Family & Relationships. Self-Improvement. Sociology. Nonfiction. HTML: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.
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On the negative side, though: its short and presents its topics in very black and white language, which strips away a lot of the nuance from these conversations. An example: DiAngelo discusses a friend who moved to New Orleans and bought a cheap house but has concerns that the neighborhood is dangerous. DiAngelo attributes these concerns entirely to racism and asserts that black neighborhoods are no more dangerous than white neighborhoods. While it is 100% accurate that white people often attribute 'danger' to perfectly safe neighborhoods populated by people of color, it is a denial of reality to assert that there is not a correlation between color and likelihood of being the victim of violent crime. Handwaving this away as racism ignores the ways color and class interact to keep Black and Latinx people in unsafe neighborhoods and make them disproportionately likely to be the victims of gun violence. This is problematic both because it deprives readers of the opportunity to think about why some people are more likely to experience gun violence...but also because skeptical readers are going to feel like the author is denying reality by asserting that some neighborhoods aren't more dangerous than others. This isn't the only example, but its the one that stuck out to me most.
I also saw the lack of nuance in the discussion of the people in her classes who argued or felt defensive. There were NO examples of someone in the classes she described learning from her presentation. That leads the reader to draw one of two conclusions: either 1) white people are completely irredeemable (in which case, why bother reading this?) or 2) her teaching methods are ineffective at reaching people who may be resistant to her message. Neither is reassuring. (I will also say I was thrown by some of her examples of 'common' racist things white people do. Maybe I'm incredibly lucky but I can't think of the last time I heard someone describe someone's race when relating an anecdote unless the race was really truly relevant.)
Bottom line: in reading other people's reviews it sounds like tons of people found this helpful and relevant and I'm glad to hear it...but I couldn't in good conscience recommend this to someone.
I was struck by DiAngelo’s observation that there’s no term corresponding to “passing” to describe the ability of a white person to pass as a person of color, highlighting the direction of power in a racist society. Likewise, whites raised in all or nearly all-white environments may describe themselves as “sheltered”—but sheltered from what, exactly? Shouldn’t we consider growing up in such an environment more damaging because there’s less insulation from racist media representations and other myths? And those sheltered spaces for whites can be sites of extreme, even fatal, danger for people of color, like Trayvon Martin. One major dynamic she identifies is that whites use the language of physical danger—trauma, attacks, etc.—to describe how they feel when racism is openly discussed by people of color or even white diversity trainers; we feel like we’re the ones in danger, and this contributes to our sense of wounded innocence while playing into the racist narrative that people of color are dangerous and violent.
For many white people, even a small amount of racial stress is intolerable, triggering anger, fear, guilt, argument, and withdrawal. “White fragility functions as a form of bullying; I am going to make it so miserable for you to confront me—no matter how diplomatically you try to do so—that you will simply back off, give up.” DiAngelo locates part of the problem in the ideology of individualism, which allows white people to exempt themselves from the effects of socialization. Talking about how we’ve all been inculcated with racist ideas violates this ideology, so it’s received as an insulting generalization. DiAngelo also runs through various other arguments, e.g. “I have black friends.” As she points out, she identifies as a woman and is married to someone who identifies as a man, but she would never claim that her relationship means she lives a “gender-free” life, given the depth of gender as a social construct. I got a helpful prompt that “I’m an extrovert and talk over everyone” is not a good response to criticism about cross-racial interactions, because a woman of color who sees me as just another white interrupter has a valid point.
DiAngelo has a lot of practical advice for white people, along with a fair amount of Race 101. She talks about building racial stamina to deal with the sense of threat that comes with identification of our acts that participated in racist dynamics. Having a person of color trust you enough to tell you that you did something racist is significant—if they didn’t think you were reachable, they wouldn’t bother. “[W]hite people often define as respectful an environment with no conflict, no expression of strong emotion, no challenging of racist patterns, and a focus on intentions over impact. But such an atmosphere is exactly what creates an inauthentic, white-norm-centered, and thus hostile” environment for people of color. There’s also a chapter on “white women’s tears”—especially on how they reorient a narrative to be about her trauma and her needs. It’s not that you can’t shed tears, she advises, but given the history especially surrounding violence to black men and the fact that black people who express any emotion at all are seen as dangerous, try to do so in private/redirect the conversation to the core issues. (White men, by contrast, mostly manifest their fragility through assertions of dominance and “devil’s advocate” positions.)
