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Understanding, and Undoing, Racism

On Tuesday, September 17, Packer hosted Dr. Robin DiAngelo and Jack Hill for a conversation about how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what white people can do to engage more constructively in dismantling racial injustice. 

Dr. DiAngelo has worked on issues of racial and social justice for many years and is the author of the New York Times bestseller White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. In addition to being a diversity consultant and writer, Jack Hill is Middle School Head at Cambridge Friends School in Massachusetts. 

More than 400 people attended the event, which was sponsored by Packer, the Packer Parent Association, Poly Prep Country Day School, and Strategenius. The event was spearheaded by Director of Diversity and Equity, Semeka Smith-Williams (second from left), along with her counterpart from Poly Prep, Matoko Maegawa (left). 


“We must continue learning”

In her introduction, Head of School Dr. Jennifer Weyburn quoted Packer’s mission statement. “We want our children to ‘develop talents, pursue aspirations, and become empathetic, responsible, globally-minded individuals. And we believe they do this best in a diverse community of meaningful, sustained relationships.”

“But to truly deliver on this,” she continued, “we need to continue learning ourselves. We must continue to explore how race impacts us individually and in our institutions.

“As Dr. DiAngelo writes, whether we want to admit this or not, white people are socialized to live racially insulated lives. We all need to understand more about how this phenomenon works so that we can engender more meaningful cross-racial dialogue, and deepen relationships within our communities — in the service of educating our students to the very best of our abilities.”

The Good/Bad Binary

Dr. DiAngelo’s book seeks to deconstruct the idea that “good, nice people cannot be racist, cannot perpetuate racism, and apparently cannot have racial privilege.” She defined this false view as the “either/or, good/bad binary” of racism as it is commonly defined in the United States today. 

“It is the idea that those are two mutually exclusive categories: Racists are bad; non racists are good. Racists are bigoted and old, and southern, and all of that... Non-racists are progressive and open minded, northern, and educated.” 

Asking the Right Question

She continued, explaining how the “either/or, good/bad binary” functions to “protect racism.” 

“If my idea is that a racist is a person who intentionally wants to do harm across race, and if the question is, Am I racist?, then the answer is No. No further action is required of me.” 

The question she suggests that white people ask themselves instead is, How am I a racist? 

“Then there is lots of further action,” she said, “like ongoing reflection, education, relationship building, and involvement.”


Jack Hill praised Dr. DiAngelo for confronting anti-blackness in her book. He asked her why her book focuses so specifically on black and white. 

She pointed out that “all people who are not perceived or defined as white experience racism. But in the white mind, I believe black people are the ultimate racial other. I think we have the most ‘energy’ about black people. And anti blackness cuts across every group.”

Jack Hill responded. “I always say America loves black culture, but they do not like Black people,” a remark that was met by applause. “I don't think you can fully understand anti blackness in America unless you also understand the geopolitical landscape of what has happened to Africa and the European powers. Our kids at very young ages can understand that. And that's at the root of anti-blackness to me.“  

True White Allyship 

Addressing the People of Color in the Chapel, she asked, “What would your day be like if you could just count two more white people who had your back? Would it make a difference? 

“But we can't get there from the current paradigm that says you are bad if you show your racism, [a paradigm that leads white people to say to themselves], By all means, I have to hide it and protect it and never show it or make a mistake.

Dr. DiAngelo then addressed the white members of the audience.

“This carefulness [to avoid making mistakes in conversations about racism] only protects our blind spots. It only protects us and our images. How will you know if what you're thinking or about to say is problematic if you don't take that risk? That carefulness is just [self-] protection, and it holds everything in place.

“The key is, when you do make mistakes and you get feedback: Yes, what you just said was problematic. And you grow from that feedback. You incorporate it, and you look for it.”

A video of the entire discussion is available to Packer families in The Nest.

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