White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
Beacon Press, 2018.
I first encountered Robin DiAngelo three years ago, during my investigation of the Jewish origins and intellectual currents of Whiteness Studies. DiAngelo was then just another relatively minor speaker and academic on the university/consulting network in Whiteness Studies, and I was undecided then, and remain undecided, as to whether DiAngelo is wholly, in part, or not at all Jewish. She didn’t feature in my essay at all, and, when I looked over my old notes a few days ago, she appeared only as a name scribbled in the margins. As it happens, her ancestry is relatively inconsequential in light of the fact that White Fragility, published in 2018 but reaching bestseller status in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, is heavily and transparently influenced by Jewish thought and by Jewish pioneers in the field she now finds so conducive to fame and fortune. I don’t make a habit of buying the texts of the opposition, but when certain of them reach a significant level of academic or popular attention (look for it in your child’s school curriculum), it’s probably necessary for someone among us to carry out some form of intellectual reconnaissance, and to bring back for wider consideration the most essential of the gathered information. This was my approach to Jean-Paul Sartre’s widely-read and overly-praised Anti-Semite and Jew, and so, when I heard DiAngelo had managed to make herself a bestselling author, I headed to my local bookstore, where dozens of copies had been helpfully stacked on a table devoted to “in-demand” literature on race and racism.
My first action on picking up a copy of White Fragility was to turn to the bibliography. I knew what I’d see, and it was a gratifying and familiar feeling to see so many names from my research on Whiteness Studies. They were almost all there, protruding from the page like shunned relatives at a family reunion — Noel Ignatiev, George Lipsitz, Ruth Frankenberg (described in White Fragility as “a premier white scholar in the field of whiteness studies”), Michelle Fine, Lois Weis, along with helpful co-ethnics like Thomas Shapiro, David Wellman, Sander Gilman, Larry Adelman, and Jay Kaufman. These are DiAngelo’s mentors and intellectual forbears, and I could tell, scanning through this list of names and works, that White Fragility was sure to boast very many references to “fellow Whites,” and streams of inducements to abandon White ethnic interests. These expectations weren’t disappointed. White Fragility is the kind of book that can be written in two months, read in two days, and forgotten in two hours, but Robin DiAngelo’s text is also a deeply pernicious piece of work, utterly contemptuous of the “normie” Whites it aims to convert to a more radical form of racial self-abnegation than they currently demonstrate. In fact, the work is so hostile and ideologically loaded that it can’t help but present a kind of dialectic, wherein certain truths are revealed in spite of itself. As such, I have to confess that I learned something from White Fragility, even if it isn’t what DiAngelo had in mind.
What is White Fragility?
“White Fragility,” as a theory, is confirmation of my belief that inducing guilt in Whites was never the end goal in itself. It’s never simply been about making us feel bad about ourselves or our ancestors. White Fragility, White guilt, and indeed Whiteness Studies as a whole, is fundamentally about power. Those of you familiar with the New Testament will recall the verse from John’s third chapter, wherein John the Baptist declares that Christ “must increase, but I must diminish.” Power and influence never simply disappear, but rather transfer. John (and it is entirely inconsequential whether you regard him as historical or fictional) was aware that as a popular local mystic or holy man, his mere continued presence was an obstacle to the local growth in power of Christ, and so he made a conscious decision to diminish himself. Likewise, we are living in an age where Whites continue to have some social, political, and economic power, but where large and growing numbers of non-Whites are seeking to obtain what remains of this power. For them to “increase,” it has been declared that we must diminish. Whiteness Studies is fundamentally about making us willing and enthusiastic participants in our own decline. When Blacks or Jews demand a reduction of, or end to, White power or wealth, it means that they want that power or wealth. Despite all sloganeering, there can be no equality in power among races. Not now, not ever; only ruthless and unceasing competition.
White guilt, in itself, is certainly an act of psychological diminishment, but the message of DiAngelo’s text is fundamentally that this psychological diminishment has not led to a desired correlation in material or structural diminishment. Whites merely feeling sorry for themselves isn’t enough for their competitors, if it isn’t accompanied by a wholesale transfer of power, land, and other resources. In this context, “White Fragility” is an indictment and insult levelled at White progressives merely frozen by fear of racism accusations and White guilt. In short, White Fragility is a horrifying call for Whites not simply to be paralyzed by White guilt, but to become active participants in their decline, and willing accomplices in their political and demographic destruction.
