For the third year in a row David Bailey and I would like to challenge the people of Richmond to read a book together during February, and the book we have chosen is White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.
I (Jim) am the pastor of Richmond’s historic First Baptist Church, founded in 1780. I (David) am the founder of Arrabon, a non-profit devoted to the work of reconciliation.
You are probably asking the question, “Why should we read White Fragility, a book written by a white person for white people during Black History Month?”
Because of the subtitle: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism.
Both of us have found that it can be easier for white people to talk about the progress of black people during Black History Month, but often find it difficult to talk about racism. That’s what drew me (Jim) to the book in the first place. I had preached three sermons in a row that touched on the subject of racism when one of my parishioners said, “Dr. Somerville, I’ve been really hurt by what you said in those sermons. I’m not a racist!”
I know this man, and he’s right: he’s not a racist. But his response to the subject of racism is typical among white people: we take it personally. I explained that I wasn’t talking about individual racism; I was talking about systemic racism. I said, “You are one of the good guys! You are one of those people who can help to dismantle the structures of racism that exist in our society and make Richmond a better place!”
But not if we can’t talk about the problem.
Katy Waldman of The New Yorker writes: “In 2011, Robin DiAngelo coined the term ‘white fragility’ to describe the disbelieving defensiveness that white people exhibit when their ideas about race and racism are challenged— and particularly when they feel implicated in white supremacy. Why, she wondered, did her feedback prompt such resistance, as if the mention of racism were more offensive than the fact or practice of it? In White Fragility she argues that our largely segregated society is set up to insulate whites from racial discomfort, so that they fall to pieces at the first application of stress—such as, for instance, when someone suggests that ‘flesh-toned’ may not be an appropriate name for a beige crayon.”
You might ask the question, why would a person of color want to read White Fragility?
In my work (David), every week a person of color comes to me saying, “I’m exhausted… why don’t [white] people get it? I don’t understand.” Whenever I encourage a person of color to read White Fragility it is empowering to them because light is turned on in a way they can see clearly the depth of the problem.
“If your definition of a racist is someone who holds conscious dislike of people because of race,” DiAngelo writes, “then I agree that it is offensive for me to suggest that you are racist when I don’t know you,” she writes. “I also agree that if this is your definition of racism, and you are against racism, then you are not racist. Now breathe. I am not using this definition of racism, and I am not saying that you are immoral. If you can remain open as I lay out my argument, it should soon begin to make sense.”
We hope that every Richmonder will accept our challenge to read White Fragility during the month of February. We believe that if we can all remain open then Robin DiAngelo’s argument will “soon begin to make sense.” And if it makes sense, we should all be better able to talk about racism in ways that help and heal our beloved city.
White Fragility is available online and at bookstores everywhere. A limited number of free copies will be available at Richmond’s First Baptist Church (2709 Monument Avenue) beginning February 1. A panel discussion will be held at the church on Monday, March 2, at 7:00 pm. The event is free and open to the public.
—Jim Somerville & David M. Bailey
 Katy Waldman, The New Yorker, July 23, 2018.
 Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility, p. 13.