White Fragility is one of the most popular books spreading the worldview of Critical Race Theory and reshaping Western thought concerning racism. DiAngelo’s thesis is that white supremacy, as well as racism, is a social constructs baked into the American culture. Very little can be done to improve the socialization of America, but perhaps a little progress can be made if whites would learn to listen, study, attempt to understand black people, as well as their own perpetuation of racism. The problem is that whites are too fragile and defensive to accept their culpability. This book is designed to nudge whites toward being less fragile.
Such is the big picture but Robin DiAngelo, a consultant and trainer on issues of racial and social justice and formerly a professor of multicultural education, also unpacks many of the ideologies behind critical theory. As she does so, the reader can quickly discern why there is such wide confusion and defensiveness regarding racism, starting with the definition of racism itself. The author admits that, if people are using the standard, time-honored definition of racism, most will deny being racist. Traditional racism is defined as intentional acts of discrimination committed by immoral individuals (v. 9) it is prejudice (p. 19), and “based on conscious dislike of someone because of race” (p. 71). By this definition, the author admits that few white people are racists and that, by the same definition, she is a racist because she is generalizing about people according to race (p. 13). However, DiAngelo and her ilk, have created a new definition.
Racism is a system of advantage based on race. These advantages are referred to as white privilege, a sociological concept referring to advantages that are taken for granted by whites and that cannot be similarly enjoyed by people of color in the same context (government, community, workplace, school, etc.)…When I say that only whites can be racist, I mean that in the United States, only whites have the collective social and institutional power and privilege over people of color. People of color do not have this power and privilege over white people (pp 22, 24).
Next, the definition of whiteness is interesting and problematic. DiAngelo tells us that whiteness is not true, while it is real (p. x), created to protect white advantage (p. 17). Only whites, by her definition, can be racist because they hold the power over people of color (p. 18). DiAngelo believes that two key Western ideologies keep white people from exploring “the collective aspects of the white experience” (p. 9): individualism which “holds that we are each unique and stand apart from others” and objectivity which “tells us that it is possible to be free of all bias” (p. 9). These are to be replaced by identity politics in which we identify with specific groups (white, blacks, women, men, gay, straight, etc.) and function collectively from the group(s) with which we identify. All progress made in the realm of civil rights has been accomplished through identity politics, she asserts (p. xiv). This is where intersectionality comes into play. Minority and marginalized identity groups must be empowered by those who hold power, i.e. white males. Identity politics is the only way forward, and it is an almost impossible task since most whites are oblivious to of the role they play in systemic racism (pp. xiv, 20-21). As such, blacks are blocked from moving forward and whites are unaware that they are the barrier (pp. 50, 96, 108).
Despite the accolades White Fragility has received, it offers little hope or practical help. Based on the definitions of racism, whiteness and so forth, the author has virtually boxed herself into a corner. There is no possibility of overriding the socialization of racism (pp. 69-81, 129, 147), judging others is impossible not to do (pp. 81-84, 126), anti-racism cannot be taught, even by parents to their children (p. 83), assumptions between races are omnipresent (p. 126), respect cannot be defined or developed (p. 127), racism cannot be avoided (p. 147), and whites are unconsciously invested in racism (and always will be pp. 147, 149). The only antidote she offers is non-defensiveness by whites (pp. 129, 135) and action gleaned, not by communication with blacks who strangely are not to be white’s teacher (pp. 64, 146), but from books, films, and schools, ostensibly written, produced and taught by racist white people, who are Woke. The author does not believe she will ever be non-racist, but she does not feel guilty because she did not choose this socialization and it cannot be avoided (p. 149). All she can do is strive to be “less white” for her own liberation, not to save people of color (p. 150). This is an unsatisfying conclusion to a truly disturbing book which has created (or bought into) a supposed problem and offers no solutions.
White Fragility, Why It’s Hard For White People To Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo (Boston: Beacon Press, 2018), 160 pp. + xx, Paper $22.00
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher at Southern View Chapel