Posts Tagged ‘White Fragility’

Why do we whites refuse to admit we’re racists?

January 5, 2019

[3/13/2021]  The original video links on this post died.  I put up some new ones.

Robin DiAngelo has spent more than 20 years conducting diversity workshops in which she tries to explain to white people that they are intrinsically racist.

By her own account, she has been unsuccessful.  But she does not see this as an example of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

She maintains in her new book, WHITE FRAGILITY: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (2018), the the stubborn refusal of white people to admit their racism just goes to show how racist they are.

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Historically, racism was an ideology that said that humanity was divided into races, and that the white race was superior to the black race.  It came into existence to justify slavery and colonialism.  

Woodrow Wilson and Winston Churchill, among others, were proud racists.

Racist ideology fell into disfavor after the war against Nazi Germany and the 1960s struggle against segregation.  

DiAngelo says racist attitudes persist in the form of unconscious prejudice, even among liberal white people who think we’re anti-racist.

She says a white person can have black friends, be nice to black people and oppose to racial discrimination in any form and still have false derogatory opinions about black people and behave in ways that make black people feel uncomfortable and stressed.

This is true—as far as it goes.  

It is true of me.  

White people, myself included, ought to welcome feedback on how we are perceived by black people and what we may be assuming that isn’t true.  To the extent that she provides this, she is doing a good thing.

The book’s main value consists of DiAngelo’s many stories of ways in which white people unknowingly insult or condescend to black people, and the lessons to be learned from this.

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Why do liberal white people resist her message?

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One problem is her vocabulary.

When you accuse white people of being “racist,” you are putting them in the same category as the leaders of the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Brotherhood.  I don’t react well to that, and neither do most white people.

DiAngelo says this is a misunderstanding.  When she calls people “racist,” she says, she does not intent to imply that we are bad people, and she we shouldn’t react as if she was.

But it is her choice to use such highly-charged words as “racism” and “white supremacy” rather than milder words such as “implicit bias” or “racial insensitivity.”  Such language puts people on the moral defensive, and I’m pretty sure that’s her intent.

She says she is not making a moral statement, but she is saying is that (1) whites—all whites—harbor attitudes that produce great evils in the world, (2) we need to change, but (3) in fact we never can—not completely.  

This is akin to the theological doctrine of original sin.  For her, being a racist, like being a sinner, is something you are, not something you do.  In the Christian context, awareness of sin and repentance is followed by redemption.  But for DiAngelo, there is no redemption.  Whites can diminish, but never eliminate their inherent racist sinfulness.

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