‘White Fragility,’ a must read?

a mystical möbius — curating facts, ideas, text, and media to create a contemplative space.

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—present denial of systemic racism fits post-truth patterns; however, no space for that today. We’ll come back to post-truth—and that denial—next week after today’s clean-up on the antiracism aisle.

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Image by Edgar Chaparro on Unsplash || CC0

Neither DiAngelo, nor her book, are ‘racist’

Full disclosure. I read, White Fragility, when the book first came out, as I already knew what Robin DiAngelo’s work was about from the video she had previously made for the United Methodist Church (see below). From the beginning, I’ve been recommending that people (especially clergy and Christian leaders) read the book. 

—of course, one is free to feel, think, believe that DiAngelo and/or her book are racist. Some argue she/it is; so, yeah.

—actually, DiAngelo admits to being conditioned by family and life to be racist, and that she is doing ongoing work challenging that internalized racism and working toward recovery. That describes my experience, too. Here’s the video that DiAngelo made for the UMC:

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Last week (‘being antiracist‘ and ‘being antiracist – addendum‘) I challenged one particular claim that DiAngelo’s book is racisti.e., John McWhorter’s claim.

So, I’m learning more about critiques of DiAngelo and White Fragility. There are some legit concerns, for sure. That’s always been a given, as nothing human is problem free. One thing seems clear: apparently there are several ways to interpret her work; some, I notice, are a bit less than generous.

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OK, since we have a few things up in the air here, (American systemic racism; CRT; Robin DiAngelo; White Fragility; White fragility), I looked specifically for concerns about DiAngelo and White Fragility, and I found a CRT explainer video that wants to draw some distance between CRT and diversity/inclusivity training.

—I’m not sure if the critique means to include DiAngelo’s project.

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  • Specifically, first, diversity/inclusiveness training is not a fix-all. —DiAngelo doesn’t say that.
  • The language of “inclusiveness” overlooks the legacy of exclusion.
  • Also, CRT observes that diversity training is often just a way that corporations use to pay lip service to problems in their corporations about which they continue to do nothing substantive. —Likely true; we know corporations often like to play CYA instead of actually caring about stuff. 
  • Also, CRT focuses on structural systems; so, to the extent that diversity/inclusion training makes the problem of racism about individual volition, it’s not helpful language from a CRT perspective. —DiAngelo’s project makes it about systemic racism, not individual racist volition. 

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Racist toward whom?

A key division among the critics is in the group toward which a particular critic claims DiAngelo is racist; some say Blacks, some say whites. No one seems to deny the reality of White fragility as an actual thing, nor as a crucially important insight.

The book’s circular argument is also a rather common concern—e.g., if you disagree with the fragility thesis then you are fragile and prove the theory. The argument is circular, but it has no chicken-egg problem; the difficulty is in the defensiveness. The book did not create the fragility; it just observes it. ‘Triggering’ is predicted by White Fragility; the book definitely does anticipate it.

So, as we see, circular arguments can be correct sometimes. Some people ‘trigger’ on DiAngelo’s thesis and its provocations because they are fragile, and some react to the fragility thesis for other reasons.

A common talking point:

But treatises that demonize all white people based on circular arguments may not be the way to help us all defeat racism.

I don’t think that’s what the book is doing; but one thing is for sure: if critics can hang that albatross around DiAngelo’s neck, it will ‘demonize’ the book.

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An analogy to go

I feel it’s a bit like vaccination as a public health strategy in a pandemic. Namely, effectiveness requires a minimum level of active participation, e.g., attaining herd immunity, 80-85%, or whatever.

So, as soon as McWhorter, or whoever, can get a critical mass of white America to say it in unison with him, “racism is pervasive and largely unconscious,” then we can perhaps begin a real truth and reconciliation process.

White fragility is definitely a thing, as the title of this article—one that is very critical of the book—affirms: White fragility is real. But ‘White Fragility’ is flawed.

tl;dr

My bottom line on White Fragility is that anyone who is thinking of talking about the issues of race in America with white people should definitely read it first. That doesn’t mean one needs to teach it, or adopt it as Plan-One, or anything of the kind. Just read it first. Or don’t, and you can learn the hard way what it warns that awaits newly-minted antiracists.

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Next week: more post-truth. Come and see. 

[this post approx. 825 words (about a 3 min. read)]

Your thoughts? 

I never know what I’ve said until I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

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