Does Kindness Cure White Fragility?

Lately, I’ve been considering the term “white fragility.” I looked it up.  My understanding is that many white people are hypersensitive about being accused of being racist, even though we are by default.  We unconsciously use our outrage over being named racist as a method of bullying so that people of other-than-white races can’t express their real concerns around us.  I feel that.

I think about my next-door neighbors.  I live in a community that is 85% Hispanic.  I think my neighbors are from Mexico, but I’m afraid to ask.  I’m afraid of the look on Alejandro’s face, when he perceives that I may name him unwelcome or judge him because of his heritage.  This is my fragility.  Friendliness and curiosity stall because of an assumed, quite possibly unfounded prediction.

When I first discovered this tendency, I thought maybe I should just grow some fallopian tubes and ask him anyway.  “Just be curious, Bon,” I said.   “Be willing to bear the sting of his possible doubt regarding your intentions.”  But I continued to hesitate; until I came up with a better way….

My church teases me because just about every sermon ends with “do small acts of kindness.”  (Inspired by ServiceSpace).  To me, it’s an antidote for everything.  The complexities of my relationship with Alejandro and his family are dissolving through applied mutual goodwill.

I believe our differences are more about lifestyle than race.  Alejandro has a wife, a mother, and five children all living in the house.  Two of the children have trumpets.  The youngest kids are two-year-old twin boys and they bang on everything like it’s a drum.  I don’t think it’s racist to say that they enjoy a high level of what I might call “noise.”

Then there are the Mariachi parties.  The family has an extensive network of friends and relatives.  They come over frequently and enjoy loud music well into the night, often when I’m working at home.

Yet, I kind of love these folks.  Getting there was a process.

It began with wondering, “Is my discomfort just about the noise, or does it have to do with race?  Or is it culture?  Do certain cultures enjoy louder volumes than others?  Whose job is it to be the volume-police?  Who decides what is too much?  And by the way, where do my dogs barking at an owl at 2:00 am fit into the too-much-noise-scenario?”

So I sat with those questions; and gradually turned the Mariachi parties into Mariachi meditations.

This led to a sincere desire to connect through kindness.  I gave the family a gift, something that we no longer needed.  Alejandro gave me some dog products that were mistakenly delivered to his house.  When graduation time came, and his middle school daughter couldn’t have a “real” ceremony I left a stealth gift for her.  I also made them the whitest-Mexican-food-ever for her graduation-Mariachi-party.  It was embarrassingly awful, but they graciously accepted it and invited us to their party.  When we declined because of social distancing issues, they brought us tacos.

A couple of days later, the daughter came over again with a bag of avocados.  “My father works in the avocado orchards,” she said.  “We wanted you to have these.”

So that’s how it works.   I didn’t set out to cure racism.  I just found a way to be kind.  My neighbors leapt at the opportunity to reciprocate.

Kindness is powerful.  We learn about the perceived other in subtle, indirect ways.  This connects us.  As we learn, we start to appreciate.  I know this because now, every time I eat an avocado, I think of my friend Alejandro, who sacrifices so that we may enjoy the blessings of his labors.  This is priceless.  If it’s not a cure, at the very least it’s pure.

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11 Responses to Does Kindness Cure White Fragility?

  1. sjehler says:

    Beautiful! Thanks for sharing and setting an example. Your kindness always inspires me to be kind as well. Xoxo

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  2. Suebob says:

    These are good questions, and well worth asking. Some people say to read the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, while others say a book by a black woman would be more appropriate. Personally, my favorite primer is Ijeoma Oluo’s “So You Want to Talk About Race.”

    I think I see white fragility as the thing white people do when they dip their toes into a racial situation, don’t get the answer or treatment they want, then react out of proportion. Here’s an example from my life: I was in an online discussion group. We were talking about Michelle Obama and I commented that I would love to see her with natural (non-straightened) hair. Several black women jumped on me in a way I felt was really unkind, basically telling me to shut up. I was so offended that I considered leaving all together. It took some long hours of thinking to uncover a bigger story: black women’s hair has been used against them. They are told their chosen hairstyles aren’t professional enough, they’re described negatively, their hair is touched against their will, or sometimes even forcibly cut. When I mentioned Michelle’s hair as a white woman, I was stepping into a minefield with giant boots on, and I had no business being there. If I hadn’t bothered to investigate further, I would probably be telling this story from a different perspective.

    What I have come to is this: I have to want justice and equality more than I have to want to feel good. When someone hurts my feelings in a conversation about race, it is time for me to listen, not react. I think this is a kindness.

    One of the best compilations of examples of white fragility is on Luvvie Ajayi Jones’s blog post https://www.awesomelyluvvie.com/2018/04/weaponizing-white-women-tears.html where her readers post their experiences. It was really enlightening for me and made me think of situations I had been in where I had seen this behavior.

    Let’s keep talking and thinking deeply, and growing in love in ways that may not always be comfortable, but which are entirely necessary.

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    • Bonnie says:

      Love this Sue: I have to want justice and equality more than I have to want to feel good. When someone hurts my feelings in a conversation about race, it is time for me to listen, not react. I think this is a kindness. I’ll check out the references too. Love, Bonnie

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  3. Karen says:

    Kindness doesn’t cost a thing. Kindness fills our hearts with a warm fuzzy feeling. If you are experiencing a person with a warm heart the heart leads to acceptance which leads to respect and then here we are together. What a wonderful feeling good neighbor.

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  4. Nancy Cathey says:

    Yes, in almost every instance kindness cures open wounds.
    But, being comfortable in the reality that we are all brothers and sisters and children of the same God makes a huge difference too. Relax and just be with them in life walking the same earth we share.
    What difference does it make where anyone came from?
    That’s the first thing white people ask anyone. “Where are you from?”

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    • Bonnie says:

      Thanks Nancy! I ask “where are you from,” because I’m interested in other cultures and languages. I’ve also made the mistake of assuming that someone is from Mexico when they are not. I think we’re all learning to find our way with kindness and courage. Love, Bonnie

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  5. Doreen says:

    Yes! And thank you.

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  6. Oh Bonnie, Great story, greater insights gleaned from that story. I recently gave a bunch of really nice clothes to my bi-racial grandson, Eric, from my great grandson Logan (they are about the same size) Well when i asked how he liked the clothes, the response was, “What do you think? All black dudes love to their stylin clothes.” This was said by his aunt, who is Mexican! So I just didn’t say anything but was thinking wow, that is racist. So is it racist if his Mexican auntie says it as compared to if I had said it? Anyway, getting along with the neighbors and walking that fine line with racism can be really tricky. Believe me, I have experience white neighbors who were louder than loud, had parties into the wee hours and were horrible. They would just as soon thrown an avocado at me than given one to me to enjoy! Bonnie, your heart is so full of loving respect and kindness that it provides the bridge that allows you to cross over the top of the negative waters below. Love you and keep sharing.

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