“How can I say that if you are white, your opinions on racism are most likely ignorant, when I don’t even know you?” diversity consultant and author Robin DiAngelo asks in the opening chapter of her wildly popular book “White Fragility.”
The answer is, in keeping true to ideologies of individualism and in light of DiAngelo being a white woman herself, you can’t. She doesn’t think so; in short, she thinks you are racist.
“White Fragility,” a book published in 2018 that gained immense popularity amid the protests following George Floyd’s death in May, examines the phenomenon of white fragility, defined as white people’s resistance to admitting they have racial biases and privileges. Rather than focusing on how racism hurts people of color, “White Fragility” examines how racism elevates white people, hence why its target audience is other white people.
Early on, DiAngelo addresses the elephant in the room: she is white. Thus, in writing her book on race, she may be centering the white voice once more. However, she defends herself by stating: “I am also using my insider status to challenge racism. To not use my position in this way is to uphold racism, and that is unacceptable.”
What DiAngelo’s seemingly good intent and “insider status” amounts to, however, is a book by a white progressive berating other white progressives for not being “woke” enough. And to make matters worse, DiAngelo manages to dehumanize people of color by depriving them of the agency along the way, all while providing no sound way of combating racism.
The premise of “White Fragility,” that all people have racial biases, is sensible. The human mind is subjective as it is shaped by the world around it, and science tends to agree.
Prejudice is unavoidable among all races, but the racial prejudice of white people is particularly dangerous because of the institutional power it has wielded both historically and currently in America. However, DiAngelo’s response to this truth is insane and unrealistic.
DiAngelo demands that white people walk on eggshells around people of color at all times, constantly infantilizing minorities as sensitive and incapable of speaking up for themselves.
This tone-deaf approach to racial issues leads DiAngelo to make judgment calls such as one she made among a group of co-workers who gathered to mourn the death of an unarmed Black man at the hands of police. She asked that all the white women leave the room if they cry, rather than cry in the presence of the Black participants. White women’s tears, according to DiAngelo, “reinscribe rather than ameliorate racism.”
“When a white woman cries, a Black man gets hurt,” DiAngelo writes, citing the devastating example of 14-year-old Emmett Till’s death in 1955 as proof of this phenomenon in 2018, ignoring the decades of progress made in between.
“Not knowing or being sensitive to this history is another example of white centrality, individualism, and lack of racial humility,” she writes.
As for men of color who comfort white women as they cry in this instance, they are “driven by their conditioning under sexism and patriarchy… Ameliorating a white woman’s distress as quickly as possible may be felt as a literal matter of survival [for a Black man].”
In this mind-boggling quote, a white woman tells Black men that they cannot comfort white women and that if they do, it is proof of their conditioning. Similarly, a white woman crying from a Black man’s unjust death is proof of white fragility and racial bias. All in a good day’s work of being anti-racist, am I right?
Finally, as a white woman who spent her life educating groups of mainly white people on race relations, who then went on to write a book about white people directed toward other white people, DiAngelo commits a rather unavoidable crime. She repeatedly, and likely unknowingly, centers the white voice.
“Although rare individual people of color may be inside the circles of power — Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas, Marco Rubio, Barack Obama — they support the status quo and do not challenge racism in any way significant enough to be threatening,” DiAngelo writes.
It is difficult to comprehend that the first Black president of the United States did not challenge racism, or at least not in the significant way DiAngelo does, but this is the point DiAngelo attempts to illustrate.
By minimizing the accomplishments of Black Americans, as well as critiquing Black History Month for “tak[ing] whites out of the equation” and not focusing more on racism, DiAngelo’s attempt to get white people to challenge their own racism seems to come at the expense of people of color.
The question I have after reading this book is simply: why? How does this routine of self-punishment and white guilt among her white readers actually help people of color resolve the issues they face today?
Consider the criteria for a non-fragile white person — that is, one who breaks out of the cycle of white fragility and can listen openly to feedback on their racial bias, a goal I’m happy to support.
However, the criteria, according to DiAngelo, are as follows: No crying in the presence of Black people, not even from a perspective of empathy. Avoidance of phrases such as “I treat everyone the same,” “That was not my intention,” “You are generalizing” and “I disagree” when racism is pointed out, all of which were included in a list of examples of white fragility and denials of racism that DiAngelo makes in Chapter 9: White Fragility in Action.
As a non-fragile white person, you must listen, and never, ever resist, while DiAngelo educates you on your racism and how it makes people of color feel.
Are the people who will adhere to these rules really the ones we feel need to read books about anti-racism? And more importantly, did “White Fragility” provide any substantial way for readers to help find solutions for pressing issues people of color face today?
I certainly don’t think so.