Robin DiAngelo, who leads discussions about diversity and racial issues for corporate groups and has seen a lot of defensiveness and anger and dismissiveness from her fellow white people when asked to discuss and examine issues of racism, talks about this problem of white people feeling like they're being morally attacked as bad people when people of color try to point out problems they face or things that they find upsetting, as well as various other ways in which white people have trouble handling discussions about racism and how the behavior that comes from that shuts down useful dialog and reinforces the status quo. She also offers careful advice on how to do the difficult work of examining our own feelings and attitudes, taking control of our reactions, and doing a better job of not being part of the problem.
There are moments here and there where I might quibble with an example she uses or how she expresses something, or wish she had delved just a little deeper into certain subjects. (Like the psychology that drives these reactions. Or the details of what it means to say that race is a social construct and why that's a true statement for a perfectly reasonable definition of the word "race," since that's something I've definitely seen become a sticking point for people.)
Overall, though, it is a good discussion of a very difficult topic, one that's clear and straightforward and useful in its explication of things that sit squarely in the middle of a major psychological blind spot but really ought to be looked at head-on.
Of course, the concern with this sort of book is always that the people who are probably most in need of it may be the least likely to read it. Although in this case that doesn't mean people who are nakedly and avowedly racist, but rather white people who think that they're completely beyond this sort of problem. Which surely none of us is, because, again, we're all the products of out society, and our society is seriously messed-up about race, and that does things to everybody's brains. In any case, I do hope it has an audience, because it's a very useful contribution to the cultural conversation about race and racism. If only because it might help us to start properly having the conversation at all.
Full disclosure: I'm a white, senior citizen.
She is a white woman who wants to
One does not change hearts and minds by insulting people, yet she does that constantly throughout the book. She often implies and often comes close to actually saying that anyone who disagrees with her is as dumb as a person jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Also, it's clear she hates being white and feels that she needs to atone for being white.
In most of the chapters she repeats the same things, i.e. relating what people say to her as to why they believe they aren't racist and for each statement, she says they are just plain wrong, again with the strong implication that they are just too dumb to know it.
Most of us know people who think they know everything and anyone who disagrees is, at best misguided and probably not too bright. Ms. DiAngelo seems to clearly be such a person.
She practices a form of unintentional ( l assume) prejudice--prejudging--throughout the book as evidenced in the subtitle of the book. Not all white people have a problem talking about race. I often talk with Black people I know about race. It is an open and honest discussion between them and me. I shared a column by Leonard Pitts, Jr.--a Black writer--with a middle-aged Black woman, a person I admire greatly, and we discussed that column, both of us very comfortable with our talk.
Ms. Diangelo has a problem with "individualism." We're all just dumb cows following the herd, nothing we do as individuals matters. She'd probably say that about those white people who died supporting the 60's civil rights movements, after all, they were just "individuals." (Mr. Pitt's column of February 5--at least that's the date on my Kindle version of his column in the Miami Herald--mentions such people--and he is a strong advocate for Blacks and other people of color. If you want to really know how Blacks feel about racial issues, read his columns or Jesse Jackson's or Clarence Page's. I'm sure there are many more such writers one can read.
She also puts down movies and television shows who portray white people "rescuing" people of color, yet this is precisely what she's trying to do herself. I guess she doesn't see the incongruity between what she says and what she does.
