Exploring “White Fragility” and Why Diversity in the Arts is Essential

Last week, the podcast, “CI to Eye” focused on the issue of race and its impact on arts and culture with a candid and provocative interview featuring sociologist and author Robin Diangelo, Ph.D. Erik Gensler, president of the digital arts marketing consulting firm Capacity Interactive, discussed white fragility with Dr. Diangelo and why diversity is essential among those who control the arts and entertainment we consume.

Dr. Diangelo is author of the book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for People to Talk about Racism. In her book and during this interview, Dr. Diangelo, who is white, seeks to deconstruct the feelings and language surrounding the myths of “color-blindness” and “racial innocence.” She is committed to helping white people recognize and challenge their beliefs about race and confront their discomfort. Acknowledging that she, too, has to self-reflect and tackle her own racist views, Dr. Diangelo urges the listeners, especially the white ones, to take a step back and examine the implicit biases inherited from our environment and the overt and covert messages (especially through arts and entertainment) that reinforce and justify disparaging views of race and class.

There is a lot to be learned from Dr. Diangelo’s honest and direct assertions about white privilege; the cultural landscape it has created, as well as its impact not only on people of color, but on all people. This interview also is instructive—she offers ways to have discussions with white people who believe they aren’t racist—and reinforces how important it is to listen nondefensively to the experiences of people of color who have been adversely impacted by racism and discrimination.

I believe the conversations Dr. Diangelo proposes in this interview and in her work are needed and should be held on a global scale. As she shares in the interview, the impact of racism can’t be alleviated until people are willing to acknowledge that that they are both part of the problem as well as the catalyst for change.

I was deeply moved as I listened to this podcast and thank Erik for making sure I was aware of it. I appreciate his giving me permission to share this link with the readers of Arts & Culture Connections and I urge you to make the time to listen to it. I also hope it will inspire you to read Dr. Diangelo’s book (here’s the link to the reader’s guide). And I challenge you to learn more about your own implicit biases by taking the online test offered by Project Implicit.

As Erik candidly acknowledged during the interview based on his own experience, once you are aware of white privilege, you “can’t unsee it.” It is my hope that by proactively engaging in this type of critical thinking and essential self-assessment about biases and attitudes that are barriers to equity and inclusion, we can lay the foundation for a conscious awakening of and a concrete plan for what must change in order to give rise to a truly humanistic culture that respects, values and appreciates all people.