BOOK REVIEW: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

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I make a habit of reading books and articles that I expect to find disagreeable. This serves to test my convictions as I bounce them off opposing views and discover whether or not they survive the collisions. Moreover, the willingness to seek out alternate views invariably teaches you something that you did not know. In fact, sometimes you actually learn that your understanding of the issue was completely wrong altogether.

The fact that Robin DiAngelo’s ‘White Fragility’ did not manage to be informative or useful on any level is an achievement in and of itself. I’ve never encountered a book so intellectually vapid as to make me worry that reading it may have actually subtracted some knowledge.

The general thrust of her argument is that to exist and to be white is to benefit from, and uphold white supremacist structures. She therefore suggests that as white supremacists and racists we should aim to acknowledge this truth, which may be uncomfortable for us. However, we are told this ‘discomfort’ has a name: ‘white fragility’. We ‘need to build’ our ‘capacity to endure discomfort and bear witness to the pain of racism’. And that feeling ‘discomfort’ at being informed of our unquestionable racism is both ‘necessary and important’.

We are told that ‘a positive white identity is an impossible goal. White identity is inherently racist. White people do not exist outside of the system of white supremacy’.

There are many ways in which her arguments mimic the structure of fundamental religion. The book is awash with unfalsifiable claims and contains a plethora of conflicting dogmas and injunctions that are impossible to satisfy. The author leans heavily on the idea that you are born sick—sorry, ‘privileged’—and must seek to absolve your sins—sorry, ‘whiteness’—for as long as you walk the earth. Also, if you disagree with the tenets of this scripture, that is in itself evidence that the devil—sorry , ‘white fragility’—is working through you.

Not only is it a faith-based ideology, it is a totalitarian one. The author asserts that it is simply not enough to accept that you have ‘privilege’ because of your skin colour. That would indicate a sort of passive innocence—since after all, you did not choose your skin colour. No, you must repent in stronger terms and concede that you are actively complicit in your white supremacy and actually desire to uphold the racist structures that you willingly benefit from.

And if you find it somewhat irksome to be accused of white supremacy (as any non-racist would), that too is evidence of your ‘white fragility’. Checkmate, said the pigeon.

When people come to DiAngelo to ask what they should do to combat racism, she turns the question around and asks ‘how have we managed not to know [what do to about racism] when the information is all around us?’ This is strikingly similar to the creationist request to ‘just look around you’ when asked where one might see the hand of god in nature. Racism is everywhere apparently. Oh, and it’s also invisible too.

Throughout this book I was also taken aback with how often the author reveals how little she thinks of black people in general. She doesn’t consider black people in terms of the individual. In fact, she doesn’t accept the notion of ‘the individual’ at all, warning that individualism is a harmful ‘white’ idea proposed to avoid acknowledging the unique evils of ‘whiteness’. The entire book reads as though a white supremacist feels guilt for their prejudices, and confesses in the hope that we will be inspired to do the same, seemingly unaware that normal people do not think about black people and their own skin colour the way she does.

For example, the author argues that a desire to have discussions in a ‘respectful environment’ of ‘non-conflict’ is a very white-centric notion of what it means to be ‘respectful’. Therefore imposing these ‘white’ norms of civility creates a ‘hostile environment’ for non-white people. This is what the racism of low expectation looks like. She goes on to say that ‘feedback on white racism is difficult to give [and] how I am given the feedback is not as relevant as the feedback itself’.

Of course something can be true whether it is argued in a logical and calm manner or whether it is screamed in your face whilst you are trying to eat your lunch. However, the idea that the former approach comes more naturally to white people frames black people as belligerent infants, incapable of attaining the white gold standard of rationality and civility. It’s as offensive as it is infantilising. This is a wall of white supremacy glossed over with a thick coat of guilt.

