White Arrogance: A Follow Up to White Fragility

Updated on November 21, 2018

Overview

In 2011, the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy published an article by Robin DiAngelo that outlined the theory of white fragility. In summation, white fragility can be defined as “... a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.” (White Fragility, International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, Robin DiAngelo, 2011). While this article following up on that of White Fragility is not a rejection of it's overall theory and, indeed, is meant to lend much credence to it's validity, I do, however, find the theory of white fragility to be a somewhat oversimplified explanation for some of the behaviors that are typically exhibited by white people when confronted with certain race based stress. This article will attempt to delineate between white fragility and white arrogance as well as to offer an applicable intersectional contrast between the two theories.

The Historical Development

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once remarked, “Whites, it must be frankly said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of Ameri[k]a believe they have little to learn.” This quotation perfectly expresses the arrogance exemplified by most white people in Amerika when confronted about the systems of oppression that were constructed to benefit our ancestors as well as are currently maintained to benefit us either through tacit complicity or by the arrogance that has been engendered through centuries of white domination.
Even before this country's official inception, the race of white people who reside within the United States borders have been favored by it's racial caste system – created by the elites - that placed us above all others in the United States's socially functioning order. Although not all white people occupy the highest status in the hierarchy, collectively we do all comprise the upper statuses residing above all people of color. The foundations on which this country was built have been orientated to protect and procure the prosperity and freedom of wealthy white men. Initially, these foundations were built at the expense of everyone who was not a wealthy male, white or otherwise. However, because of the racial caste system that was created by these men with the purpose of ensuring that these foundations remained in their favor, some of the privileges that were concomitant circumstances of said foundations inevitably trickled down to other, less wealthy, and less male people who shared the white skin tone. These privileges helped to further solidify the sense of superiority that white people were conditioned to feel towards people of color. Thus, when you spend centuries comprising the upper echelons of any hierarchical order, there tends to be some mentalities that will inevitably become adopted by those who occupy the said status. These mentalities are rooted in the role that the status itself plays on the egos of those who occupy it. A sense of entitlement, authority, defense of authority, and superiority eventuate in the minds of those who are afforded privileges of which they are generally unaware. The demonstration of these mentalities is amalgamated into, and expressed through arrogance which can often manifest in behaviors very similar to those of white fragility when challenged.

Adopted Mentalities That Manifest White Arrogance

At the top of any hierarchical paradigm lies the inevitable development of two particular mentalities that can be expected to be adopted by those who occupy the top of the hierarchical paradigm. These two particular mentalities are of a pernicious and virulent nature which serve to espouse security in a superior social position. The first mentality is one in which any challenge to the occupiers supposed superiority is met with derision, condescension, and minimizing or flat out rejection of alternative perspectives. The display of the aforementioned attitudes can often times manifest into the same types of behaviors associated with white fragility. Moreover, since the upper hierarchical occupiers sense of superiority will necessarily engender a sense of entitlement to authority, the occupier of the top of the hierarchy feels justified in asserting any authoritative measure with which to maintain his status and sense of superiority; earned or not.
The second mentality that can be expected to arise in the minds of those atop the hierarchy is one in which the ego plays a central role. Simply stated, the longer one occupies the upper spectrum of the hierarchy, the more inflated the ego becomes. Consequently, the more inflated an ego becomes, the more sensitive the ego gets. And, subsequently, the more sensitive an ego gets, the more attention it demands. As such, any social movement, campaign, or attempt at mass cognitive redirection that does not directly focus it's attention on those who feel entitled to it is thereby vituperated or invalidated. Ironically, despite the threat that the current social order poses to those who do not directly benefit from it, any alternative social paradigm to the status quo is seen as a very real threat to those who occupy the upper statuses. The thought of losing the existential validation that is received from perennial attention and glorification is perceived as a threat of oppression. The irony that lies behind this fear of an upset social order is the lack of realization to the oppressive nature of the current order. The failure to recognize the current social order as oppressive to others while fearing any shift in the dynamic of that social order due to a fear of being oppressed by it is necessarily symptomatic of the internally focused, egocentric attitude developed by a people who have intergenerationally occupied the top of the aforementioned hierarchical order. Again, when attention is not focused directly on those who are so used to receiving it, there tends to be an outward display of emotion that mirrors that of white fragility.
A further aspect of the second mentality is one in which the attempts to point out our more obscured racist proclivities and the ideology we uphold to maintain structural racism is expected to be met with outward hostility and offense. Ostensibly, white people are unable to separate the white supremacist conditioning we've unwittingly been subjected to from the voluntary choices in morality that we make. The inability or unwillingness to separate the two stem from the role that society plays in catering to our egos. Because everything in society is geared towards inflating our sense of superiority, we automatically take every indictment personally, rather than objectively analyzing the content of the indictment through a sociopolitical lens. We are unable to separate our personal feelings from objective reality because of the investment our egos have in being the center of attention. If the center of attention shines a less than auspicious light on our ego, we automatically resort to defensive behaviors that serve to protect an ego that has been shaped and molded by white supremacist conditioning. The demonstrable hostility, passive aggressive commentary, and other behaviors associated with white fragility can also be indicative of an egotistical investment in our own reality. This investment proceeds from a Eurocentric conditioning that the social structures, political institutions, economic systems, and contemporary religious dynamics under which society as a whole function are of a superior nature to any and all alternatives. Because of the privileges afforded to those of us with European roots by these social, political, economic, and religious dynamics, our egos become invested in their continuity. Ergo, everything from pop culture to media, to mainstream political rhetoric to black history – yes, even black history – is centered around the glorification and appeasement of white people. Thus, we are unable to objectively evaluate our own mentalities that are tied to the maintenance of our egos because to do so would be a threat to their very selves.

Differentiating

All Lives Matter, Tomi Lahren, and, to a lesser extent, cultural appropriation are exemplary of white arrogance. The difference between white arrogance and white fragility lies not in the behaviors but in the motivation for the behaviors. With white fragility, the combativeness and stonewalling are due to the denial of responsibility that white people play in contemporary systems of domination. The denial is a result of not having had to endure a history of onslaught or negatively based perception derived solely from the color of our skin. With white arrogance, on the other hand, these same behaviors are driven by an undeserved sense of superiority and obsession with being the center of attention. For the past 450 years, everything in the U.S. has been for or about white people. Finally, when the spotlight is not on us, or shines a less than propitious light on our historical and modern development, we resort to tactics that impede or obstruct a collective focus on the real issue and preclude tangible resolve. The superlative nature of the hierarchical positions that we occupy have dictated the direction of social attention towards us. This acute societal focus on our position has effectively gone to our heads. We feel that we have nothing to learn. We're convinced that our position in history is due to our superior intellect and knowledge. When that intellect and attention is challenged, we exhibit the same behaviors as when our oppressive role in history is presented to us.
Any socially conscious person with a shred of motivation to change the miserable conditions in which oppressed people – most notably Black people – are forced to live, have more than likely had a discussion with at least one socially unaware white person regarding the maintenance and support that we as white people lend to institutional racism. More often than not, these conversations culminate into a verbal battle initiated by a combative, willfully ignorant white person who refuses to accept any vestige of truth to the narrative that challenges their current level of social comfort. The behaviors and dispositions that tend to accompany these conflicts can be characterized, not only by those associated with white fragility but also, by an arguer's strong propensity towards either attempted correction or accusations of reverse racism. These defensive behaviors are just as indicative of white arrogance as they are of white fragility and should be placed into context to avoid any reductionist reasoning being assumed.

© 2018 Caleb Murphey

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