Book Review: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
After hearing all the uplifting reviews about the now-classic book, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, I decided to give it a read. This is my review.
To save everyone time and effort, I’m going to start with my two-word conclusion first and then explain how I arrived at that opinion later.
Conclusion: It sucked.
Within the first ten pages, DiAngelo says, “I believe that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color.”
I think that’s the single most honest statement made in the entire book. From what I have observed and read about, other than a handful of legitimately terrible people, the vast majority of people in the United States don’t give two hoots about anyone’s race.
Sure, race used to be a big problem in the U.S., but this isn’t the Jim Crow south or pre-Civil Rights era anymore. We’ve had a black President twice, numerous brown and immigrant Congress members, local politicians, and a Native American Vice President, to name a few.
Nobody, except for a few legitimate idiots, actually cares about race anymore.
Actually, let me rephrase that: No reasonable person cares about race; the only people who seem to care are progressive white people who partake in the idiotic belief that race is indicative of one’s behavior and moral value.
White Fragility is a giant slap in the face to everything MLK Jr. sought to accomplish. If the ideologies advocated for in this silly book are actually followed through on, then everyone will be judged and valued solely by the color of their skin and the content of their character won’t be a deciding factor for anything at all. We’re all individuals, regardless of skin color, and we should treat each other as such.
That’s my two-word conclusion and reasoning behind it. Now, for the nitty-gritty.
“Racial identity for multiracial people is further complicated by the racial identity of their parents and the racial demographics of the community in which they are raised. For example, though a child may look black and be treated as black, she may be raised primarily by a white parent and thus identify more strongly as white.”DiAngelo, Robin J.. White Fragility (p. xvi). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
Throughout the entire introduction and first chapters, I got the impression that there were “white ideas” and “black ideas.” This is further evidenced later in the book when DiAngelo refers to meritocracy, career success, and individualization as being white constructs.
Translation: If you’re black and believe in the idea that the most qualified person should be selected for something, then that’s a “white idea” and you’re not really black but actually white on the inside and are functionally a white person. However, if you’re white and don’t believe in meritocracy, then you’re still white and still have racist leanings.
“I have never met a white person without an opinion on racism. It’s not really possible to grow up in the United States or spend any significant time here—or any other culture with a history of Western colonization—without developing opinions on racism.”DiAngelo, Robin J.. White Fragility (pp. 7-8). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
To be fair, I have never met any person who hasn’t had an opinion on racism. To suggest that only white people have an opinion on racism is misleading. And of the people I’ve met who have expressed their opinion about racism, roughly 98% of them have shared the same opinion: Racism is terrible.
“…our simplistic definition of racism—as intentional acts of racial discrimination committed by immoral individuals—engenders a confidence that we are not part of the problem and that our learning is thus complete.”DiAngelo, Robin J.. White Fragility (p. 9). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
Like other sections in this book, DiAngelo has her definitions askew. “Intentional acts of racial discrimination committed by immoral individuals” isn’t actually the working definition of racism. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, racism is really the belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
According to DiAngelo, only whites and brownish people with white ideas can be racist. It’s my contention that anyone of any race can be racist if they believe in one race being superior to another based solely on skin color.
“Examples of [racial] ideology in the United States include individualism, the superiority of capitalism as an economic system and democracy as a political system, consumerism as a desirable lifestyle, and meritocracy (anyone can succeed if he or she works hard).
The racial ideology that circulates in the United States rationalizes racial hierarchies as the outcome of a natural order resulting from either genetics or individual effort or talent. Those who don’t succeed are just not as naturally capable, deserving, or hardworking.”DiAngelo, Robin J.. White Fragility (p. 21). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
Apparently, belief in the individual who can make independent choices that they’re responsible for, the free market, everyone’s vote having equal value, being able to exchange goods or services in the free market to get things, and the belief that the most qualified people should get what they’ve worked for are all “white ideas.”
If these are bad and racist, what is an alternative that doesn’t strip away an individual’s freedom and responsibility for their choices?
“People of color may also hold prejudices and discriminate against white people, but they lack the social and institutional power that transforms their prejudice and discrimination into racism; the impact of their prejudice on whites is temporary and contextual…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.”DiAngelo, Robin J.. White Fragility (p. 22). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
Does this make it morally okay for not-white people to be racist and discriminate against whites? DiAngelo repeatedly states throughout the entire book that it’s morally wrong for white people to discriminate and be racist, but I don’t recall her explicitly indicating that it’s bad for brown or black people to do it. If we want to shift and define racism as being treated differently because of one’s skin color, then this sounds a little racist to me.