Of course, no religion would be complete without its prophets, and DiAngelo duly accepts this role, albeit with a dash of faux-humility. You see, since she herself is also a wretched white person, she cannot exempt herself from her core arguments without completely invalidating them. ‘Nothing exempts me from the forces of racism’ she tells us. ‘My analysis must be intersectional’—a sentence which should set alarm bells ringing.

She does a fairly solid job of hoisting herself up on the cross as she admits to being guilty of upholding white supremacist systems herself. However, DiAngelo still manages to frame herself as better than the rest of us through a sequence of totally not made-up anecdotes. In one of the many ‘encounters’ she shares with us (that definitely happened), she humbly recalls how impressed a black person was with her ‘willingness to repair’ her own faulty notions of race.

Also, no religion would be complete without its martyrs. A role which DiAngelo also steps up to. ‘Because I am seen as somewhat more racially aware than other whites, people of colour will often give me a pass’ she writes. She momentarily reveals how virtuous she is compared to us mere troglowhites, before heroically declaring how she refuses to let her own woke brilliance go to her head. She informs us that this sort of ‘black acceptance’ only serves to ‘stunt her path of racial growth’ apparently and therefore the black individual praising her is actually guilty of colluding with her racism.

It’s at this point she comes dangerously close to claiming a black person is capable of doing something wrong, but saves herself from this unthinkable crime by explaining that a black person would not feel obliged to say such things to white people were it not for our ‘white fragility’. Close one.

In a modern twist on experiments concerning the buoyancy of witches, DiAngelo argues that feeling ‘outraged’ by accusations of racism levelled at you is simply further proof of your ‘white fragility’. When faced with accusations of racism, no matter ‘how/when/why’ they occur, you must not only accept them, but be grateful to receive them. The idea that some accusations of racism will be false/and or irrational are simply not even entertained as a possibility by the author. If you don’t think you are a racist, that’s simply because you are a racist, obvs. The author advises you to choose from the following approved responses when confronted with accusations of racism:

“I appreciate this feedback”

“This is very helpful”

“It’s my responsibility to resist defensiveness and complacency”

“This is hard but also stimulating and also important”

“oops, it is inevitable that I have this pattern, I want to change it”.

After the opening few chapters of White Fragility, I started to wonder whether its author had ever spoken to any black people before, but it was after this point in the book that I started to doubt she’d ever had a conversation with any humans at all.

In another ego-massaging anecdote, DiAngelo tells us how she stepped up to ‘handle it’ when faced with a bout of unreasonable whiteness during a group discussion. Apparently, when a white woman started crying when discussing the shooting of an unarmed black man, DiAngelo removed the white woman from the discussion. Not out of compassion for a visibly distressed human you see, but because her ‘white woman’s tears’ are nothing more than a manipulative ploy to hijack the attention away from non-white people. Or from DiAngelo. I’m unsure at this point.

But the tragedy of all this is that ‘White Fragility’ is nothing more than a pseudo-intellectual misdirection masquerading as compassionate activism. In reality, this performative, humble-bragging white guilt will do nothing to help alleviate inequality or improve the material needs of black people. It’s a lazy way for white racists to alleviate their guilty consciences and continue to avoid doing anything useful for the the people they claim to care about—except for treating them like children. Just so long as you are willing to admit how awful and privileged you are (I.e. talk about yourself incessantly), then you don’t have to talk about the real issues facing black communities or think too hard about a complicated issue and its difficult questions.

White Fragility is nothing more than a training manual for a new movement of racists. And it’s spreading like a virus. Critical race theory and woke intersectional viewpoints are already embedding themselves within our academia, journalism and politics, regressing everything they come into contact with.

Robin DiAngelo has managed to monetize the real issue of black inequality and recent racial tensions. And too many are eager to throw their dollar into the collection bowl being passed around by this insidious church of wokeness, in the hope that it will cleanse them of all their responsibilities when it comes to equality.

