Trump’s recent election has legitimized and drawn widespread attention to the racism that has been present in our country since its inception. This reality is not news to people of color, like Hayley, one of this article’s authors, who have been and still are marginalized and devalued by these systems of oppression. Yet it has shocked many white liberals, like Emma, the other author. While it is easy for white liberals to exclusively blame Trump and his supporters for his win, it is important to consider how they may also be implicated in and reinforce the racism that directly contributed to Trump’s rise.

“But what? I’m not racist! I voted for Hillary!” some may say. Others may chime in, “One of my best friends is black! How could I be racist?” We hate to break it to you, but everyone—ourselves included—has unconscious racial biases because we live in a racist society. We’re not going to sugarcoat this. America was built on white supremacy and all white people in this country continue to benefit from it. As Amina Pugh wrote in her recent article in BGD Press, “White people must stop convincing themselves that white supremacy is upheld by a small minority, anonymously typing behind computer screens, and realize it is sustained by a silent majority. White supremacy elected Trump and white people need to start owning this.” Being liberal or voting for Hillary does not remove you from this system.

White people need to talk about race because racial issues involve them, too. The reality is, however, that many white people feel uneasy talking about it. Most have never felt the need to think critically about race, let alone their own whiteness, because they tend to grow up in racially isolated communities where their knowledge about racism and people of color comes from brief, reductive history lessons. Furthermore, when whites learn about racism in school, it is often portrayed as a phenomenon of the past. This makes it harder for white people to comprehend the existence of modern-day racism and how they are directly implicated in it.

When people talk about race and racism they disregard white responsibility. Racism against people of color would literally not be possible without white people. This can be a hard truth to swallow, but it is important for white people, including white liberals, to acknowledge their role in establishing and maintaining racism and racist structures. Even if you condemn racist language, have friends or family of color and actively believe that all races should be treated with equal dignity and respect, you are still leveraged in this system. We know white people can’t control being born white. People of color can’t control their skin color either. The undeniable truth, though, is that in America, skin color helps determine life opportunities. So, what can well-meaning white liberals do? They need to talk about race, but more than that, they need to talk about their own role in perpetuating racism. They need to listen to and respect the experiences of people of color. They need to do better.

What’s frustrating, though, is that in situations when their own behavior is questioned or labeled as racist, even well-meaning white liberals will make excuses, deny the accusation and get angry. “But I didn’t mean it that way,” they might say, or, “You’re just overreacting!” This inability of white people to confront their own biases and racism has a name: white fragility. According to Westfield State University Professor  Robin DiAngelo, “white fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” White people are not used to being held accountable for their role in racism. They constantly experience what DiAngelo calls “racial comfort,” and when this comfort is momentarily disrupted, they feel threatened and panic. For instance, if reading this article were to make a white person defensive and upset, that would be a perfect example of white fragility.

We are not calling attention to white fragility to shame white people. Emma still struggles with it. Rather, we are highlighting something that we believe is hindering white liberals’ fight against racism. A lot of white liberals acknowledge racism’s existence but see it as something they reject and take no part in. This is a false narrative. In order for white liberals to actively oppose white supremacy, they first need to confront their own racial biases and privilege. They need to validate people of color’s experiences of racism rather than silence them. They need to recognize that being an ally is not an identity but rather an ongoing learning process. They need to acknowledge and accept their mistakes. The burden of dismantling racism should not fall solely on people of color. It is not a one-way street. We all need to work on this. Together.