White fragility article incites right-wing outrage

Politics professor and former student’s work gets picked up by U.S. right-wing media

When Prof. Dave Thomas and former Mount Allison student Zoe Luba published their article in the Canadian Journal of Development Studies, they did not expect a large reaction.

On Sept. 25, their article, White Fragility and the White Student Abroad: Using Critical Race Theory to Analyse International Experiential Learning was released. Within a day, Thomas was contacted by Campus Reform for an interview. Campus Reform is an American conservative news site that focuses on higher education. The news site is run by the Leadership Institute, whose tagline is Training Conservatives Since 1979.

“I had never heard of the group before, so I Googled them to take a look and as soon as I saw what they were up to, I just emailed them back and said, ‘Sorry, I don’t want to talk to you about this,’ ” said Thomas.

Luba and Thomas’s article came out of Luba’s honours thesis where she used critical race theory, specifically white fragility, to assess whether participants in international experiential learning were aware of issues of racism and whiteness while living in a non-white majority country. After Luba graduated, they continued to work on condensing the thesis into a journal article.

Campus Reform published an article about Luba and Thomas’s research on Sept. 27. The Campus Reform article incorrectly stated that Zoe Luba was a professor at Mt. A. The news article has currently been shared 742 times.

The day after the Campus Reform article was published, Thomas was contacted by Fox News and again refused to comment. Fox News published an article similar to Campus Reform’s on Sept. 28.

The commenters on both articles expressed their outrage over Luba and Thomas’s proposition to provide pre-departure training on whiteness and racism. “This is a viciously racist proposal. Unbelievable. How long are we supposed to entertain these ‘intersectionalist,’ neo-Marxist ideas?” said one commenter. “It’s no longer funny – it’s getting scary. The people behind this movement are pushing society into tightly constrained identity boxes, segregating us from one another. We need to push back.”

“I didn’t really see it coming,” said Luba, “but it makes sense that there would be pushback… It’s a textbook reaction and it fits right in with what the theory says when white people react when their world view is questioned at all.”

Thomas received a phone call, a few tweets and an email from those who wanted to voice their opposition to his and Luba’s work. “I feel unsettled,” said Thomas. “Just in the sense that that’s the kind of reception that this work is getting in a lot of quarters in the United States, and Canada, to a lesser extent.”

He emphasized that in comparison to the racism people of colour face, this experience was non-threatening. “The discomfort that I would feel, or Zoe would feel, from this reaction is nothing compared to the nature of the problem of racism and white supremacy that people of colour feel and experience on a daily basis,” said Thomas. “So I don’t try to make it about me being upset because I’m not really that upset, and even if I was a little upset by the reactions, it pales in comparison to the actual problems of racism that people experience on a daily basis.”

In response to the inflammatory reaction, Luba feels an even greater passion for the work. “It just encourages me to fight even harder, to keep pushing my ideas forward with more intensity,” she said.

 

Lily Falk