White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

An iPhone displaying the cover of an audiobook titled "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism" by Robin DiAngelo rests on a wood tray amidst a gray crocheted shawl, orange glass bud vase, orange flowers and a crochet project in progress.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

by Robin DiAngelo
Published by: Beacon Press
Publish Date: 2018
Genre(s): Non-Fiction, Racism, BIPOC, Sociology, Self-Help
HB&W Rating: 5
View on Goodreads
Buy on Amazon: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Synopsis

Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue. In this in-depth exploration, anti-racist educator Robin DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what can be done to engage more constructively.

Synopsis source: Goodreads

Review

People who claim not to be prejudiced are demonstrating a profound lack of self-awareness.  Ironically, they are also demonstrating the power of socialization.

I am a middle-class, college-educated, liberal-leaning, white woman. Going into this book, I fully admitted that I was prejudiced and had implicit biases. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but I knew I didn’t know…if that makes sense. I also understood that it was hard to talk to other white people about racism and implicit bias, and I never felt like I had any right to do so when I didn’t fully comprehend my own. I needed information, but relying on POC to educate you about racism is a perfect example of White privilege, so I did what Hermione would do and sought my answers in the library. I came across this title in the available audiobooks section and remembered hearing about it before, so I checked it out and started it right away.

My experience is not a universal human experience.  It is a particularly White experience in a society in which race matters profoundly.  A society that is deeply separate and unequal by race.  However, like most White people raised in the US, I was not taught to see myself in racial terms, and certainly not to draw attention to my race or to behave as if it mattered in any way.  Of course, I was made aware that SOMEbody’s race mattered, and if race was discussed, it would be theirs, not mine.

This book opened my eyes so much, showing me not just WHERE to look for my implicit biases, but in defining racism, implicit bias, aversive racism, white privilege and so much more in ways that make sense to me. It explains very clearly why we white people tend to react in predictable ways when our biases are pointed out, reacting so predictably even that this book is almost like a play book.

Racism, like sexism and other forms of oppression, occurs when a racial group’s prejudice is backed by legal authority and institutional control.  This authority and control transforms individual prejudices into a far-reaching system that no longer depends on the good intentions of individual actors.  It becomes the default of society, and is reproduced automatically.

Racism is a society-wide dynamic that occurs at the group level.  When I say that only Whites can be racist, I mean that in the United States only Whites have the collective social and institutional power and privilege over people of color.  People of color do not have this power and privilege over White people.

The things that stuck out the most for me were the way she described the good/bad binary and ideologies. Driving the good/bad binary is the (obviously correct) thinking that “Racism is bad.” The problem happens because humans have a driving need to believe themselves to be good, thus we feel that implying we are racist offends our morality, sending us into defensive mode.

This defensiveness is rooted in the false but widespread belief that racial discrimination can only be intentional.  Our lack of understanding about implicit bias leads to aversive racism.

But racism is so much more sinister than that. We grow up with certain ideologies that allow us to justify the less-than circumstances of Black people by telling ourselves things like “if you work hard, you can succeed” without acknowledging the racism that removes opportunities for Blacks that are still present for Whites. Racism is driven down into the bedrock of our (western and white colonized) society, culture, and economy in a way that is so pervasive it’s like we need a red pill from The Matrix to see it clearly. If only it were that easy.

The author, a lifelong diversity trainer, puts it best toward the end of the book:

I have found it much more useful to think of myself as on a continuum.  Racism is so deeply woven into the fabric of our society that I do not see myself escaping from that continuum in my lifetime, but I can continually seek to move further along it.

I hope you found this review helpful, and I can’t encourage you enough to read this book, whether in physical form or audiobook (though IMO the narrator of the audiobook sounds like Siri which took some getting used to!). Take your time with it, make sure it sinks in. This book was so enlightening for me, that as soon as it ended, I began it again immediately.

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Happy reading!


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