She also contends that if a Black person is offended by something said to him/her that "intention" doesn't matter. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Yes, if a person of color is offended, intention doesn't change the hurt feelings, but for any human being, learning that there was no bad intention in what was said can promote understanding between those persons. Much of the problem between human beings of all races is caused by an unwillingness to see what the other person's intention is. Of course, the intention may be malevolent, but it also can be that there was no intention to offend anyone.
Ms. Diangelo proves that an intelligent, highly educated person can lack common sense.
All of this is sad because there is much good information in this book, one example being misconceptions about Affirmative Action. Another example: Bourdieu's theory of: field, habitus, and capital. (page 103)
I have reviewed over 60 books from Early Reviewers and have never had anyone post a message on my profile, nor have I done that myself. I guess that isn't common, but I'd be interested in reading any such messages on my profile page. I expect most of them will be negative, but I can live with that.
“We can’t challenge our racial filters if we can’t consider the possibility that we have them.”
- The faulty good bad binary: If I’m good I can’t be racist.
- Making school decisions based on “test scores” not race, but only giving funding to white schools. It’s racism under a different name.
- Pier analogy: holding up the system is the racism is underneath.
- Colorblindness, I don’t see color, shuts down the conversation instead of opening the door.
People in general are unwilling to
The idea that white tears are unwelcome because they are somehow a calculated move to bring attention back to white women is incredibly dehumanizing; even calling them white tears is dehumanizing in the same way that saying there's "black sweat" on a shirt or calling what a surgery patient gets on your scrubs "black blood" is dehumanizing.
Whiteness must be real in some sense. We can't go on pretending it is "entirely made up and you're really Italian/Irish" while also somehow magically knowing who is and isn't white. Race is tied at least in part to biology, and that is the fundamental basis for all of this identifying who is and isn't problematic and who can speak for whom. The existence of a good/bad binary is the necessary logical result of insisting -- as she thinks she is creatively doing -- that a spectrum exists instead, along which you can choose to be more or less racist or white; what might astound her is that spectra have two ends, and by necessity those poles, since she's cautioning us to head only in one direction on it and not the other, is good and bad. Surprise!
And to occupy a bubble protected from any consequences of admitting "yes I am incurably racist" would have, while telling us that racial prejudice inevitably and permanently clouds our vision as white people, while also telling us she has managed to overcome that as a white woman herself and that she alone has the objective view we should all adopt, is the unimpressive feat of projection and bulverism that DiAngelo manages to achieve here.
1 star only because 0 is not an option.
DiAngelo is a race hustler. Agree with her at your own risk to your own mental health, and the health of a pluralistic society. The path of Critical Race racism will balkanize America further and destroy her.
In her role as a diversity trainer she hears the same arguments from white people all the time. According to DiAngelo the biggest lie we tell ourselves is that only “bad people” are racist. Apparently every white person, except for a few blatant racists, have stories we tell ourselves to excuse ourselves from the racism we see around us.
At first I did not feel that the white fragility DiAngelo describes applied to the majority of people I knew. But as I read and heard her entire argument I remembered the few times racism ever came up in a conversation how people reacted like they had been slapped in the face. I had to agree with her, we are fragile.
American culture is racist. I learned that by studying our history. We are all racists. It is in the air we breathe, the television we watch, the books we read, the schools we attend. We cannot escape it. Richard Pryor was telling the truth, we are taught to be racists. Not David Duke or Donald Trump racist with a capital R racist. Still every last one of us are small r racists. When we hear about a “bad neighborhood” we assume it is black. When we are in a store with two or more young black men are ill at ease. According to DiAngelo even African Americans are not immune to the racist indoctrination that is American culture.
The people that most need to read this, the most fragile white people, those that melt down at the least criticism of their behavior will not read it. They can’t, they KNOW that they are “good people”. Luckily the prescription DiAngelo offers is possible even if it is not quick or easy. Racism is a cancer eating at the soul of America. Every step we take to limit it, to eradicate it, is a step towards “Making America Great” not “Again” but at last. We must finally live up to the premise that all humans are created equal and have certain inalienable rights. I hope it is not too late for us to save ourselves from the tyranny of hate and fear.
