Alternative Title

Antidotes to White fragility in racial justice education

Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis

Study Type



School for Social Work


Social justice-Study and teaching, Whites-Psychology, Social work education, Whites, Whites-Race identity, Racism, Anti-racism, Race, Racial, Racial justice, White privilege, Whiteness, White fragility, Trauma-informed pedagogy, Multicultural, Trauma, Pedagogy, Mindfulness, Mind-body awareness, Embodiment, Embodied, Transgenerational trauma, Intergenerational trauma, Classroom instruction, Group facilitation, Facilitation, White affinity group, White supremacy, White racial identity development


This qualitative study explores what skills, tools and approaches may be helpful antidotes to white fragility in racial justice education. This study is in response to the challenge posed by white fragility, as defined by Robin DiAngelo (2011) in which white people experience such extreme emotions in response to learning about racism in the USA that they become either defensive such that they are unable to engage in a learning experience, or so swept up in guilt or shame that they require substantial emotional tending in order to continue to engage in the educational experience. Robin DiAngelo frames this phenomenon as a lack of stamina rather than a permanent or personality-based inability to engage (2011), thereby inviting inquiry into what tools, skills or approaches may serve to build that stamina, or increase resilience in racially charged learning and conversation.

This qualitative study responds to DiAngelo’s framework of stamina building by applying clinical understandings of trauma—in particular, neurophysiological responses to perceived threats—to the manifestations of white fragility. Drawing on theoretical frameworks that bridge the neuropsychology of trauma, patterns of white fragility in racial justice education, and best practices in trauma-informed pedagogy, this study explores what personal and pedagogical tools, skills and approaches may serve as antidotes to patterns of white fragility with the goal of increasing internal resources to sustain engagement in racial justice education.

This qualitative study collected data through interviews with white facilitators of white racial justice education groups/classes and through a workshop/focus-group on white fragility and its antidotes. The two-part design acknowledges the unique knowledge and information available from both facilitators and participants.

Three high-level findings on antidotes to white fragility emerged from the interview and workshop data. First, facilitators expressed that mindfulness is both a crucial component of personal transformation and a supportive factor in effective personal and group engagement with difficult content. Second, caring relationships were named as the primary factor supporting sustained engagement with racial justice work for both participants and facilitators. Third, the use of embodied and narrative-based pedagogical approaches including storytelling, art, play, theater, and meditation as well as a culture of “radical love” supported the development of the other two factors of mind-body awareness and relationship development.

Further, this study finds preliminary evidence that the phenomenon of white fragility manifests differently based on one’s racial identity development phase. Participant descriptions of fragile and resilient moments align with patterns of neurophysiological responses to and recovery from perceived threats; further analysis and additional research is needed to explore the applicability of trauma-informed pedagogy in racial justice education.




vi, 87 pages. M.S.W., Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Ma., 2016. Includes bibliographical references (pages 54-64)

Included in

Social Work Commons