Book Review: White Fragility
Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
by Robin Diangelo
Beacon Press 169pp
My childhood in Yonkers instilled me with a multi-ethnic, multi-racial view of life. My very first teacher, in kindergarten, was a woman of color. Throughout my life I have had friends and colleagues who are people of color. So why do I feel as though it is so difficult to talk about race? Furthermore, why did I have stiff resistance to reading this book?
Instinctively, I resent the book’s overarching premise that I am white and therefore I am guilty of racism. There is the presumption of collective white guilt and no clear path to redemption. Diangelo explains how we often identify racists as being bad people, a chief reason why white people cannot admit to their own racism. The slightest suggestion that white people are racist means they are bad people, even when deep down inside they are firmly convinced of their own goodness. No one wants to be thought of as bad or proclaimed guilty as charged without a fair trial.
Yet, as much as we don’t want to think of ourselves as racists, as bad people who are presumed guilty, we need to identify our blind spots.
Here is the truth: when a person walks into a room, we see his or her color, gender, and age, as much as we see if a person is short, fat, tall or thin. We are all prejudiced, and every day we commit acts of discrimination based on our own prejudices. Despite our tendency to be prejudiced or to discriminate based on our prejudices, not all discriminatory acts are sanctified by a social system that is deeply racist and most definitely wired in favor of white people.
Robin Diangelo sets forth a compelling, but dogmatic, argument that cannot be downplayed or ignored. Race is a social construct that is essential to upholding the white identity. White solidarity is embedded within the fabric of American culture. Systemic racism permeates our government, industries, schools, health care and educational systems. Diangelo’s book helps us to detect the more subtle aspects of racism. There are as many degrees of racism as there are shades of skin—and all of us, regardless of our skin tone, need to have difficult conversations about race. It’s the only true path forward.