Meine Figur

Thin Privilege and White Fragility

“I’m tired of people suggesting I should feel guilty about racism,” someone told us recently. That sentiment is a near-perfect expression of white fragility. Many people enjoy the unearned privileges of being white in a racist society. But they don’t like to think about it. Likewise, many people who are fit, able, and thin enjoy thin privilege. But they prefer to think they earned it – with a healthy diet and a virtuous fitness regime.

The Personal Responsibility Dodge

Personal responsibility is a catchphrase we hear often. Of course, taking responsibility is a personal virtue. But it’s also a tool for for pointing fingers – for blaming and shaming people. People who enjoy white privilege often don’t see it. Instead, they look at the poverty that results from systemic racism and imagine that those people did it to themselves. Likewise, people who enjoy thin privilege can look upon people with obesity as having “done this to themselves.”

However, such thinking is hypocritical. Ask people to think about their complicity with a racist system and the response is immediate and indignant. This is not my fault! Personal responsibility, venerated in other circumstances, goes out the window. “I’m tired of people suggesting I should feel guilty about racism.”

Likewise in obesity, personal responsibility is an ethical dead end. Many thin and fit folk hate hearing they might enjoy thin privilege from having skinny genes. Often, thin people vastly prefer the fiction that their thinness is purely a product of virtue.

Taking Responsibility for a Healthy Society

A healthy society gives everyone every opportunity for health, wealth, and dignity. Some people enjoy all three of these. If they believe in personal responsibility, they should consider the possibility that they enjoy privileges they did not earn. They can think of this as a gift of unearned grace.

Thus comes the responsibility to respond to such a gift. It includes the responsibility to speak and act in favor of more just, equitable, and healthy systems – to reverse systemic racism, to defeat bias and discrimination based on weight and size. All of us bear this responsibility.

Click here to read more about personal responsibility can become an ethical dead end. For more about white fragility, click here. For thoughts on giving up privilege, click here.

Meine Figur, photograph © / flickr

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July 5, 2020

3 Responses to “Thin Privilege and White Fragility”

  1. July 05, 2020 at 7:47 am, Mary-Jo said:

    As I listened to latest public service announcement of SG urging people to take responsibility, make the RIGHT choice for wearing a mask, social distancing, etc. all that is KNOWN to work to stop spread of virus, it occurred to me how this whole approach is perfect set up for blame, thus getting leadership off the hook for not investing in, implementing, and executing all the evidence-based preventions and treatments known to work with steps crucial to making it easier, accessible, and ‘DO-able’ for all people. Indeed, people in leadership who DO have access to frequent testing, personal expert medical care, private supply of PPE and anything they need are the very people blaming, shaming loudest, with such ease and confidence. So, yes, the same dynamic echoes with racism and obesity. I found it interesting that the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” is actually not Biblical at all, but actually, originated from one of Aesop’s fables.

  2. July 05, 2020 at 8:36 am, John DiTraglia said:

    Bravo. I have also used being black as analogous to being fat in that it is equally hard to stop being black…

    Then Fox news runs with it.

    Excuse my brain churning on this but a difference between racism and fat shaming might be that people are not “tired” of the charge to feel guilty about fat shaming.

    • July 05, 2020 at 11:14 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, John.

      Just to be clear, racism and fat shaming are both heinous, but very different. And I do routinely hear from people who say quite directly that they are sick and tired of hearing that fat shaming is a problem. Like Bill Maher, they insist that we need more, not less, fat shaming. They are very wrong.