๐Ÿ“š Reflecting on Robin DiAngelo's "White Fragility"

Please note: Robin DiAngelo says she’s writing for a white audience, and I’m white, so my perspective on this book will likewise be more about its usefulness for white people. Author and scholar Lauren Michele Jackson states that for her (a Black woman, I think), “much of the material felt intuitive.” I don’t feel remotely qualified to tell any BIPOC if this would be a valuable book for them to read.

I read White Fragility over the weekend, only reading it so quickly because my university library limits checkouts of the eBook to a 24 hour loan period. The book reinforced a lot of the things I learned as I was working on Project READY.

I would especially recommend it if you need an introduction to the concept of racism as a systemic force rather than a personal failing. Whether it will be helpful for you will depend on where you are in your journey. If you have done some Racial Equity Institute training, a lot of the concepts will feel familiar, I think. (It’s been a few years since I did mine, and I think they’ve changed a bit, but certainly some of the ideas are related.)

I’ll share some quotes in a bit, but as a person who has been (slowly) increasing my awareness in this area for a few years, the most valuable part for me was when DiAngelo offered a specific example of a time when she made an unintentionally racist joke in front of a Black colleague who had only just met her and later worked to repair the breach this caused. I don’t want to summarize because I don’t want this to be seen as a set of tips, tricks, best practices, or lifehacks. I’ll just say that much of the book is introductory concepts and it’s all leading to the discussion DiAngelo offers of what to do next.

One of the articles about the end of the girlboss that I mentioned last week in my post about Naomi Alderman’s The Power critiques the book as “the Lean In of the 2020s, a book by a white woman, for white women, that says: See this big systemic problem? Start by working on yourself.” I think this is a well-made point, one that I’d like to unpack in the future so I will keep thinking about it. The article’s author, Leigh Stein, then points out that “White Fragility is social justice through the lens of self-improvement and, as is always the case with self-improvement programs marketed to white women, thereโ€™s money to be made here.” Stein cites DiAngelo’s speaker’s fee of $30,000 - $40,000. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for more people writing about this but haven’t tracked it down yet. But, as a point of comparison, see Ijeoma Oluo’s Twitter thread about the pay gap between white speakers on race and BIPOC speakers on race; Oluo’s fees are $0 - $12K+, depending on who’s asking. I’ve just bookmarked a Slate article about “White Fragility” to read for later.

What I think both Stein, and Lauren Michele Jackson, author of the Slate article, worry about is that people will read this book and think, “Cool. I am antiracist now. I did it, I read this one book, I’m done.” It’s a reasonable fear. I urge you not to be the person who says that to yourself. This book is a fine introduction to systemic racism. I don’t think it can begin to touch on the larger project of dismantling that, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in improving your own day to day interactions and working to be more conscious of the ways you can’t help but be influenced by a system centuries in the making.

That said: here are some bits I found especially noteworthy. All page numbers are from my ePub edition.

”…we don’t have to intend to exclude for the results of our actions to be exclusion.” (p. 14)

I did not set this system up, but it does unfairly benefit me. I do use it to my advantage, and I am responsible for interrupting it.” (p. 126)

”…stopping our racist patterns must be more important than working to convince others that we don’t have them.” (p. 129)

As I continue to read and work through Project READY at my own (very slow) pace (because working on a project is not the same as actually trying its outcome), I hope to write more about why this is work for white people, the tricky balance of honoring BIPOC knowledge without demanding BIPOC labor (pro-tip, lots of BIPOC scholars and thinkers share their work in easily accessible spaces, so you can learn a lot without asking anyone you actually know to do this work for you), and why (unfortunately) white people seem to receive this kind of thing better from other white people than from BIPOC.

Kimberly Hirsh @kimberlyhirsh