A Clarification: What Does it Mean to Say "Your Whiteness is Showing"?

When we say “Your Whiteness Is Showing,” we are not solely or even primarily referring to skin color. Nor are we suggesting that you should be ashamed to be white. Our definition of whiteness is a “pervasive social construction that has served as a tool of oppression for centuries.” That means it's important for all people to consider how the social structure of whiteness impacts and implicates them.

How Can We Think About Whiteness?

Below are definitions of whiteness and white fragility as described by scholars. These definitions complement the one provided above and have influenced our understanding of what whiteness is and how it exists within our society at large.

Why Does it Feel Uncomfortable to Confront Whiteness?

White people often feel discomfort when learning about and discussing whiteness because it feels personal, and it is. It is something new; something you might feel you couldn't live this long without knowing or learning about. It is often painful and confusing. Confronting whiteness hits white people like a bus because the structures of whiteness in their society have prohibited them from learning about whiteness. In many cases, white folks just haven't had to build the cognitive and emotional skills necessary for conversations about race.

Similarly, because white people hold the dominant position in society, they can feel entitled to comfort in conversations about race; this prevents meaningful discussion. They may confuse feeling uncomfortable with feeling unsafe. It is okay to feel discomfort, it is not okay to avoid critical self-reflection to examine where your discomfort is coming from. Is this discomfort valid? Does it betray an assumption that needs to be challenged?

When you are experiencing racial discomfort, try doing a grounding exercise instead of acting on feelings of defensiveness and attacking others.

What is White Fragility?

Below is a brief and simple explanation of white fragility by Ritu Bhasin who provides the following definition: "White fragility is essentially the defensive reaction that white people have in response to learning about their position in the structure of racism."

Should You Even Try to Confront Your Whiteness?


As you confront whiteness and white fragility, you strengthen your ability to have racial discussions. These are conversations you likely did not have growing up if you identify as a white individual. As DiAngelo says, "viewing white anger, defensiveness, silence, and withdrawal in response to issues of race through the framework of white fragility may help frame the problem as an issue of stamina-building, and thereby guide our interventions accordingly." (DiAngelo). Being able to have settled and productive conversations about race is the only way we will be able to dismantle racism and white supremacy.

What is White Privilege? Do You Benefit From It?

Peggy McIntosh defines white privilege as "an invisible package of unearned assets that [white people] can count on cashing in each day...[it] is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks." Check out the video below for a brief explanation.

Like whiteness itself, white privilege is something that white people do not often confront. Even using the word "privilege" here is somewhat misleading. We usually think of privilege as an earned condition, but whiteness isn't earned. McIntosh helps to navigate this by defining her whiteness as a set of privileges that others, especially her Black peers, are less likely (if at all) to experience.

Like the video says, the possession of white privilege does not protect white people from hardship (such as poverty or gender-based violence). Rather, whiteness provides opportunities that may help white people out of unfavorable situations. Nonwhite people do not necessarily have access to those same opportunities.

Opportunity for reflection: Have you ever experienced any of the following privileges articulated by Peggy McIntosh?