There are however also some problems with the book It is quite fatalistic and few actual solutions to racism or
The author appears to have written this book partly as a promotion for the diversity workshops she gives at corporations. An anecdote about these workshops is fundamental to one of her proofs for the existence of White Fragility, but there are problems with it. During workshops she gives she either convinces white people of white fragility or doesn't. When she does, apparently she has sufficiently proven white fragility to them. However, when she doesn't she claims that's also proof of White Fragility, as the white people that don't accept it were apparently to 'fragile' to accept the proofs about their own racist and racial beliefs. This is problematic as she has created an unfalsifiable test for her theory. As unfalsifiable tests are not a good way to conduct science, this experiment has to be dismissed.
This book is perhaps a good start for reading up on racism, but reading works about racism and experiences of racism by actual black people would probably be more productive.
"..., the US economy was based on the abduction and enslavement of African people, the displacement and genocide of Indigenous people, and the annexation of Mexican lands."
"Discrimination is action based on prejudice. These actions include ignoring, exclusion, threats, ridicule, slander, and violence."
"Racism is a system." "...racism - ... - occurs when a racial group's prejudice is backed by legal authority and institutional control."
“For most whites, however, racism is like murder: the concept exists, but someone has to commit it in order for it to happen.”
- Omowale Akintunde
“the trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement. ...it is blackness with ambition, drive, with purpose...”
- Carol Anderson
However the author is aware of this fact and
“I believe that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color. I define a white progressive as any white person who thinks he or she is not racist, or is less racist, or in the “choir,” or already “gets it.” White progressives can be the most difficult for people of color because, to the degree that we think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us as having arrived. None of our energy will go into what we need to be doing for the rest of our lives: engaging in ongoing self-awareness, continuing education, relationship building, and actual anti-racist practice. White progressives do indeed uphold and perpetrate racism, but our defensiveness and certitude make it virtually impossible to explain to us how we do so.”
The problem of course is that the entire argument in the book is presumes a racist white supremacist world-view where everyone is a reduced to a genetically determined avatar for a demographic dynasty and all subsequent discussions and solutions are trapped within the same. As is well noted the author applies a Kafka trap to anyone who rejects the racist world view she projects onto them by asserting the denial is proof.
If, like most modern Americans, you were not born in the south prior to 1960 you are likely not her target audience. This book is of little value and may in fact be a net negative. Read only to become familiar with the target audience above my be reading and only then if you have abundant spare time and nothing else at hand to read.
The people you see in Facebook comments who go:
The people who say, "Its more about class than race" now adays. They need to read this. The people who don't understand, or are unwilling to understand. They need to read this.
Yes. Obvious fact incoming: Racism is bad. Obvious statement is obvious. Lynching a black man is racist. Nobody is equating you (you = white person) with lynching a black man. But there are other, small, unnoticeable (to white people; not to those of color) things that you do, or even accept, that is racist. Being white is not good or bad. Being racist is bad; but unknowingly doing racist things doesn't make you bad or good. It just makes you unknowing, and ignorant.
We are all guilty of ignorance, all creeds, all colors, all spectrums. I'm ignorant of how my car runs. I'm ignorant of how many of the ways in which our own world operates. Sadly I don't know enough about Canadian or British politics. How does the Queen of England even work?! BUT.... I also know, I am ignorant of what exactly it is like to be a black man. I am not a black man. I will never be a black man. I will not understand fully what it means to be a black man.
That, is why, we all, white especially; need to listen. Stop saying auto-reply - #AllLivesMatter in response to #BlackLivesMatter. Stop saying "One bad cop doesn't mean their all bad." These are stupid, generic statements that we all understand. Yes, all lives do matter. But, read the room, understand things, have some level of empathy. KNOW before speaking sometimes. KNOW you are ignorant. KNOW your statement sounds stupid, is off-putting, and demoralizing to many; especially those of color.
