I was introduced to this book during an OnBeing interview with the author. The interview was very thought provoking and motivated me to read White Fragility.
DiAngelo writes for a White audience. She is an experienced diversity workshop facilitator, and she and her colleagues work primarily with corporations and educational institutions. White Fragility is a call to White folks to toughen up. For starters, DiAngelo points out that racism is an ideology backed by a set of social structures that have favored Whites unjustly since the U.S. was founded. We were all born into systems of injustice; we didn’t have a choice. She continues to make clear that all White people automatically benefit at the expense of Black, Brown and Indigenous people whether we choose to or not. The ultimate goal of anti-racism is to dismantle all racially unjust systems. That can begin to happen when White people own racism as a reality and admit their own conscious and unconscious thoughts and behaviors that perpetuate racist ideology. Because Whites see Blacks through the lens of group identity and see themselves as individuals, racism ends up being defined as overt individual acts perpetrated by right-wing, white supremacists from whom most Whites can distance themselves. In fact, overt white supremacy is the extreme consequence of systemically prioritizing Whites. Racism is far more subtle than the hooded klansman marching with a torch or a rogue policeman using excessive force. The hard job for Whites is to stop equating racism solely with abhorrent actions and push to uncover and own their personal and collective thoughts and actions that stand in the way of seeing and dismantling unjust systems. In White Fragility, DiAngelo reviews the techniques she uses in racially mixed workshops on diversity. Her goal is to help White people enter into productive conversations about race by pointing out avoidance behaviors like reacting defensively or retreating into feelings of being misunderstood which cut off conversation. Genuine communication is a necessary first step toward honest Black/White solidarity in the creation of a true democracy.
DiAngelo uses personal stories about her own misguided actions as well as anecdotes from her teaching to make her points. That makes for an entertaining and easy read without losing the impact of the content. I learned a lot. White Fragility is also a strong reminder that any discomfort I have around talking about race can’t be compared to the brutality non-white people suffer due to systemic racism.