Publication Date

Fall 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Environmental Studies


Will Russell


activism, positionality, social justice, white fragility, whiteness

Subject Areas

Environmental justice; Sociology


Using frameworks from critical race theory, social movement theory, and community-based activism, this thesis explores the phenomena of white fragility, white guilt, and colorblind racial ideology and how they impact the ways predominantly white-identified social and environmental justice organizations approach, build, and maintain solidarity with communities of color in Santa Cruz County, California. A qualitative approach was employed to investigate the experiences of white-identified activists and how they attempt to engage in this constantly challenging process. Using twenty-two semi-structured interviews and eight group observations, I explored how white-identified individuals negotiate the transformation from ‘moral passivity’ to meaningful, personal relationships with people of color (POC). The research shows remarkable differences in responses by white-identified individuals in public space (implicit bias/overtly racialized comments) versus private space (self-reflection, drive toward self-education, willingness to forge authentic relationships with POC). The research also uncovers possible implications for how the intrapersonal dismantling of racialized thought systems on an individual basis may impact group coalition-building processes. More research is warranted, however, in the exploration of how these implications may translate to concrete strategies in the toolkits of predominantly white-identified environmental and social justice organizations.