“I am white. I’ve spent years studying what it means to be white in a society that proclaims race meaningless, yet is deeply divided by race. This is what I have learned: any white person living in the United States will develop opinions about race simply by swimming in the water of our culture.”
Robin DiAngelo has authored a book that is part lament about racial woes in the United States and part handbook on addressing racism in the U. S. It is a smart, perceptive, and inspirational book. This talented writer outlines the powerful forces and tragic histories that prevent meaningful cross-racial dialogue in our society.
DiAngelo illustrates the racist milieu the U. S. is mired down in and describes how difficult it is to challenge it. She provides penetrating examples of the ways our culture stacks the deck against racial justice. DiAngelo defines white fragility as the defensive reaction white people have when verbally attacked or how they feel offended as soon as the topic of racism is raised.
She calls for white people to build up stamina to face and address their racism rather than be silent or become defensive. The author presents countless examples of white fragility from her work experience as a diversity and inclusivity facilitator. Her observations are immensely helpful. She provides fresh perspectives on why, despite all the laws passed, all the protest movements effected, and all the books written about racism, little has changed.
Social scientists understand racism as a multidimensional system that ensures an unequal allocation of resources between racial groups. Because whites built and dominate all major institutions in the U.S., their interests are embedded and entrenched in U.S society. While individual white people may oppose racism they still benefit from its distribution of resources because their group controls the resources. An individual person of color can sit at the table of a major corporation, for instance, but the majority of decision-makers will be white, so their power is limited.
This distinction between individual prejudice and a system of unequal institutionalized racial power is one of the primary precepts of this book. DiAngelo contends that no one can understand how racism operates in the U.S. today without focusing on group power relations and their role in sustaining racism.
The author’s primary purpose is not to make readers feel guilty about their white identity, but to encourage them to understand that racism is profoundly deep-seated in our culture. She maintains there will no change if we are just “really nice…smile at people of colour… go to lunch together on occasion.”
We must go much deeper and explore our emotional reactions to people of color. We must consider what we do to rebalance our psyche after we feel “called out” for our words and acts of racism. We must closely examine group power relations and understand how they perpetuate racism. “The antidote to white fragility is ongoing and lifelong, and includes sustained engagement, humility, and education.”