DiAngelo’s introduction begins with accusation. America “began with the attempted genocide of Indigenous people and the theft of their land. American wealth was built on the labor of kidnapped and enslaved Africans and their descendants.” So far, so familiar. But the book very quickly moves to an outline of the theory of White Fragility. I actually found this, and some other chapters on the same theme, extremely interesting, because DiAngelo, and presumably other Whiteness Studies activists, are keenly aware that Whites are peculiarly concerned with morality and with appearing to be good people (all of which is very much in keeping with the arguments and research of Kevin MacDonald). For example, DiAngelo writes on the fear White progressives have of being perceived as racist: “We consider a challenge to our racial worldview 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 an unsettling and unfair moral offence. … One of the greatest social fears for a white person is being told that we have said or done something racially problematic.” Of course, the groundwork for the connections among White ethnocentrism = Racism = Morally Bad were laid by Jewish academics over many decades. The problem for Jewish activists and incentivized Whiteness Studies traitors is that this moral terror has resulted in what they perceive to be paralysis and inaction.
Actual “racists” aren’t really discussed in White Fragility, and where they are, it’s clear that they aren’t the target of the title of the book. In fact, DiAngelo points out: “Of course, some whites explicitly avow racism. We might consider these whites actually more aware of, and honest about, their biases.” In other words, even if we’re moral monsters in DiAngelo’s eyes, we aren’t “fragile.” Again, because of the extremes of the some of the dialectics here, certain truths emerge. DiAngelo remarks early in the book that “race matters,” something that many of our readers would agree with, even if it’s from a slightly different angle than the author intends. She also argues that:
All humans have prejudice; we cannot avoid it. … People who claim not to be prejudiced are demonstrating a profound lack of self-awareness. Ironically, they are also demonstrating the power of socialization — we have all been taught in schools, through movies, and from family members, teachers, and clergy that it is important not to be prejudiced. … Everyone has prejudice, and everyone discriminates.
I couldn’t agree more: Whites have been uniquely affected by mass propaganda designed to brainwash them into viewing as morally evil something that is natural and instinctive to all humans.
The real targets of this book are White progressives who profess anti-racism, and because I also possess many frustrations in relation to this demographic, I couldn’t help but agree with some of DiAngelo’s characterizations. Take, for example, this gem:
I believe that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color. I define a white progressive as any white person who thinks he or she is not racist, or is less racist, or in the “choir,” or already “gets it.” White progressives can be the most difficult for people of color because, to the degree that we think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us having arrived. [emphasis added]
I think this is a beautiful indictment of the demonstrative and showy nature of White anti-racists who simply love to engage in social theatrics in search of kudos, approval, and incentives without really understanding the deeper destructive meaning of anything they’re doing. DiAngelo has contempt for people like this because they place all their energies into grandstanding instead of helping in the transfer of real power and wealth. I have contempt for them because they place all their energies into grandstanding for short-term personal benefits while stabbing their ancestors, contemporaries, and progeny in the back.
The book’s first chapter, “The Challenges of Talking to White People About Race,” is devoted to convincing White progressives that they are in fact racist, and that they need to become better allies in their own racial destruction. The message here is quasi-spiritual; Whites are told that their quest for racial redemption will be lifelong, lasting until the day they die. Their existence is an ontological problem, the only solution to which is an endless quest to compensate for simply existing:
Interrupting the forces of racism is ongoing, lifelong work because the forces conditioning us into racist frameworks are always at play; our learning will never be finished.
I really wish more White moral grandstanders would understand that, ultimately, they will never be given a “pass” by our enemies once they’ve accrued enough kudos, or groveled enough, or displayed enough platform sympathy with Blacks, or any other ethnicity that happens to be Victim of the Month. They will only ever be temporary tools, held in contempt as much for their weakness as their whiteness.
Another interesting feature of the chapter is its attack on White individualism, presented here as a myth that prevents Whites from taking collective responsibility for alleged historical wrongs. For DiAngelo,
Individualism is a story line that creates, communicates, reproduces, and reinforces the concept that each of us is a unique individual and that our group memberships, such as race, class, or gender, are irrelevant.