Also, other than current Affirmative Action laws, which essentially prioritize brownish minorities over all other races, what institutional power or privilege do whites have? I didn’t catch any black- or brown-specific inhibiting laws mentioned in the book.
“By definition, racism is a deeply embedded historical system of institutional power.”DiAngelo, Robin J.. White Fragility (p. 24). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
…Unless it’s not and racism is actually the belief that one race is inherently superior to another race based solely on skin color.
“Whites rarely consider how sheltered and safe their spaces may be from the perspective of people of color (e.g., Trayvon Martin’s experience in a gated white community). Because it reverses the actual direction of racial danger, this narrative may be one of the most pernicious.”DiAngelo, Robin J.. White Fragility (pp. 46-47). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
I’m not sure Trayvon is the case DiAngelo should hang her hat on for this example. According to The Daily Wire, “On February 26, 2012, Zimmerman reported there was a young man peering into windows of homes in the community, who appeared to be on drugs (THC was later found in Martin’s system during the autopsy). The police dispatcher instructed Zimmerman not to follow Martin. Zimmerman later stated he obeyed the dispatcher, that Martin confronted him and punched him in the face. Witness testimony and physical evidence showed that Martin had straddled Zimmerman and pounded his head into the pavement. Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest. An officer arrived, discovering Martin dead and Zimmerman on the ground, bleeding from multiple wounds to the head and face.”
Unless DiAngelo is going to argue that property rights are a “white idea,” and unless Trayvon happened to have owned all of the homes he was credibly alleged to have been peering into (had a documented history of doing previously), it’s not okay to trespass onto a property that doesn’t belong to you and look through windows.
From what I can discern, Trayvon didn’t die because he was black or because he was trespassing. Zimmerman shot him in self-defense while he was being straddled and literally beat into the pavement.
“Pause for a moment and consider the profundity of this message: we are taught that we lose nothing of value through racial segregation. Consider the message we send to our children—as well as to children of color—when we describe white segregation as good.”DiAngelo, Robin J.. White Fragility (p. 68). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
Question: Who is teaching this? Unless she’s referring to how some colleges were endorsing racial segregation at the request of black and minority students…
“To put it bluntly, I believe that the white collective fundamentally hates blackness for what it reminds us of: that we are capable and guilty of perpetrating immeasurable harm and that our gains come through the subjugation of others. We have a particular hatred for “uppity” blacks, those who dare to step out of their place and look us in the eye as equals.”DiAngelo, Robin J.. White Fragility (p. 95). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
Let me make sure I understand correctly: White people hate black people and black culture because blacks remind whites of all the terrible things whites have done in the past to blacks because whites are only successful at life because they’ve stood on the backs and necks of blacks and that’s also why whites hate it when black people are successful because whites can’t stand black success because blacks got out from under having their backs and necks stood on and that reminds whites of how bad their behavior toward blacks was.
Got it. Sheesh, this circular logic sure is confusing sometimes.
There’s still plenty more terrible content in the book to break down, question, and dispute, but I don’t think it’s really necessary to continue. But don’t take my word for it. Buy a copy and knock yourself out. It’s definitely a brain stumper at times.
I read in another book that when it comes to debates, the person who controls the definitions controls the debate outcome. For all of the terrible, racist, and inaccurate things DiAngelo encourages in this book, she does an excellent job at controlling the definitions at all times, as inaccurate as they are.
It’s my belief that whoever believes the drivel in this book has a severely skewed perception of race, people in general, and cares way too much about all the wrong things. White Fragility is nothing more than a handbook of racial sophistry that will hopefully be discredited, discarded into the abyss of bad history, and then forgotten in the years to come.
I do find this rather intriguing, though: DiAngelo is either severely delusional and leads a profoundly sad life legitimately believing everything she has written, or she’s an excellent grifter and is very pleased with all the money she has made from selling this terrible racial narrative, including the $9 I paid for the Kindle version.
Questions, comments, or concerns? Comment below or shoot an email to Adam@LetsDigress.com. And please, be kind and grammatically decent.