White Fragility

Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
by Robin DiAngelo, PhD | 192 pages

I got this book as part of my commitment to getting a deeper understanding of the systemic racism and inequality that plagues our country and our world. Robin DiAngelo is an academic, educator, and author working in the fields of critical discourse analysis and whiteness studies. In this book, she distills her decades of experience into a powerful message to her fellow white progressives: We’re too fragile when it comes to discussing racism (and our role in it) and, critically, that fragility and unwillingness to engage in uncomfortable discussions along with equally uncomfortable self- and cultural-analysis is exacerbating the problem. The solution? As she says many times throughout the book: We need to build our racial stamina. Recognizing our fragility is the first step. As you’d expect, the book is a deliberately confronting read. It's equally humbling and ultimately inspiring.


“None of the white people whose actions I describe in this book would identify as racist. In fact, they would most likely identify as racially progressive and vehemently deny any complicity with racism. Yet all their responses illustrate white fragility and how it holds racism in place. These responses spur the daily frustrations and indignities people of color endure from white people who see themselves as open-minded and thus not racist. This book is intended for us, for white progressives who so often—despite our conscious intentions—make life so difficult for people of color. I believe that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color. I define a white progressive as any white person who thinks he or she is not racist, or is less racist, or in the ‘choir,’ or already ‘gets it.’ White progressives can be the most difficult for people of color because, to the degree that we think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us as having arrived. None of our energy will go into what we need to be doing for the rest of our lives: engaging in ongoing self-awareness, continuing education, relationship building, and actual antiracist practice. White progressives do indeed uphold and perpetuate racism, but our defensiveness and certitude make it virtually impossible to explain to us how we do so.

Racism has been among the most complex social dilemmas since the founding of this country. While there is no biological race as we understand it, race as a social construct has profound significance and shapes every aspect of our lives. Race will influence whether we will survive our birth, where we are most likely to live, which schools we will attend, who our friends and partners will be, what careers we will have, how much money we will earn, how healthy we will be, and even how long we can expect to live. This book does not attempt to provide a solution to racism. Nor does it attempt to prove that racism exists; I start from that premise. My goal is to make visible how one aspect of white sensibility continues to hold racism in place: white fragility.

I will explain the phenomenon of white fragility, how we develop it, how it protects racial inequality, and what we might do about it.”

~ Robin DiAngelo from White Fragility

I got this book following the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless others.

In a letter to our Optimize community, I said that as a white man who has lived in a bubble of privilege for the last four-and-a-half decades, I couldn’t even imagine the pain and suffering and prejudice our black community members and their families face on a day-to-day basis.

I also said that I didn’t know where to begin as I contemplated how to best address the crisis our nation is facing—which, of course, points to precisely where I need to begin: by getting a deeper understanding of the systemic racism and inequality that plagues our country and our world.

I committed to deepening my understanding of the issues and asked for book recommendations. This was one of the most recommended books. I immediately went to get it. And, I wasn’t alone in ordering it. In fact, it was out of stock and took weeks for Amazon to deliver it.

Robin DiAngelo is an academic, educator, and author working in the fields of critical discourse analysis and whiteness studies. She served as a tenured professor of multicultural education at Westfield State University and a lecturer at the University of Washington, where she twice received the Student’s Choice Award for Educator of the Year from the School of Social Work.

Robin has been a consultant and trainer for more than twenty years on issues of racial and social justice. In this book, she distills her decades of experience into a powerful message to her fellow white progressives: We’re too fragile when it comes to discussing racism (and our role in it) and, critically, that fragility and unwillingness to engage in uncomfortable discussions along with equally uncomfortable self- and cultural-analysis is exacerbating the problem.

The solution? As she says many times throughout the book: We need to build our racial stamina. Recognizing our fragility is the first step.

As you’d expect, the book is a deliberately confronting read. If you’re a white person looking to get a deeper understanding of racism and what we can do about it, I HIGHLY recommend you step into your discomfort and read this book. (Get a copy of the book here.)

Note: If you’re like me, you will have resistance to reading the book even as you commit to doing something about the challenges we face. That’s White Fragility at work. Let’s remember that our infinite potential exists on the OTHER side of our comfort zone as we step into that discomfort and get a little Wiser and more Courageous so we can do something to confront the crisis facing our nation (and world) as we strive to support people of color. Together. TODAY.

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About the author

Authors

Robin DiAngelo, PhD

American academic, lecturer, and author working in the fields of critical discourse analysis and whiteness studies.