Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
From the publisher:
The New York Times best-selling book exploring the counterproductive reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality.
In this “vital, necessary, and beautiful book” (Michael Eric Dyson), antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo deftly illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility and “allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people’ (Claudia Rankine). Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue. In this in-depth exploration, DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.
“A vital, necessary, and beautiful book, a bracing call to white folk everywhere to see their whiteness for what it is and to seize the opportunity to make things better now.” —Michael Eric Dyson
Michael Dyson wrote the forward so that automatically gave this book on racism, written by a white woman, more legitimacy. There was still backlash, as in this piece in The Atlantic, The Dehumanizing Condescension of White Fragility by John McWhorter, a professor at Columbia University and contributing writer at The Atlantic.
So what is this book about? What is “white fragility”? DiAngelo defines it as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” Defensive moves encompass anger, fear, guilt, argumentation, silence, and walking away from the situation. DiAngelo believes that white liberals are the biggest obstacle to racial equality because they “develop assumptions that allow them to absolve themselves of racism.” Or as Katy Wald wrote in the New Yorker. “DiAngelo has noticed that white people are sensationally, histrionically bad at discussing racism.”
There is a long list of ways that “white racial equilibrium” continues to function: “challenge to objectivity; challenge to white racial codes; challenge to white racial expectations and need/entitlement to racial comfort; challenge to colonialist relations; challenge to white solidarity; challenge to white liberalism; challenge to individualism; challenge to meritocracy; challenge to white authority; challenge to white centrality.”
But before we can address racism, we have to understand what it means and how it differs from racial prejudice and racial discrimination.
A person from any racial group can be racially prejudiced and can racially discriminate against a person from any other racial group. White people can do so against black people – and vice versa.
Racism is when one racial group has more power than another group and uses that power against its members in a systemic manner.
In other words, black people can be prejudiced and discriminate against white people – but they cannot be racist against them, because of the imbalance in power between the two groups.
I thought DiAngelo offered excellent explanations of these terms and really clarified the differences.
I highly recommend the Katy Wald article: Sociologist Examines the “White Fragility” That Prevents White Americans from Confronting Racism. She says, “DiAngelo addresses her book mostly to white people, and she reserves her harshest criticism for white liberals like herself (and like me), whom she sees as refusing to acknowledge their own participation in racist systems.” I am taking her criticism to heart.
Like most self-help books, I found this book extremely repetitive. DiAngelo makes some excellent points, and does it again and again and again and again and again. Honestly, I would heartily recommend this 17 page article she wrote: White Fragility, unless you feel you need more. It’s a good place to start, at least, and I believe this book grew out of that article.
9/2020 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
WHITE FRAGILITY by Robin J. DiAngelo. Beacon Press; Reprint Edition (June 26, 2018). ISBN 978-0807047415. 192 pages.