Monday, October 5, 2020

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People To Talk About Racism
by Robin Diangelo 
Read by Amy Landon 
Published June 2018 by Beacon Press 
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary: 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. 

My Thoughts: Through research, personal stories, and examples, Diangelo (a race scholar and diversity trainer) addresses how racism has been engrained in us since this country was formed.
“[Thomas] Jefferson suggested that there were natural differences between the races and asked scientists to find them.”
“American scientists began searching for the answer to the perceived inferiority of non-Anglo groups. Illustrating the power of our questions to shape the knowledge we validate, these scientists didn’t ask “Are blacks and others inferior?” They asked “Why are blacks and others inferior?””
“Exploitation came first and then the ideology of unequal races to justify this exploitation followed.”
Over the ensuing decades, the courts have continued to uphold the inferiority of nonwhites. And while many whites have suffered from the ill effects of classism, they have always known that it was “better to be white.” Every time we’ve celebrated a person of color “breaking the color barrier,” we neglect to say that it only happened because whites allowed it to finally happen, implying there was only just now a person of color capable of achieving that level of success. “Narratives of racial exceptionality obscure the reality of ongoing institutional white control while reinforcing the ideologies of individualism and meritocracy.” 

“White resistance to the term “white supremacy” prevents us from examining how these messages shape us. Explicit white supremacists understand this.” Diangelo explains how the alt-right and white nationalists have spent thirty years reworking their messages to make them more palatable, to blend in. They’ve adopted messages against affirmative action, immigration, and globalism as veiled attacks on persons of color and, in so doing, have convinced a significant portion of other whites that their messages are valid and reasonable without those people even realizing the inherent racism in the messages. Diangelo also contends that millennials are every bit as mired in racism as the generations ahead of them and that claims of color blindness harm our ability to accept our own racism. 
'“White fragility”: the reaction in which white people feel offended or attacked when the topic of racism arises.”*
You know I’ve been doing a lot of reading this year about racism and working to educate myself on what it means to be black in this country. A lot of that reading has been uncomfortable, in no small part because it didn’t just call out white people in general, but me in particular. Diangelo takes it to a whole new level for me. 

She calls white people out on the ways we deny racism and how we, so often, make ourselves the victim when confronted about racism. I’m sorry to say that I saw myself frequently in her examples. I have even, once, fallen into the “white women’s tears” scenario Diangelo talks about, whereby a white woman, feeling attacked about being called out, starts crying, drawing the attention away from the person who was legitimately injured. 

Diangelo says that “it is common to feel defensive if you believe that you are being told you are a bad person.” She points to what she calls the good/bad binary that has reinforced our resistance to admitting our racism. We’ve been raised to believe that only bad people are racists and, not considering ourselves bad people, cannot accept that we have done anything wrong. What, then, can those of us who would like to make changes in the way we think do? We can’t define racism as only “a conscious intolerance of black people.” Diangelo says that we must “identify our racist patterns” and make it more important to interrupt those patterns than managing how we think we look to others. She has raised my awareness and given me the tools to be a better ally and a better person. Now I need to work hard to make them a part of my life, every day. 

“The value of “White Fragility” lies,” says the reviewer from The New Yorker, “…in its call for humility and vigilance.” *Publisher’s Weekly

1 comment:

  1. I've read quite a bit about this book, although I haven't yet read the book, but it seems like the most controversial part is the bit about “white women’s tears.” To me, it is all good, because it gets discussions going, and increases awareness, and Heaven knows we need that now! Thanks for the thorough and illuminating review. (And too bad she may be out of a job with "diversity training" under fire by the racist administration....)