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Peter Guman

Seeing - White-Fragility

Events over the summer of 2020, including the police shootings of several black people, along with the BLM protests, motivated me to learn more about racism.  I didn’t want to just standby without taking some kind of action.

First, I participated in two book studies on the same book, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo – one was with a Church group and the other was with my family, including my wife, two adult sons and my daughter in law.  Second, was a family discussion on the podcast, the Scene on Radio \ Seeing White, hosted by John Biewen.

Up until these two studies, I felt there was no way I could be a ‘racist’ - that was reserved for acts of clear racism, all the way from intentional and overt racist acts to people making racist jokes - I didn’t do any of these things.

From White Fragility, I learned racist behavior can be inadvertent and unknowing.  And that I sometimes do or say racist things, without knowing those actions are racist. ‘White Fragility’ is defined as an unconscious defense mechanism we as white people use to shut down conversations about race and to avoid addressing our part in racism.

The Seeing White podcast helped me understand how structural racism can into being from the early founding of our country and to accept the concept that structural racism exists today. Structural racism was termed ‘white supremacy’ and that was a hard term to accept, since ‘white supremacy’ always had the equivalent meaning for me of the Ku Klux Klan.  But I came to learn that white supremacy thinking (the belief that black people were inferior to whites) was used to build these structures and resulted in a system in which I as a white person have benefited. I began to understand that my success in life came not only from my hard work, but also from the advantages that I didn’t ask for, but that benefited me none the less.   

One story I heard was a black dad having the ‘talk’ with his son on how to behave if stopped by the police so he isn’t shot.  Being a dad, I couldn’t even imagine having or needing this ‘talk’.  It struck a chord in me deeply. 

I was also inspired and moved by several stories shared in my church group discussion about other people’s ‘aha’ moments where we expand our understanding of racism and racial justice and our role in those. These stories gave me the idea to do this photo essay to share these stories more broadly. 

It’s not enough to be a ‘non-racist’ white person. We must do what we can to dismantle systematic racism. I hope these stories help us all to expand our awareness of racism, deepen our commitment to racial justice and take action.

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