I am thankful to Robin DiAngelo for coining this new and necessary scholarly term to describe this old phenomenon. Every Person of Color, I imagine, is intimately familiar with myriad manifestations of "White Fragility."
As an educator I have experienced this often. It makes the work–and even the accurate portrayal of history—much more difficult. It also makes the work that much more necessary.
From "White Fragility," by Robin DiAngelo:
"If and when an educational program does directly address racism and the privileging of whites, common white responses include anger, withdrawal, emotional incapacitation, guilt, argumentation, and cognitive dissonance (all of which reinforce the pressure on facilitators to avoid directly addressing racism). So-called progressive whites may not respond with anger, but may still insulate themselves via claims that they are beyond the need for engaging with the content because they “already had a class on this” or “already know this.” These reactions are often seen in anti-racist education endeavors as forms of resistance to the challenge of internalized dominance (Whitehead & Wittig, 2005; Horton & Scott, 2004; McGowan, 2000, O’Donnell, 1998). These reactions do indeed function as resistance, but it may be useful to also conceptualize them as the result of the reduced psychosocial stamina that racial insulation inculcates. I call this lack of racial stamina “White Fragility.”
—Robin DiAngelo, "White Fragility" (2011)
Full article here.