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(Book Review) White Fragility

Racism has dominated the headlines recently in light of a number of high-profile murders, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, among others.  The flames of animosity have been furthered fanned by Donald Trump, who is counting on racial discord to help him win a second term in the White House.  Black Lives Matter protests are being held across the country and consistently met with pushback in the form of "All Lives Matter" chants.  At first glance, it seems pretty easy to distinguish the "bad" guys from the "good" guys.

The problem is that drawing that line allows all white Americans to avoid a hard truth:  This country is fundamentally structured in ways that that emphasize white supremacy, and we have all benefited from it in a variety of ways.  We are not "objective" observers of current affairs - we are inherently complicit in what is happening.  It's important that we recognize it and adjust our actions accordingly.

There's a good chance that last paragraph made many of you feel defensive, and that's okay.  The question becomes, why did it so quickly elicit that response?  Understanding the country's institutional biases, how they influence all of us, and why merely broaching the topic can cause such anger, is the framework for Robin DiAngelo's book, White Fragility:  Why It's So Hard for White People To Talk About Racism. 

Published in 2018, the New York Times bestseller lays out the myriad of ways white privilege appears in our society, and how it is constantly reinforced in ways big and small.  DiAngelo explains there's no way for white people to avoid the message of supremacy, and then she systematically dismantles every argument a white person might make about not being racist. This isn't a moral judgment.  As DiAngelo shows time and time again, it is about much more than simply rejecting large explicit displays of racial animosity.  It is about recognizing the reality of our socialization. 

DiAngelo argues that this defensiveness derives from a restricted view of all of the ways racism permeates everyday life.  She further explains that rather than proving the person isn't racist, this resistance prevents personal growth and shuts down real discussions about race.  That in turn protects the status quo, which further entrenches white supremacy.

The book is uncomfortable to read from start to finish, which makes listening to the message all the more important.  It's easy to say, "Donald Trump is a racist.  I disagree with Donald Trump, so therefore, I'm not racist."  That sounds great, but DiAngelo makes it clear that it's not enough.

All of us who are white people in the United States have a moral responsibility to reexamine the ways we have benefited from white privilege.  We need to take an honest look at how those experiences have shaped us, our views about people of color, and what we can each do to disrupt those systems moving forward.  Robin DiAngelo presents the roadmap for that work in White Fragility.  Again, it is 154 pages of feeling uncomfortable.  That's why you should pick up a copy, take a deep breath, and jump in today.


White Fragility CoverAn important and timely read.  (pic via


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