Yes, I read White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Race by Robin DiAngelo. Which I’m pretty sure you’ve seen about fifty-thousand times this year. It was the book so many people grabbed this year when America was going through months of protests after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (and so many others).

And, I say this as a white person: white people tend to want to feel like they’re doing something without actually doing something. While I’m all for reading books (it’s a big part of what I’ve been doing for years to work on being a better person), that’s maybe not all you should do. Also, I’d bet good money that a decent number of people who posted pictures of this book on Instagram to seem “woke” never actually read it.

But I did! And I honestly wasn’t that impressed. For this being a crazy bestseller, I was surprised to find I had some problems with it.

It’s basically the Beginner’s Guide to Not Being Racist

Not to brag, but I read Stamped from the Beginning this summer (yes, I know I picked the long, hard-to-read trendy anti-racism book – which, to be fair, was already on my TBR for this year). And, while I consider myself to not be racist, that book really woke me up to just how much more I need to learn (or unlearn). And, after that book, this one wasn’t anything new or groundbreaking.

As I was reading, I constantly found myself thinking “well, duh.” If you don’t know about systematic racism by now, where have you been? Because that is a lot of what this book is about.

I struggled to find who the audience for this book would be in 2020. Because white supremacists would definitely not be open to reading this book. People like me who already know this is an issue might learn a little something (like the fact racism kind of exists because of Thomas Jefferson), mostly kind of know this already and are ready for the next level. This book is definitely not for people of color. It’s really only for people who are just now realizing that America is still pretty racist. I guess those people exist? (It’s probably mostly for white people who want to feel like they’re not racist.)

Genuinely, this felt like what you tell people when you sit them down and say, “racism is still a thing in America, and here’s why.” If you know someone you feel needs the “racism is real” talk, this is the book for them. I think it would make a great beginner’s guide. But I also think if you do read this book, you should be committed to further reading. Because I had a few issues with this one.

There are way too many generalizations

This was honestly my biggest issue with this book. The author makes assumptions about how people feel or are treated. She fails to account for nuances, such as how maybe a poor white person experiences the world, because she seems to be coming from a much more privileged place. This is not to say that poor white people still don’t have white privilege or can’t be racist, just that their experience is wildly different than the author’s seems to have been. Unfortunately, that’s the only experience she discusses in relation to racism.

And yes, the author of this book is white. Which felt a little weird, not gonna lie. But I’ll acknowledge that her whiteness has probably made white people in general more receptive to her message.

I did have a bit of an issue with the author lumping all white people together. Because yes, there are people who have biases. There are people who are openly racist. There are people who are trying to be allies. And we’re not all in the same boat. I don’t mean this in a “not all white people” way, it’s just that I don’t think any one message is going to reach every one of those groups, and this book kind of only has one message. So I don’t think this book works for everyone. For me, it felt kind of basic. But for a conservative racist, they’ll probably just get pissed and go on a rant about how this is racist against white people (and yes, I’ve seen at least one review claiming that).

I also wasn’t super impressed with how she talks about “progressive” white people. She has a whole chapter on “white tears” and how they are harmful to the cause. In other words, we don’t have a right to be publicly sobbing over the black man killed by police because it takes away attention from the actual issue and the people who are affected by systemic racism. Which is absolutely fair. But not all progressive white people are like that. Personally, I don’t think those people are progressive at all, because if they were, they’d understand that this isn’t about them. That’s the point, right?

She really only talks about racism against black people

Granted, this is a massive problem that needs to be dealt with and it’s something we should all be talking about. However, in a book about how white people are racist, I don’t think we can exclusively talk about racism towards black people. I grew up in Orange County, California. Which, if you don’t know, has quite large asian and hispanic populations. So, most of the racism I was privy to as a child was directed towards those groups.

White people, as a group, are super racist. Just my experience. And not just against black people. So, if we’re dealing with the problem of white people being racist, we kind of have to expand a little bit. Either that, or be more specific as to what this book is about.

To be completely fair, DiAngelo does mention other groups in this book. However, that’s all she does – mention them. Which is good, but that should have been expanded on. Because if we want to end racism, we can’t just not be racist towards one group and still express hate towards other minorities

Maybe let’s stop babying the racist people?

In this book, DiAngelo makes the cringe-worthy argument that it can be difficult and even traumatic (yes, really) for white people to be confronted with their inherent racism. She literally writes, “the capacity for white people to sustain challenges to our racial positions is limited.” I cannot tell you how hard I rolled my eyes.

First of all, I know these people. The “I’m not racist!” people. And the “acknowledging my racism is racist towards white people” people. Literally the other day I had to explain to my dad why family members constantly commenting on the fact my cousin had a black girlfriend was racist. There are people who legitimately don’t know they’re racist. And there are people who know they’re racist and either don’t care or chose to ignore it.

