My review of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers as a starred review. I’m posting it today with their permission. I wish this could be mandatory reading for Americans. Granted there are a lot of people who would get nothing out of it because they’ve already put up walls, but I think there are a great many people, like me, who can benefit from this amazing reading experience. I hope you’ll check it out.
The United States was founded on the principle that all people are created equal.
The author of the term “white fragility,” antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo, dissects the phrase and its cultural implications in her book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. DiAngelo explains that white fragility–or the defensive reactions of white people when they are challenged racially–is “triggered by discomfort and anxiety, it is born of superiority and entitlement.”
Carefully breaking down many of the myths created by the white race such as color-blind claims, meritocracy and the belief that humans are objective beings, DiAngelo explains that racism is embedded in the culture. It isn’t just a black and white issue of explicit hate or violence. All people are now born into this institutionalized system of racism and have no say whether they will be affected by it. They are, however, responsible for owning their role. And for the white populations, this is unsettling; it disrupts the white equilibrium. To defend themselves from racist implications they react with anger, denial and withdrawal, instead of examining their behaviors and attempting to change them. This protective instinct shuts down the conversation and stops any advancement in race relations.
DiAngelo handles this potentially explosive topic with care and tact, even using examples of her own racist actions, but she is also forthcoming about its complexity and challenges. Efforts to make white people “comfortable” in the conversation only erect further barriers to change. White Fragility is a book everyone should be exposed to. With any luck, most who are will be inspired to search themselves and interrupt their contributions to racism.
White Fragility is available from Beacon Press in trade paperback and ebook. It’s also available as an audiobook from Dreamscape Media, narrated by Amy Landon.