In a new book, White Fragility,, DiAngelo attempts to explicate the phenomenon of white people’s paper-thin skin. She argues that our largely segregated society is set up to insulate whites from racial discomfort, so that they fall to pieces at the first application of stress—such as, for instance, when someone suggests that 'flesh-toned' may not be an appropriate name for a beige crayon ... The value in White Fragility lies in its methodical, irrefutable exposure of racism in thought and action, and its call for humility and vigilance. Combatting one’s inner voices of racial prejudice, sneaky and, at times, irresistibly persuasive, is a life’s work. For all the paranoid American theories of being 'red-pilled,' of awakening into a many-tentacled liberal/feminist/Jewish conspiracy, the most corrosive force, the ectoplasm infusing itself invisibly through media and culture and politics, is white supremacy.
In the book under review here, DiAngelo mostly lets readers figure out what white fragility is by trickling out interesting concrete examples, often from her workshop experiences ... White Fragility fascinatingly reads as one-part jeremiad and one-part handbook. It is by turns mordant and then inspirational, an argument that powerful forces and tragic histories stack the deck fully against racial justice alongside one that we need only to be clearer, try harder, and do better ... In tone and content, the book jars against itself. The can-do spirit of the workshop and primer knocks against the sober accounts of the utter embeddedness of white advantage in structures of both political economy and of personality and character. Such jarring is not indefensible. We live in contradictions and we do what we can ... White Fragility reads better as evidence of where we are mired than as a how-to guide on where we are on the cusp of going. Its pessimistic half convinces more than its optimism ... There is no firm sense of the politics that might be productively attached to the attack on white fragility and white supremacy to which DiAngelo is passionately committed ... White Fragility may— if taken as panacea rather than as a useful corner of a big problem — be too pessimistic as well as too cheery ... White Fragility—indeed any single book—cannot conjure up such movements. But it does much help us to get there.
The advice in White Fragility is fairly straightforward—which is not, of course, the same thing as easy to act on. DiAngelo wants white people to abandon ideas of racism as a matter of individuals being good or bad, moral or immoral. To accept that we surely have unconscious investments in whiteness—investments we might not yet fully understand. To seek out the perspectives of people of color, embrace the discomfort that might result, and avoid confusing that discomfort with literal danger. To start uncomfortable conversations with family and friends. To breathe slowly. And, perhaps most important, to remember that we should do all this not for people of color, but instead for ourselves, in the spirit of honesty and truth-telling ... It is easy to overstate the value of 'conversations about race' and, in the process, de-emphasize the need for material change. But it is hard to deny that a great many new conversations are likely needed, particularly within white families and social circles. The number of conversations coaxed into existence by DiAngelo's work will be a central measure of its success. I hope it is a great one.