Book Review–White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo

In the forward to DiAngelo’s masterful treatise, Michael Eric Dyson says, “But whiteness goes one better: it is a category of identity that is most useful when its very existence is denied. That’s its twisted genius. Whiteness embodies Charles Baudelaire’s admonition that ‘the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.’”

Sociologist DiAngelo proceeds to deconstruct everything we think we know about racism. She explains that racism is unavoidable and inevitable in our society, that its patterns are socialized into us from the earliest age. “White people in North America live in a society that is deeply separate and unequal by race, and white people are the beneficiaries of that separation and inequality.”

She contends that the people who do the most damage in relationships with people of color are white progressives, who assert things like, “I’m color blind. My mother taught me to treat everyone equally. Some of my best friends are black.” We become exceedingly uncomfortable and take great offense at the merest suggestion that we have said or done something racist. There the conversation stops. In DiAngelo’s words, we have no “racial stamina” to continue. And we become complicit with the very system we say we oppose.

“Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority that we either are unaware of or can never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race. We consider a challenge to our racial worldviews as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people.”

The author explores how race shapes the lives of white people today, often in ways that are completely unconscious. In so doing, she shines a much-needed light on the protests happening in countries world over, enabling us to begin to understand our troubled history. If you have asked yourself, as have I, “What needs to happen next? Where should I go from here?” DiAngelo gives us a place to start.

But make no mistake. White Fragility is a difficult book to read, not because of its lucid analysis of the most troubling events of our time, but because it makes us look in the mirror. The racist isn’t only the white policeman with his knee on the neck of a black man.

The racist is me.

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