We all live in a bubble of ignorance, but we can at least attempt to break out of it, reading books like this - reading books from other people's experiences, books from authors we would never have been given in high school, in a typical rural American high school, where you are given Gatsby, Steinbeck novels, where the only level of 'racism' we get given is To Kill a Mockingbird. Pick up books by Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Pablo Neruda, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Hiroki Murakami, etc, etc, etc, etc. Read. Learn. Listen. Grow.
Talk to your friends of different ethnicity, learn how you are received, perceived, have actual honest discussions with them. SEE how they SEE you. Don't THINK inside your head how they SEE you. I guarantee its not the same. I guarantee you are not HOW you think you. Nobody is, even to their closest friends, to their spouses, children, etc, even to people of their own race, you are not SEEN and PERCEIVED the way you THINK you are. So learn, grow, talk to that one black co-worker you had two beers with three years ago. Ask him "How do I come off? How are things going? How can I be better?"
Read books like this, that show you how to take those steps. Read articles, watch TEDx Talks, learn from people of other groups, religions, creeds, colors, philosophies, countries, learn what their lives are like or were like. Learn what it was like to be a Jew in Germany in the 20s and 30s leading up to WWII. Don't just take it for granted. There is 9Billion some people on this earth, if you aren't reading, and are just watching the spoon-fed Hollywood bullcrap, you are getting about a ~
Learn, grow, experience, and then come to terms with who you are, how you are, why you are. Being white is not a crime. Nobody is saying that. Reparations aren't even required. But understand yourself. Understand your role in society. Understand your placement. Understand your role in racism. Understand how there is an inherent white privilege even when you don't see it, because of your set of circumstances. (Growing up poor white is still different than growing up poor black, or Latino, or Asian, or Gay, or Female, or Male, or brown, etc, etc, etc.)
Everyone was handed a different hand, and even a different deck of cards. Your hand might be great, or it might be horrible, but you might still have a great deck of cards to work with. Or, you might have been given a great hand but still be in a bad deck of cards, or you might have been given a shitty hand and an even shittier deck of cards.
The biggest thing is, we are all in this together. We are all people, and understanding how we can help ALL people, is the only way forward.
1) I have actually done a fair amount of reading/workshops/discussion on racism throughout my life. It's not that I don't have further to go (I most certainly do); but most of the ideas and formulations in this book were not new to me. I have gotten more from some other reading and lectures, specifically TaNahesi Coates and Claudia Rankine. On the other hand, it should not be the job of persons of color to educated me about racism, so it IS good to have a white woman take a stab at it.
2) some other ideas, I wasn't sure I agreed with. For example, early in the books she states that micro-aggressions from progressive whites are the most difficult part of racism for most people of color. I found that a bit difficult to believe, not that I don't think micro-aggressions are bad, but it seems that blatant racism, high incarceration rates, police violence and economic inequality would be harder. Perhaps DiAngelo is right... I was willing to be convinced, but she did not convince me.
3) I felt that the book would have been stronger if DiAngelo had been more specific. She references People of Color, but mostly she seems to be talking about African Americans. That is fair, and whites and African Americans have a very specific history in the US. I think she should have explicitly narrowed her focus to deal with that dynamic, and it would've been a stronger argument.
4) the other issue that she did not address, which I think is important, is the economic part of institutional racism, and how the economic powers use white supremacy to drive a wedge between white working class and working class people of color in order to perpetuate both racism and classism in the US.
But critiques aside, anything that makes people think more about racism and its impacts is important, and so I do thank DiAngelo for presenting this and the Early Reviewers for giving me a copy.
Wow! Talk about a book writing by someone who knows their subject matter! Excellent eye-opening discourse on racism and many of the assumption white people (like myself) get wrong about the black perspective. Learning to acknowledge how pervasive the existence of white supremacy is a
The writing style is straight forward and conversational. DiAngelo educates in a way I've never before experienced.
I wish this book could be mandatory reading for everyone. I'd love to see it as the central focus for a college or even high school course. This book is the perfect launch for honest conversations that will help us all to better understand each other.