By Pamela Paresky, Sapir Journal—-
Imagine you’ve just been accepted to college. You open your welcome packet. It contains the bestseller all first-year students are expected to read: Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. You flip to a random page and read, “Only whites can be racist.” You flip to another page where you read that to deny being racist is itself evidence of “white fragility.” You wonder what you’re supposed to do in order to not have “white fragility.”
You dutifully read the book.
Your first day arrives. You decorate your room with pictures. Your favorite is the one of you and your extended family in Israel when you were little. Your cousins live in Tel Aviv and you love visiting them. You hang a hamsa above your desk. Your roommate seems nice.
The theme of orientation is “Campus Inclusion.” The first thing you learn about is “microaggressions.” The associate dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion explains that perpetrators of microaggressions are often unaware of the harm they’re causing. They can even have good intentions. But as the handout says, “almost all interracial encounters are prone to microaggressions.”
You were looking forward to meeting people from different backgrounds. You didn’t realize it would be so fraught — you don’t want to perpetrate anything. It never would have occurred to you that asking someone where he’s from could be a microaggression. Or that saying “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” is. Even saying “America is a melting pot” is on the list.
You cringe when you read that it’s a microaggression to say “there is only one race, the human race.” That’s something your grandmother always says. Her father, who survived several concentration camps, used to say that, too. They aren’t racist. But according to the list, it’s also a microaggression to deny being racist.
You wonder whether it’s a microaggression to deny being antisemitic. You look on the list for examples of microaggressions against Jews. There aren’t any.
In your second year, you attend a campus protest against systemic racism. You hear from the Asian American and Pacific Islander Student Union, the Latinx Student Union, the LGBTQIA+ Alliance, the Black Student Union, and the leaders of student government. All of them reiterate in various ways that any system with unequal outcomes is a “white supremacist” system. “We’re either racist or antiracist,” says Sandra, the president of the student government. She adds, quoting this year’s summer reading for all students, Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist: “The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.”
You’re against racism. Now saying you’re “not racist” is not only a microaggression and evidence of white fragility, but is itself racist? It makes your head spin. In any case, you know how evil white supremacy is. Your great-grandparents were unambiguous victims of it. Your grandmother was born in a displaced-persons camp, and most of her extended family were murdered by the Nazis.
“Denial is the heartbeat of racism,” Sandra says before closing, again quoting Kendi. She adds something about being a true “ally” and antiracist, accepting her own racism, “doing the work,” and standing in solidarity with all movements for liberation and self-determination.
In your third year, you take a class called “Privilege, Domination, and Oppression” to fulfill the college’s new diversity requirement. You learn that being white, heterosexual, cisgender, middle class, and able-bodied are all associated with privilege, oppression, and domination. Belonging to an opposing category means you have a “marginalized identity” and that you are, definitionally, oppressed. You’re all supposed to define your own “intersectionality” and, if you have “multiple marginalized identities,” understand that you experience “multiple forms of oppression.” Continue Reading….