Go to your local coffee shop, neighbor’s house, vacation spot, or even peruse Amazon’s best-sellers, and you’ll likely see the same book over and over again.
Sociologist Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People To Talk about Racism has continuously topped the charts in recent months and received critical acclaim. Everyone from protesting activists to Twitter users to your mom’s book club is reading it, so let’s talk about it — and why you shouldn’t read it.
While the premise of the book is intriguing in theory, White Fragility attempts to quantify racism and inspire a discourse that’s not only ineffective and purposeless but also intellectually superficial.
Who Is Robin DiAngelo?
Before she was exalted to the status of patron saint for white progressives, DiAngelo was an author and academic making a lucrative earning as a corporate human resources consultant.
For her services as a “diversity consultant,” DiAngelo would travel to corporations and companies (usually following an internal HR incident) and lecture on the importance of anti-racism — for a modest few thousand dollars per session. (Apparently, you can also pay her to come to your house and denigrate your dinner party guests for their privilege — which is probably the last time those guests will ever talk to you.)
“White Fragility” attempts to quantify racism and inspire a discourse that’s ineffective and superficial.
Her magnum opus on racism, White Fragility, was published in 2018, but only recently ascended to popular notice amid the explosion of social unrest following the deaths of black men like Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.
Journalist and critic Matt Taibbi has no problem calling DiAngelo’s work what it is, a “corporate vision for how to tackle racism.” Taibbi also asserts that this is how corporate America, not average individuals, view the problem of racism, an issue they think we can solve by “relentlessly listening to corporate consultants.”
What the Book Actually Accomplishes
So, what is it about White Fragility specifically that’s so damaging? Where to begin.
Not only does DiAngelo brazenly rewrite history and make empty assertions for the merit of the convoluted agenda she peddles throughout the book, but the entire work operates on the basis of a kafkatrap.
By DiAngelo’s standard, a white person directly proves their own racism by denying it.
Named for the German philosophical writer and social critic Franz Kafka, a kafkatrap is a logical fallacy and linguistic trap employed heavily by DiAngelo and other figures within anti-racism rhetoric. Specifically, in White Fragility, a white person reading DiAngelo’s thesis and disagreeing with it by not seeing themselves as racist thereby proves their own racism. By DiAngelo’s standard, and through this admittedly clever medium, a white person directly proves their own racism by denying it, thus contributing to their ‘white fragility.’
Not only is this ideologically unsettling and disturbing (see: George Orwell’s 1984), but it’s also what many academics and writers fear but nevertheless inevitably succumb to — it’s intellectually vacuous without any authentic merit.
Tackling Racism...By Being Racist
DiAngelo’s thesis is that all white people, like original sin, are born with the inherent stain of racism within themselves, due to its constant societal impression on them from systems like education, criminal justice, etc.
While the glaring flaws within these systems are in and of themselves a necessary conversation to have if we’re discussing race, it’s DiAngelo’s “solution” to this problem that’s not only condescending but problematic.
In DiAngelo’s eyes, real progress can only be made through constant punishment of whites.
As John McWhorter of The Atlantic surmises, DiAngelo’s entire thesis lies in the constant centering of the conversation on racism around white people. In DiAngelo’s eyes, real progress can only be made through constant punishment of whites, without considering the thoughts, opinions, and voices of people of color and what they have to contribute to the discussion. As McWhorter writes, “One might ask just how a people can be poised for making change when they have been taught that pretty much anything they say or think is racist and thus antithetical to the good.” McWhorter also asserts that “few books about race have more openly infantilized Black people than this supposedly authoritative tome.”
Therein lies the rub. DiAngelo is not interested in conversation, discourse, or progress. She’s interested in inspiring and profiting from white guilt, an inwardly self-satisfying urge which inevitably leads to martyrdom.
Not only is DiAngelo’s underlying rhetoric convoluted, but the nature of her own prose is in itself confusing. Throughout the book, she offers personal anecdotes from her own life which are meant to instruct the reader on how race plays a role in even the minutest of ways in our daily lives. But the sentiments she expresses, no doubt meant to unite the reader to herself, are not the way average individuals conceptualize racism.
And there you have it. White Fragility is not for the average American who wants to learn more about privilege or discuss racism in a genuine way. It’s for an elite, corporate America archetype that conducts conversations predicated on their own self-importance and self-involvement rather than authenticity. So if you’re looking for authentic discussions, as we should be during this transformative time in our country, this is not the book for you.