What is white fragility? Definition of term as Piers Morgan speaks out on historic figures on GMB

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Lord Nelson and Francis Drake were taken off the House names at an East Yorkshire school

Piers Morgan’s latest heated debate has come during a discussion on a school in East Yorkshire, which has replaced the names of its Houses at the behest of an ex-pupil’s complaint.

Figures like Sir Walter Raleigh and Lord Nelson have been replaced with names like Greta Thunberg and Marcus Rashford at Howden Junior School, after the headteacher received an email pointing out the historical figures' links to racism, slavery and oppression.

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But on the Wednesday (24 February) edition of Good Morning Britain, Morgan said the story was a case of “ultra wokeism” while discussing the issue with an academic specialising in Black Studies.

TV host Piers Morgan was accused of 'white fragility' in a heated debate on Good Morning Britain (Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)TV host Piers Morgan was accused of 'white fragility' in a heated debate on Good Morning Britain (Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
TV host Piers Morgan was accused of 'white fragility' in a heated debate on Good Morning Britain (Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
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Yorkshire primary school renames houses after Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafza...

Here is everything you need to know about it.

What happened in Morgan’s latest debate?

In a post on Facebook, Howden Junior School headteacher Lee Hill wrote that an email from an ex-pupil "set off a chain of events and reflection" over the house names, and “beyond the fact they have been in places for decades, we had no tangible reason behind them.”

"We didn't teach them in our curriculum. We clearly didn't know all aspects of their history. None of our pupils knew who they were (beyond sailors), nor did they feel like they could relate to them."

Hill said the new names were pitched by the school council and better represented both the local and wider international community.

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Asked by Morgan how he felt about Nelson and if he had a problem with the historical figure, Professor Kehinde Andrews from Birmingham City University told GMB the admiral “was a rigorous defender of the slave trade.

“The school has decided to change the names of their houses but why is this mainstream news?" he continued. “This is properly white fragility. When you try to change any little thing, everyone goes mad and crazy and froths at the mouth.

"I’m really not sure why this is a news story at all.”

What is 'white fragility’?

White defensiveness is a term coined by scholars, academics and historians.

It’s a phrase that is used to characterised a white person’s defensive response when challenged by their own inherent guilt in discussions of societal discrimination, racism and white privilege.

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White fragility is a sub-category of the term – others include white denial and white diversion – and was first used by anti-racist scholar Robin DiAngelo around 2011, before the phrase was popularised in her 2018 book of the same name.

DiAngelo – who herself is white – theorised that, as the concept of racism implies a conscious "meanness", its own definition is the cause of most white defensiveness.

In other words, to be branded a “racist” is to be subtextually branded “mean”, which is why many white people – afforded societal privilege – go on the defensive in discussions of race.

Why was Piers Morgan accused of white fragility?

“The school listened and that’s a good thing about education,” Kehinde explained. “It's not about history, it's about children educating teachers and saying, ‘Let’s have some different figures’.

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“They didn’t change the curriculum… [but] because of white fragility, because we don’t want to look at this history, even if we talk about it a little bit people get mad.”

The phrase has come under fire in some quarters though, with some arguing the term presents a paradox of sorts.

Carlos Lozada, writing in The Washington Post, said that "either white people admit their inherent and unending racism and vow to work on their white fragility… or they resist such categorisations or question the interpretation of a particular incident."

And economist Jonathan Church has said that since the concept dismisses criticisms of white fragility as evidence of itself, that renders it nothing more than pseudoscience.