Chicken and the Egg: Part 2, White Fragility

Let's talk about something uncontroversial, like white fragility!

I expect many readers will have a ton of reactions to the term "white fragility" given how that term, along with "woke," "critical race theory," and "antiracism," have become a part of the culture wars. But in keeping true to myself and this space, I could care less about the culture wars. And I think the vast majority of my readers follow me for just that reason. 

To start, for the few who haven't heard of the term, "white fragility" describes how white people can become upset and defensive when talking about issues of race and racial privilege. 

That white fragility exists I'm taking as a given. For three reasons: 1) I've seen it in myself, 2) I've seen it among my students when we talk about race in class, and 3) I've seen it in my church when the church has tried to talk about race. Trust me, ask any pastor of a majority white church how relaxed and open-hearted their congregation is when they have tried to bring up issues of racial justice. By and large, when it comes to race, white churches can be pretty defensive. This should not be news to anyone.

Which brings me to our first chicken and egg problem.

First, the chicken. To have a productive conversation about race certain virtues have to be in place, virtues like emotional self-control, empathy, perspective-taking  tolerance for conflict, and a capacity for moral self-criticism. A certain degree of maturity is required to have a productive conversation about difficult subjects such as race. 

Next, the egg. To create capacities and virtues for difficult conversations you need to have some difficult conversations. As I said in my last post, virtues require practice. 

So you see the problem: We need to have difficult conversation to acquire capacities for difficult conversations. But if we lack those capacities for difficult conversations we never have the difficult conversations. And so the capacities are never developed.

Again, just ask any pastor who has ever tried or wants to try to have a difficult conversation about race, or any controversial issue, with their church. The pastors want to have the conversation, but their people lack the virtues necessary to have the conversation. At least a productive conversation. And so, the conversation never happens. And the church never changes.

Chicken and egg.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply