White Fragility

Book Reviews

Srajan reviews Robin DiAngelo’s timely book; “It is challenging reading, not easily digested, and much deeper and more nuanced than one might expect.”

White Fragility, book cover

White Fragility
Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism
by Robin DiAngelo
Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts
Reprint edition, June 26, 2018
192 pages
Paperback and Kindle: amazon.comamazon.co.ukamazon.deamazon.in

As protests rage across America (and elsewhere) it is past time to investigate with heart and mind inequality and racism in this country. Robin DiAngelo, a white woman, writes to a white audience and the white collective in her book, White Fragility. It is challenging reading, not easily digested, and much deeper and more nuanced than one might expect.

If you are convinced that you are not a racist, please read on.

From the vast quantity of information within this book, I’ve chosen a few key points. This book deserves a thorough investigation. What it reveals, and the unconsciousness it illuminates is profound.

If you were born white, you already have a leg or two up:

“Whiteness rests upon a foundational premise: the definition of whites as the norm or standard for human, and people of color as a deviation from that norm. Whiteness is not acknowledged by white people, and the white reference point is assumed to be universal and is imposed on everyone.

“White people in North America live in a society that is deeply separate and unequal by race, and white people are the beneficiaries of that separation and inequality. As a result, we are insulated from racial stress, at the same time that we come to feel entitled to and deserving of our advantage.

“Even small amounts of racial stress trigger a range of defensive responses. These include emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and withdrawal from the stress-inducing situation. These responses work to reinstate white equilibrium as they repel the challenge, return our racial comfort, and maintain our dominance with the racial hierarchy.”

This process Robin DiAngelo terms, ‘White Fragility’.

“The anti-black sentiment is integral to white identity. We live in a culture that circulates relentless messages of white superiority simultaneously with relentless messages of black inferiority. Whiteness has always been predicated on blackness. There was no concept of race or a white race before the need to justify the enslavement of Africans. Creating a separate and inferior black race simultaneously created the “superior” white race: one concept could not exist without the other.

“Blackness is essential to the creation of white identity. Anti-blackness comes from a deep guilt about what we have done and continue to do; the unbearable knowledge of our complicity with the profound torture of black people (and others) from the past to the present.”

Racism is a white problem not a black one.

But, you say, “How does this apply to me, I AM NOT A RACIST?

“Racial scholars use the term ‘white supremacy’ to describe a socio-political economic system of domination based on racial categories that benefits those defined and perceived as white. This system of structural power privileges, centralizes, and elevates white people as a group.”

White people, primarily male, control most of the power/influence positions in the USA. This includes the government, military, entertainment industry, media, and sports owners. They represent power and control by a racial group that is in the position to disseminate and protect its own self-image, world view, and interests across the entire society and beyond. Of the ten richest Americans: 100 percent are white males (seven of whom are among the ten richest in the world).

“Race is an evolving social idea that was created to legitimize racial inequality and protect white advantage…. The idea of racial inferiority was created to justify unequal treatment; belief in racial inferiority is not what triggered unequal treatment. Nor was fear of difference. Racism is a deeply embedded historical system of institutional power. It is not fluid and does not change direction.

“To understand, we need to first distinguish racism from mere prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice is pre-judgement about another person based on the social groups to which a person belongs. Discrimination is action based on prejudice. Racism – like sexism and other forms of oppression – occurs when a racial group’s prejudice is backed by legal authority and institutional control.

“The system of racism begins with ideology, which refers to the big ideas that are reinforced throughout society. From birth, we are conditioned into accepting and not questioning these ideas.

“These ideas are reinforced through social penalties when someone questions an ideology and through the limited availability of alternative ideas. Because these ideas are constantly reinforced, they are very hard to avoid believing and internalizing.”

This is why I AM NOT A RACIST… or am I colorblind?

“The racial ideology that circulates in the USA rationalizes racial hierarchies as the outcome of a natural order resulting from either genetics or individual effort or talent…. Racism is deeply embedded in the fabric of our society. Whites hold the social and institutional positions in society to infuse their racial prejudice into the laws, policies, practices, and norms of society in a way that people of color do not.

“The dominant paradigm of racism as discrete, individual, intentional, and malicious makes it unlikely that whites will acknowledge any of our actions as racism.

“This makes us color-blind by insisting that people do not see race, or if they see it, it has no meaning to them.”

Colorblind claims are many and include the following:

I was taught to treat everyone the same
I don’t see color
Race doesn’t have any meaning to me
Focusing on race is what divides us
If people are respectful to me, I am respectful to them. regardless of race
I’m not racist; I’m from Canada (or anywhere else)
I was picked on because I was white/I grew up poor (so I don’t have race privilege)

There are also claims that the person sees and embraces racial difference. This is called ’color-celebrate’. Here are a few examples:

I have people of color in my family/married a person of color/have children of color
I was in the military
I used to live in New York/Hawaii
I was in the Peace Corps and marched in the sixties
We adopted a child from China and our grandchildren will be multiracial
I was on a mission in Africa (or a commune in Oregon/India)
I’ve done so much work on myself

You might say we’ve come a long way since white folk would stand around at a lynching of a black man and laugh about it in celebration. Note however, that just recently three police officers here in the USA were fired after a video went virile showing them laughing and mimicking a strangulation. Days earlier the three of them, two men and woman, had arrested a black man. That arrest led to his death by asphyxiation. Now what happens to the officers?

My own defensiveness around race was shown to me recently. I initially responded to the cry of “Black Lives Matter” by saying naively, that, “All Lives Matter.” I soon learned that this missed the point entirely because the Black Lives Matter movement is not about denigrating the worth of other ethnic groups; it is about highlighting a specific problem. Black Lives Matter is against racism and systemic injustices against the Black community, and it works for equality for everyone.

The message of the slogan is not that Black lives matter more. It is not that the lives of Caucasian people don’t matter. It is that BLACK LIVES MATTER JUST AS MUCH.

Let us take this challenging global moment to examine our relationship to racial inequality wherever we are. Much of that examination will require a look beneath the surface into long held and long supported unconscious racial beliefs. It is a journey worth taking, for all of us.

The whole world should be one humanity, only divided by small communes on a practical basis: No fanaticism, no racism, no nationalism. Then, for the first time, we can drop the idea of wars. We can make life with honesty worth living, worth enjoying; playful, meditative, creative, and give every man and every woman equal opportunity to grow and bring their potential to flowering.

Osho, The Golden Future, Ch 30 (excerpt)


Srajan is a writer, lover of Asian art and relishes life as a global nomad.

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