White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

by Robin J. DiAngelo

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.



DiAngelo joins the front ranks of white antiracist thinkers with a stirring call to conscience and, most important, consciousness in her white brothers and sisters. White Fragility is a truly generative idea; it is a crucial concept that inspires us to think more deeply about how white folk understand their whiteness and react defensively to being called to account for how that whiteness has gone under the radar of race for far too long. Di Angelo is wise and withering in her relentless assault on what Langston Hughes termed “the ways of white folks.” But she is clear eyed and unsentimental in untangling the intertwined threads of social destiny and political prescription that bind white identity to moral neutrality and cultural universality.

Di Angelo bravely challenges the collapse of whiteness into national identity. No less an authority than Beyoncé Knowles recently remarked, “It’s been said that racism is so American that when we protest racism, some assume we’re protecting America.” DiAngelo proves that Beyoncé is right, that the flow of white identity into American identity- of racist beliefs into national beliefs-must be met head-on with full-throated insistence that what it means to be American is not what it means to be white, at least not exclusively, or even primarily. This nation is far more complicated in its selective self-understanding. The author in a masterly way, takes apart the notion that identity politics is a scourge, at least when it involves people of color or women. She blows down the house of white racial cards built on the premise that it can, or should, rest on something beyond identity politics.

DiAngelo forces us to see that all politics have rested on identities, and that those identities are critical features of wrestling with how we have gone wrong in the effort to set things right—which too often has meant make them white. We cannot possibly name the nemeses of democracy or truth or justice or equality of we cannot name toe identities to which they have been attached. Robin DiAngelo is the new racial sheriff in town! For most of our history, straight white men have been involved in a witness protection program that guards their identities and absolves them of their crimes while offering them a future free of past encumbrances and sins. She is bringing a different law and order to bear upon the racial proceedings. Instead of covering up for a whiteness that refuses to face up to its benefits and advantages, its errors and faults, she has sought to upload the humanity of the unjustly maligned while exposing the offenses of the undeservedly celebrated.

White fragility is an idea whose time has come. It is an idea that registers the hurt feelings, shattered egos, fraught spirits, vexed bodies, and taxed emotions of white folk. In truth, their suffering comes from recognizing that they are white—that their whiteness is the clearer example of the identity politics they claim is harmful to the nation, and that their whiteness has shielded them from growing up as quickly as they might have done had they not so heavily leaned on it to make it through life. White Fragility is a vial, necessary and beautiful book, a bracing call to white folk everywhere to see their whiteness for what it is and to seize the opportunity to make things better now. Robin DiAngelo kicks all the crutches to the side and demands that white folk finally mature and faced the world they’ve made while seeking to help remake it for those who have neither their privilege nor protection.” This is a book that will demand you think about life with a new and more expansive lens.

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