Looking Inward : On White Fragility, Guilt, and the Path Toward Self-Correction

If you are white, and if you have been paying any slight amount of attention to the voices of the People of Color in your life, you will have heard them saying very clearly that the queer spaces in Atlanta are not safe.

And this should be a very big deal to you.

We like put labels our spaces like “safer.” “Intentional.” But for QTPOC, these concepts are wholly devoid of meaning. Spaces that carry such titles can, in an instant, become just as terrifying as any other.

And here’s the problem:

As white folx, we have failed to do anything significant to correct our own mistakes outside of scratching our heads and imagining that racism is a problem that takes place in other people’s minds. In other people’s spaces.

“We are the good white people.” We might as well be saying.

If we as white “allies” are going to collectively make an effort to, you know…be allies—we are going to have to realize that an “intentional space” isn’t really anything at all.

A “space” is no more than the people who fill it. And not even the groups or clumps of people that fill it. But very specific people. Individuals. It is me. It is you.

If a space is not safe for People of Color, it is because the white individuals in that space—specifically me and specifically you—are not safe for People of Color to be around.

Again. That means very specifically me. That means, if you are white, very specifically you. I am not an exception. You are not an exception. Knowing this, it is not difficult to fathom why our efforts at being good or even just “ok” allies are and have been so laughable.

We reblog memes. Post a few sentences on social media that will only be seen by our fellow SJW’s each time another innocent black man is killed in cold blood. Argue with our problematic co-workers about the Black Lives Matter movement every so often.

These tactics might make us feel like we are doing something—like we are really allies. But the impact of these tactics is minimal at best. And so the question remains:

When are we, as white folx, going to find actual solutions to the very real problems in our community? When are we going to realize that we are the problem?

Or is it that our white fragility has put forward a more palatable notion—that we alone are champions among white people; transcendental in our ability to override our racist programming.

But what if we just aren’t? What if we are no less problematic than any other white person? Full stop. What if our intent isn’t even pure in the first place?

Do we desire to stand in solidarity with the People of Color in our lives because we love and respect them for the people they are, the things they stand for, and the impact they have had on our lives—

—or is it just a selfish way of alleviating all that white guilt that haunts us?

We. Have. No. Right. To. Dodge. The. Obvious. Truth. In. All. Of. This.

We aren’t exceptions to the rule.

All white people.” Includes me. It includes you.

We have no right to skirt around it. We have no right to sweep our problematic impulses under the rug. To pretend that there is no work to be done because we have magically “already arrived;” have magically unwound centuries of inherited racism and prejudice with nothing but good intentions and memes.

The truth is that our white fragility and guilt push us to veil the reality of the situation. Because when we do not lie to ourselves and tiptoe about through our thoughts, we are forced to confront a truth that threatens to unmake every positive vision we have of ourselves.

But no matter what lengths we go in order to hide from it, the truth will never change:

As individual white queers in Atlanta, we are personally responsible for the presence of racism in the Atlanta queer community.

We are individually and personally the sole perpetuators of that racism.

Absolutely nothing will vindicate you. You will never arrive at a mindset that is not problematic. If you are white, racism is permanently ingrained in you. Right now. Tomorrow. Next year. In a decade.

No matter how hard you have been fighting to strip it from your mind and how hard you continue to fight—it is there to stay. Because it’s not like in the movies. There will be no epic climax where you destroy your own white fragility and rid yourself of internalized racism once and for all.  

We have to start examining ourselves with absolute translucency, however uncomfortable that might be—we have to start seeing our minds for precisely what they are and how they are wired—and we have to start pushing back against our programming with every fiber of our being.

It is a ceaseless battle.


Juliet Awry Irises is a faraway gendered trans grrl whose fingers flick almost continuously through her hair. When she is not writing poetry or painting, she busies herself with splitting the veins of the holy western masculine wide the fuck open, amen.