DiAngelo’s problem with White individualism is that it’s a barrier to White guilt, and also a barrier to Whites perceiving alleged advantages in employment and social advancement in a society in which they enjoy a demographic majority. Again, due to the dialectic at play, I happen to agree that individualism among Whites is a problem in certain contexts. It’s just that in my perspective it’s a barrier to the explicit assertion of White ethnic interests and collective action in pursuit of those interests. In fact, without widespread awareness of an ethnic threat, it seems almost impossible to convince Whites to see themselves as a group and to act as one. A further obstacle to White ethnocentrism is decades of social conditioning in which Jewish propaganda is dominant. Even DiAngelo concedes that “reflecting on our racial frames is particularly challenging for white people, because we are taught that to have a racial viewpoint is to be biased.” Unfortunately, DiAngelo doesn’t ask who did the “teaching” in this regard, and she certainly doesn’t consider the broader implications of what she’s saying.
In the second chapter, “Racism and White Supremacy,” DiAngelo trots out the “race is a social construct” trope, with footnotes for her claims leading invariably to a section of bibliography that reads like a Bar Mitzvah invitation list. Black academic Ibram Kendi is quoted as arguing that “if we truly believe that all humans are equal, then disparity in condition can only be the result of systemic discrimination.” I agree, but I think the problem isn’t systemic discrimination but the belief that all humans are equal. Eliminate that belief and disparity in condition is neither surprising nor subject matter for conspiratorial conjecture. But alternative theories and beliefs like mine don’t feature in DiAngelo’s book, which has the air of a religious text, and issues utterances with an authority that demands faith rather than reason. There is an interesting section in the chapter denying that there can be an anti-White racism, with DiAngelo remarking:
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.
Let’s set aside that horrific last statement, and focus for a moment on the unstated premise underlying the first. Isn’t it more or less the stated goal of “Whiteness studies,” White guilt, the theory of “White Fragility,” Black Lives Matter, and the massive power of multicultural propaganda to lead to the further diminishment of White social and institutional power? As stated at the outset of this review, this power is destined for the hands of ethnic interlopers. We know full well which of these ethnic groups will take the lion’s share of that power, because they have their hands on most of it already. The question is therefore: why should Whites hand what remains of their social and institutional power to hostile groups that will unquestionably ensure that their prejudice is enacted on Whites in a way that is far from “temporary and contextual”? What possible incentive could adequately convince Whites to sign up to such a Devil’s pact? Isn’t the entirety of White guilt built on a psychotic and media-induced fantasy — the idea that if Whites would just give up all remaining power in their hands the world would enter an age of racial peace and harmony? DiAngelo doesn’t even touch on areas like this, preferring instead to subject the reader to a steady stream of meaningless gibberish, such as a lengthy rumination on the theories of Ruth Frankenberg who, we are told, gave birth to such dazzling notions as “whiteness is multidimensional.” DiAngelo then caps the chapter by treating us to the heights of Jamaican philosophy, where one Charles W. Mills advances a conspiracy theory titled “the racial contract” which involves:
A tacit and sometimes explicit agreement among members of the peoples of Europe to assert, promote, and maintain the ideal of white supremacy in relation to all other people of the world. … It is the unnamed political system that has made the modern world what it is today.
And there you have it — this Jamaican genius has discovered the Protocols of the Elders of Europa.
Charles W. Mills: A Caribbean Socrates
The same themes are repeated in the third chapter, “Racism After the Civil Rights Movement.” DiAngelo again attacks “fragile” Whites who claim to be color-blind, pointing out that they merely believe that it’s racist to acknowledge race and therefore flee into a denial of reality. The only real novelty in the chapter, and one I found highly entertaining, was DiAngelo’s list of racist behaviors exhibited by fragile Whites. These include “acting nice” and “being careful not to use racial terms or labels.” But such phrasing is all the rage now, as in the New York Times podcast series “Nice White Parents” which explores hypocrisy among progressive Whites expressing all manner of liberal pieties—but moving heaven and earth to avoid sending their children to schools with large numbers of POC.