This is a far cry from Martin Luther King’s call to treat people in accordance with the content or their character rather than the colour of their skin. By demanding the right to be treated as an individual via the tools of civil disobedience, rational argumentation and a stoic dignity he demonstrated he was better than the ignorant racists who seem to share the same worldview as Robin DiAngelo: Namely that black people will forever be defined, and therefore constrained by their skin colour and history. And we should therefore forever treat them differently because of it.

No doubt the act of a white man quoting MLK’s brilliance in this way will soon find itself on the ever-expanding list of ‘racist microaggressions’. But I don’t care. And neither should you. Because MLK was right then and he’s right now.

Stephen Knight is host of The #GSPodcast. You can listen to The Godless Spellchecker Podcast here, and support it by becoming a patron here.

9 comments

  • Thanks for reading the book, so that we don’t have to.

    “she refuses to let he own woke brilliance go to her head” should be “… to let her own …”?

  • Great review thanks, A Kiwi Boomer

  • To carry your apt religious analogy a step further, there’s something specifically very Calvinist about this cult. The world is strictly divided into the righteous elect (still plagued by sin/racism, yet divinely favoured because of their acceptance of the doctrine that tells them so) and the reprobates (eternally damned, unable to be saved because they’re simply too sinful/racist to accept the doctrine). But because there’s no God in White Fragility, it repurposes the old Rousseauvian myth of the noble savage – dark-skinned people en masse as prelapsarian innocents, who do wrong only because they’ve been corrupted by whites – and makes a divine presence of them. And if their divine wrath should happen to fall on you because of your unconscious sin/racism, naturally it’s your duty as a good Puritan to be stoic and humble in the face of the Lord, and not attempt to appease Him with your tears. Just as the 17th-century Calvinist could point to all the world’s poverty, war, starvation and pestilence as evidence of universal sin, so the woke can attribute every flaw and disparity in modern society to racism. The appealing simplicity in both doctrines isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

    But the good news is, like the spiritual forebears whose mentality she’s tediously re-packaged, Robin DiAngelo and her adherents will go down in history as joyless, self-righteous bigots who actively made the world a worse place to live. The issues they purport to care about *will* get better with time, but it’ll be through the hard work of others who care about material reality, not simply cleansing their own guilt-riddled conscience. And I think we can all say amen to that.

    • Your analogy literally blew my mind and added perfectly to this review.

    • I dare say some dark skinned folks perpetrated some pretty racist atrocities long before they ever set eyes on a fair-skinned human being. But as with all Orwellian adventures, history can be very selective when it needs to be.
      I overheard a remarkably intelligent person say not so long ago that mischief walks the land when racism is used to combat racism, sexism is used to combat sexism, and ignorance pursues the illusion of intelligence. It can take a lot of hard work to wind up as a non-racist – after which it becomes an astonishingly easy thing to sustain. I couldn’t say I understand how racists actually feel about that, but I could take a good guess that jealousy and envy enter the mix somewhere.
      Anyhow, human psychology remains pickled in the lust for revenge, which is why I’ve smelled a rat ever since this abomination of CRT got started. I’ve been critical of white history since middle school, and it never made me want to crawl outside of my own skin. The object in life is to figure out how to be comfortable in the skin you’re in. And there are far too many fine, wonderful and decent things about the human experience that own no particular color at all, which is as it should be. My tribe is non-existent, my identity group owns the greatest majority there is: the human race. Anyone trying to convince me otherwise leave me deeply suspicious of their respect for humanity. For of course any fool knows that the process of de-humanization paves a greased quick road to hell. Which is where we’ve gone before often enough. (But that particular history is conveniently ignored by those whose pride doth indeed, goeth before the fall. Verily. Religion? Some devils do indeed, claim their due.

  • There have to be limits to free speech, such as shouting “All lives matter!” in a crowded theatre.

  • Perfect analysis of this group that comes after you for what they consider is wrong-think.

  • Excellent. Thanks

  • Great response and very funny. And, oh! so correct

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