White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

The New York Times best-selling book exploring the counterproductive reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality.

In this “vital, necessary, and beautiful book” (Michael Eric Dyson), antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo deftly illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility and “allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people’ (Claudia Rankine). Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue. In this in-depth exploration, DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.

Users Comments:

  • According to this author, those that are identified as white (not necessarily those who identify AS white) are guilty of racism and must be prepared to be tongue-lashed by her. It is curious that somehow denigrating a person by their skin color is not racist when done by a person of the same appearance. It is a popular book for those that need more of a reason to feel bad about themselves.
    Ironically, the subject is timely and through reading other sources of information on institutionalized racism, I have noticed many examples of this. The articles were well written and effective in that I was not made to feel that anything I did or said was automatically suspect and therefore invalid. A state of paralysis is not one from which change can occur.
  • I’m African-American and this book has changed my life. I can’t even put it into words. So many things but one passage about white solidarity (I won’t say what it is, because I don’t want to spoil the book) sticks out because it left me in tears; I had seen what DiAngelo described as “white solidarity” all through my adult life but had no words or validation on what this was until reading this book. I cried because it brought up an past issue where I was accused of being “aggressive” simply for articulating a counter point-of-view and that accusation had serious consequences. The “racial triggers for white people” was, by far, the most informative chapter for me. If I had known about this before, I could’ve used that knowledge and changed the trajectory of my life. I cannot recommend this book enough. My only small, frivolous, insignificant, petulant quibble is that there isn’t an index, so I’m rereading it again with a highlighter. Thank you for what you do.
  • I am a white pastor who is a part of a team that fights against racism within the church. Engaged in public education in Christian circles has been a sobering experience as white people hide behind their belief to support their fragility and prejudice. This book provided me with personal insight that I have never before encountered. The insight is that as a white man, I carry racism and the benefits of white privilege with me all the time. This understanding deepens my empathy and awareness when working with others from all social and racial backgrounds. I need to be consciously “less-white” and seek honest feedback from minority groups.
    If you are interested in reconciliation and peace-making this book is for you. Be brave and look at yourself as you read it. DiAngelo has given the reader an opportunity for personal growth and insight. This book’s insight is a big step toward white maturity and relational peace.
  • Well, first of all, my opinion is that when it comes to “why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism”, it might have something to do with the fact that this author starts off the “conversation” looking for a fight. After reading a little bit, I think she might be trying to make whites uncomfortable as Eduardo Bonilla-Silva did in “Racism Without Racists”, but she really doesn’t do it in any sort of constructive or helpful manner–really just a jerky, I’m smarter than you sort of way–the kind of way that we’re taught NOT to do when we are trying to resolve issues–like the girlfriend attacking the boyfriend saying “you do this and you do this and you’re a selfish so-and-so”. Anyway, it doesn’t matter because as the author put it, “this book does not attempt to provide the solution to racism” (pg. 5)… I mean, it took her 27 pages (including her author’s note, but not including the foreword in which Michael Eric Dyson refers to Beyonce as an authority because, um, not sure-she’s a person of color (POC 😉 )? maybe, she sent money to bail out protestors?, maybe, she’s a beautiful celebrity and he wants to ingratiate himself to her? hmmm, I really don’t know, he doesn’t tell us, and googling didn’t come up with anything) to define the definition of racism she’s using in her book, because the definition of racism we whites have is too simplistic and not what she means (shh-yes it is 😉 ). So, for 27 pages us white people are like… what’s up?
    Meanwhile, she sets the framework for her argument in such a way that white people can’t say anything against what she’s laying down (actually we can’t even NOT say anything, because that’s somehow also racist?…), really it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” kind of scenario, along with many of the scenarios exemplified in this book in which white people try to help make society better but we’re just… no. It’s childish really, framing her argument in a way in which she sets the rules where she always wins (kinda like institutional racism! Ha-look ma, no hands!). EXCEPT, it is obvious. And sad–for POC, for people really looking for insight because it’s assigned reading for a college course, for our society, etc.: In my opinion, she is one of the “white progressives” she talks about that “cause the most daily damage to people of color” (pg.5), and this entire book, (at least up until pg. 47–sorry, I couldn’t wait to write the review because my head was spinning, I may update if it changes with the next 2/3s of the book, but I don’t see that happening) is an example of “aversion racism” (pg. 43) because, as I said above, she is absolutely racist against people of color (see especially pgs. 44-45), and while I suppose she never claims otherwise, I guess she thinks that every white person is like her? Maybe too much “white guilt”? Maybe she doesn’t realize that the evidence she uses for her argument is from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s and is not as relevant as it may have been, say in the 90s? Not to say that racism isn’t alive today, but it is truly unfortunate that she chose to simply be nasty “for effect?” (my emphasis, not a quote) and lump every single person who exhibits “whiteness” (regardless of actual skin color and ethnicity) into a group which is, according to her, acceptable because, as a group, those whose exhibit “whiteness” are the ones who gain advantage in our society and keep the status quo. I’m still waiting to see what her definition of “whiteness” is, if she ever does define it.
    The author contradicts herself numerous times and exhibits bigotry as if it was going out of style–really doing nothing for what she is trying to accomplish in her book. Wait, maybe it does because she isn’t actually trying to solve anything, but illuminate how white people can do things to avoid meaningful conversation…
    Trying to contextualize this book, I find her timing to be very revealing about her intentions. As I said, if she had published this 3 decades ago, perhaps it would have a different effect besides spreading hate reminiscent of the time when she grew up. Because let’s face it, that is her framework–growing up in the 60s when the SHTF with civil rights and change was really happening in a traumatic way. She talks about the “new racism”, but she’s referring to stuff from 1981. She talks about the power of socialization, but her mindset is stuck back then. There has been tremendous effort to reform how our society is “socialized” when it comes to treating everyone equitably. Our country has been going through change where, maybe not everybody, but many “white” people are are genuinely (if not appropriately or sufficiently or good enough in others’ opinions) trying to make our world reflect the belief that humans are humans and should be treated as such. No, I’m not trying to invalidate anyone’s experience. What happened in our history was awful, evil, and shouldn’t have ever happened–but it did. And there’s still work to be done. And we–the collective we, not just whites, not just POC–all of us who claim to care, need to be the change that makes our world the one we want to live in–and not simply write about it in an inflammatory way to secure sales of books.
    This is also where the author is wrong in her argument: us whites aren’t denying that despicable wrongs have been done, that white people have tipped the scales so that POC have been adversely affected, and that POC are still fighting to overcome those barriers. Additionally, she disregards all of the efforts of the “white allies” who have fought racism from the beginning, and those of us in this day and age, who are more than happy to shrug off the illusions of “superiority” to do the right thing because we know us whites dealt them a crappy deal.
    But I guess she got what she wanted.

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