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As a Greek, I have a hard time understanding whether I should feel guilty or victimized for my specific pigmentation. We are in the caramel ambiguity of race, and the chances of me being randomly selected by TSA is heavily contingent on the season of my tan and length of my beard. I’ve been accused of being both a "clueless privileged white boy" and a "token person of colour."
In other words, I don’t know if I have "white fragility" but I was nonetheless determined to get my privileged smashed by Robin DiAngelo's bestseller, White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.
With current racial tensions at a historic high, this book has become incredibly popular, especially among upper class white women who enjoy self-flagellation. Excluding this group, the book is seemingly controversial even among many liberals who would otherwise subscribe to these social justice theories.
Nonetheless, this book is selling out in countless outlets and is clearly evidence of the adoption of critical social justice in the zeitgeist. These ideas are that whiteness is something that is part of an invisible system, intertwined with capitalism, the patriarchy and overall oppression towards people of colour. The scariest passage to well-meaning individuals is the idea that your racism is implicit and you are not aware of it. Even if you are self-aware of your biases, you STILL are racist.
Upon diving into the book, systemic racism stood out as the major concept. I interpreted this term as defined by a country or system that has been set up in such a manner where it propels certain races forward, whilst pushing others down.
What surprised me most, however, was the prevalence of postmodern theories, such as Foucault's discourse theory. This is the theory which states that language and expression are correlated to power and meaning. It’s sort of a subjective form of logocentrism. In other words, it became obvious that DiAngelo was not going to use any sort of science in this book, but to rely on theories.
With this understood, it was easier to see how DiAngelo grossly misunderstands history, race, and humanity. The idea that we are all one human race, the same idea endorsed by MLK, is dismissed by DiAngelo.
"To say that whiteness is a standpoint is to say that a significant aspect of white identity is to see oneself as an individual, outside or innocent of race—'just human'," she writes. "This standpoint views white people and their interests as central to, and representative of, humanity. Whites also produce and reinforce the dominant narratives of society—such as individualism and meritocracy—and use these narratives to explain the positions of other racial groups."
Individualism, and meritocracy are negatives to DiAngelo, as she believes that they reinforce an idea of sameness between blacks and whites. In many ways, the book suggests it is racist to expect people of colour to perform through meritocracy. This immediately was perplexing, but it makes sense when realizing that DiAngelo's definition of racism is customized completely.
DiAngelo believes racism as a concept has changed since the civil rights era, and that racism is not simply a bad person who intentionally dislikes or oppresses minorities. Instead, racism is a form of sin, which she describes as "an omnipresent phenomenon." This topic progresses to the one of the highlights of the book, where she accuses progressives of promoting racism.
"None of the people whose actions I describe in this book would identify as racist. In fact, they would most likely identify as racially progressive and vehemently deny any complicity with racism. Yet all their responses illustrate white fragility and how it holds racism in place."
For that reason, she says: "white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color."
The lack of self-awareness in this assessment gave me a good chuckle as the most interesting part of the book is the fact at DiAngelo is seemingly racist. In a bizarre passage, she describes going to a picnic where she notices a group of white people standing together and a group of black people standing together.
She describes "I felt a mild sense of anxiety as I considered I may have to enter an all-black group, then mild relief as I realized my friend was in the other group." DiAngelo writes this passage as if it is at all the norm. She is unaware that most normal people do not feel this way and that her anti-racist book is merely a projection of her own racism.
The market itself has quickly pivoted on board the Black Lives Matter movement. This is evident by the countless marketing campaigns related to the movement, as well as the email campaigns currently filling up my inbox. I’m still waiting for TurboTax to assure me of their allegiance to BLM, and I will not pay taxes until they do so.
In all seriousness, the corporate world has quickly disseminated this book to their employees and in some cases, apply critical social justice anti-racist training. It’s an ideological textbook in this sense. It’s important to note that corporations are likely not as ideologically possessed as DiAngelo, but are rather sympathetic to the BLM movement. This is the case with most people, and is also what is dangerous about radicalism.
Everybody agrees that what happened to George Floyd is terrible, and everyone agrees there are still cases of Police brutality and racism in America. This obvious reality is sold to people as a foot in the door. You believe black lives matter, don’t you? Of course, you reply, and subscribe yourself to proving your allegiance. You are then handed a 192 page Kafkaesque trap, written by a woman who is clearly consumed by her own racism. This book is so bad that is it somehow both anti-black and anti-white simultaneously.
Worst of all, the negative of the book is that it prioritizes your skin colour above all else. It says that you are completely defined by its colour and that society itself ought to be structured in such away where that is all that matters about you. In the time I spent reading this, I took time to reflect on what it is I see when I see my own black friends. What is it that we have in common, rather than different. In the end, it is increasingly apparent that we are not at that day MLK dreamt of, where we are together in the "promise land", and instead, we are dividing ourselves into tribes.
The book is bad for all of the reasons above, but we should not allow it to further divide us. We should instead, prove DiAngelo wrong, and embrace one another. Whether you’re white, black, or whatever the hell I am.