Thursday, August 08, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

White Fragility is a short but affecting read; it is revelatory, informative and inspirational. The author provides insight into the myriad ways that white people respond to discussions about race and white supremacy. This excerpt (from page 2) basically encapsulates the primary thesis of the book:

Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority that we are unaware of or can never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race. We consider a challenge to our racial worldviews as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people. Thus, we perceive any attempt to connect us to the system of racism as unsettling and unfair moral offense. The smallest amount of racial stress is intolerable--the mere suggestion that being white has meaning often triggers a range of defensive responses. These include emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt and behaviors such as 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 within the racial hierarchy. I conceptualize this process as white fragility.
The author Robin Diangelo uses the words "we" and "ours" in this quote and throughout the book to be explicit and forthright about her positionality as a white woman discussing racism.

I imagine White Fragility would be very difficult for white people to read this book without experiencing some of the reactions that the author describes above. In fact, the author recognizes this and spends a significant amount of time in the book speaking directly to white readers of the text, to attempt to modulate and potentially forestall these reactions. I have to imagine how white readers will respond to reading about the ubiquity and resilience of white supremacy because I am not a white person. 

Despite this fact, the experience of reading White Fragility as a non-white person is an exciting experience. My primary feeling was one of admiration (at the thoughtfulness and precision of the language of the book and the cogent and contemporaneous nature of the ideas included) and amazement (at the sheer number of "secrets" revealed and taboos broken about discussing race, anti-blackness and white supremacy).

While it is well under 200 pages, White Fragility provides numerous resources for facilitating the process of getting white people to talk about racism, such as the pages of footnotes at the end of the book providing evidence for claims made in the text, as well as "Books, Articles and Blogs" for the reader to continue their education on the subject(s) of race, racism and white supremacy. Additionally, there are very useful lists included in the book which distill and highlight some of the key concepts. An example is this list of the functions of white fragility (found on page 122):
  • Maintain white solidarity
  • Close off self-reflection
  • Trivialize the reality of racism
  • Make white people the victims
  • Hijack the conversation
  • Protect a limited worldview
  • Take race off the table
  • Focus on the messenger, not the message
  • Rally more resources to white people
Another strong aspect of the book are the particular chapters devoted to "White Women's Tears," "Anti-Blackness," and "The Good/Bad Binary."

Overall, White Fragility is a tour de force explication of why it is so difficult to have conversations about racism and (therefore begin) the process of dismantling white supremacy. In the end, I found the book somewhat depressing because it makes the prospect for improved race relations in the United States appear to be unlikely by analyzing and enumerating what would be entailed in producing such a future. With that said, the problem is not with the book, which does a great service to us all by illuminating and elucidating ideas and actions about race and white supremacy, but with us, the reader(s).


Title: White Fragility: Why It's So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism.
Robin Diangelo.
Paperback: 462 pages.
 Tor Books.
Date Published: March 26, 2019.
Date Read: July 27, 2019.

★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


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