The next chapter, “How Does Race Shape the Lives of White People?,” is probably the strangest of the book because, if DiAngelo is indeed White (and not someone with some Jewish ancestry), then it represents a very disturbing and irrational detachment from reality and common sense. For s start, DiAngelo seems to view even the mundane aspects of White ethnic homogeneity as pathological. She writes:
As I move through my daily life, my race is unremarkable. I belong when I turn on the TV, read best-selling novels, and watch blockbuster movies. I belong when I walk past the magazine racks at the grocery store or drive past billboards. I belong when I see the overwhelming number of white people on lists of the “Most Beautiful.” … I belong when I look at my teachers, counsellors, and classmates. I belong when I learn about the history of my country throughout the year and when I am shown its heroes and heroines — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Amelia Earhart, Susan B. Anthony, John Glenn, Sally Ride, and Louisa May Alcott …
All of this is presented as negative and sinister, to which one can only ask: what is the alternative? To hand over one’s nation and territory to others, so that you can cease to belong? What then? DiAngelo comments:
It is rare for me to experience a sense of not belonging racially, and these are usually very temporary, easily avoidable situations. Indeed, throughout my life, I have been warned that I should avoid situations in which I might be a racial minority. These situations are often presented as scary, dangerous, or “sketchy.”
I can’t image why. What I do suggest is that in order to help clarify her theoretical framework, Robin DiAngelo should, with all reasonable haste, relocate to an area in which she is most certainly not going to belong racially. Since she views “un-belonging” with great enthusiasm, while confessing she has no real experience on which to base this view, she should find the Blackest of Black areas and spend some quality time there — time that isn’t “temporary, easily avoidable.” I think, in the course of such an experiment, she will truly, honestly, encounter some helpful folks that will be only too glad to show her how fragile she can be.
By far the most entertaining chapter of the book comes within the last 50 pages. Titled “White Women’s Tears,” it’s an indictment of that infamous sight — bawling, wailing, and normally overweight White women clutching themselves in feverish grief over the death of some poor Black gangbanger who just happened to get shot while rushing a police officer. DiAngelo is probably correct in asserting that this is a self-indulgent demonstrative act designed to heighten status (“I’m moral, good, and empathetic”) and get attention from men of all races (“I’m vulnerable right now, and need attention and resources”). Some of the anecdotes in this regard, from DiAngelo’s “Whiteness” seminars are priceless, normally involving some weak-minded woman breaking down at the revelation she’s “racist,” and they went some way to compensating me for the purchase price and hideous ideology of the book. Above all, they confirmed to me that what we see unfold before us is both tragedy and farce, and that our situation is no less dangerous for that:
A black man struggling to express a point referred to himself as stupid. My co-facilitator, a black woman, gently countered that he was not stupid but that society would have him believe that he was. As she was explaining the power of internalized racism, a white woman interrupted with, “I think what he was trying to say was … “ When my co-facilitator pointed out that the white woman had reinforced the racist idea that she could best speak for a black man, the woman erupted in tears. The training came to a complete halt as most of the room rushed to comfort her and angrily accused the black facilitator of unfairness. … Meanwhile, the black man she had spoken for was left alone to watch her receive comfort.
DiAngelo scathingly remarks on incidents like this that “when we are mired in guilt, we are narcissistic and ineffective.” Essentially, the new direction of Whiteness Studies and its intellectual corollaries will be to wean Whites away from demonstrative habits of virtue signaling and into active participation in racial decline. We can expect to see in the near future (and we already to some extent have with the Black Lives Matter riots) a greater emphasis on Whites becoming active “anti-racists.” It will become increasingly difficult for Whites to appear simply as “not racist.” Active, enthusiastic activity on behalf of the ethnic power-grab will be demanded, and anything less will be portrayed with disdain as “fragility.” DiAngelo concludes her book with the blunt assertion that “a positive white identity is an impossible goal. White identity is inherently racist; white people do not exist outside the system of white supremacy.” White identity is therefore to be destroyed wholesale, and White ethnic interests crushed alongside it. DiAngelo proclaims with all the vigor of the subversive or the brainwashed that she will “strive for a less white identity, for my own liberation and sense of justice.”
Liberation and justice. These words were uttered a long time ago in France. The beheadings started soon after.