White Fragility vs Hard Truths by Jon Saphier


Have you noticed how frequently and publicly the phrase “white supremacy” appears in our post-George Floyd dialog? We studiously avoided that phrase 25 years ago when a colleague and I were hired to develop the course “Anti-Racist and High Expectations Teaching”  for a large collaborative of affluent suburban districts surrounding Boston.[1] 

Robin DeAngelo and Paul Gorski have surfaced our current tug-of-war on how to deal with racism in schools. This tug is about how direct or indirect to be, given the shift in public support for Black Lives Matter and the action that movement represents. Both of these authors are white anti-racist allies for black liberation. I use the word “liberation” here to represent the shackles placed on life opportunities and the painful experiences in daily life that racism lays on Blacks and other peoples of color in the U.S. 


The daily pressure and pain, the injustice and inflicted degradation surrounding being Black and brown in our society cannot be felt by whites living in a bubble of privilege. It is up to whites to burst that bubble and bring peers into awareness and action to dismantle the structures and the personal behaviors that preserve this system. But how to proceed in doing so?


Which approach should motivated white anti-racists take, 1 or 2? 

  1. Abolish a system that is racist, that embeds white supremacy in curriculum, tracking,  discipline, and suspensions, in referrals to Sped, access to AP, and “gifted” programs. Engage directly in vigorous assertive political action to change school policies and practices that embed white supremacy.  
  2. Go gently and with compassion to develop awareness and then action. Start non-accusatory conversations everywhere that gradually educate parents and school populations, and community members about racial identity development, the history of white supremacy, the myth of the bell curve of ability, and how white supremacy is embedded in institutions, our economy, and in our government. 

If this is a false choice, then white anti-racists need to articulate how to blend them and put forth a new coherent theory of change and for partnership with leaders of color. 



[1] Anti-Racist and High Expectations Teaching” developed by Beverly Daniel Tatum and Jon Saphier for the Eastern Massachusetts Initiative.


Jon Saphier is the CEO and Founder of RBT.
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