Here’s my problem with this. I am a white person. I was raised to be kind of racist and judgmental. When I grew up and opened my eyes to the problem, I felt awful. For many reasons, I used to be an asshole. And I am working hard to not be that person. This, I believe, is the correct response (or at least a good, constructive response). Not “this is too hard for my sensitive white brain to comprehend”.

So, as a white person, in 2020, I say: toughen up buttercup! (Or as those Tr*mp slogan shirts proclaimed to the world: f*ck your feelings.) Either one works here. But really, if you’re going to discriminate – in any way – again people just because their skin color is different, I really don’t think you deserve our empathy anymore. Because there is no excuse other than that you suck. I’m not gonna break it to you gently.

(Yes, I know you need to be gentle with people for them to accept criticism, especially if they don’t want to hear it. But it just feels like in 2020, if you haven’t made an effort to not be racist, it’s either because you don’t care or you don’t want to.)

We need a way to fix this, and White Fragility is… an okay start

It’s been over sixty years since the Civil Rights movement started. It is absolutely ridiculous that it’s still going. It didn’t stop because white people got bored of it. Doesn’t work that way. And DiAngelo does make that clear in her book. There is no question that it needs to be fixed. But I don’t think this book is really a great solution. Like I said, this is kind of a beginner’s guide for white people who might not think they’re racist (but probably are).

I think the concepts in this book are a great starting point. There are concepts in this book that I’ve had to learn in the past. Like the fact that black people are not responsible for educating white people. Which, duh. But it just wasn’t something I’d thought about. So I think this book does a fairly good job with that.

But I think that, if you’re actually going to read this book (and not just post a picture of it), you should also commit to further reading (like Stamped from the Beginning).


Have you read this book? What did you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

10 thoughts

  1. I had some similar thoughts about Caste before tossing it back. I fight for our marginalized students at my University. I do not need a lecture. I need, like most Americans, more chances to get to know people. I’ve lived on 2 continents, been married to a Black man and still I’m lectured. I want the situation to change. I’m doing what I can do to make that happen. I am going to try to read I’m Still Here and, in fairness, will try to read/finish Caste in the print version (I was listening to the audio and the read CAN make a huge difference). I vote for candidates I feel favor ALL Americans, but this year I especially looked at candidates who will work on real problems. UGH…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, bummer. I was just about to start Caste. But maybe I’ll wait a bit if it’s that similar to this one. I really liked Stamped from the Beginning, but far the best BLM-related book I’ve read so far. Why I No Longer Talk to White People About Race was also great.

      I completely agree that getting to know people (through books or otherwise) makes the biggest difference. We still need to know the history, but I’m kind of out of patience for white people problems or sensitivity. That said, there are definitely people who need books like this. I’m just not one of them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. DO read Caste, but some time in between is maybe a good idea. We DO need to keep reading, to keep learning. It’s just it all gets preachy sometimes. Looking at it from the otherside, it probably isn’t strident enough. I’ll try to pick up Caste soon–why not leave me a message when you do read it? I’ll read it as much as I can at the same time.

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        1. Ok, sounds good! I have quite a few other books I want to get to (and I really need to finish The Stand), but hopefully I can get to Caste soon. I do still want to read it.

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      2. Oh wow, I totally disagree about Caste! Conceptually, a lot of is essentially about structural racism, but I found the comparisons to Nazi Germany and the caste system in India incredibly informative. It helped me think about racism in a different way, to really focus on the structural aspects that have given racism such sticking power in the US. Hearing how the US inspired Nazi Germany and how some more “moderate” Nazi’s found Jim Crow laws too extreme had a lot of emotional impact for me as well. The racist acts the author described were generally within the realm of what I’m already aware of, but I think the framework and the history that this book offers is really useful.

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        1. Good to know! Honestly, I’m still definitely planning on reading it, just maybe not so close to reading White Fragility (I haven’t read much this month anyway). I’m curious to see what I think now!

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  2. I appreciate your review and how well-thought out it was. I may have to read White Fragility on context to really understand where you were coming from. But I think the reason why Latinx people and Asians weren’t as talked about is because white Latino/Latina people and Asians actually contribute to a lot of anti-blackness. Asians (particularly the older generation) see themselves as the model minority and try to to distance themselves from the Black experience and do not suffer from the same level of systematic racism as Black people do. White Latinx people choose to ignore the problem and often vote against Black issues when looking at voting statistics.

    At the same time, I didn’t grow up in Orange County. I think it’s general knowledge that all minorities experience racism but I do think Black people experience it at another level. I’ve personally experienced other vocal minorities use the “oppression olympics” to speak over Black people and invalidate our experiences. Again, I didn’t read the book to know if the author was completely ignoring other minority struggles. I think in this political climate, the Black struggle is just particularly sore subject especially because Asians and Latinx people aren’t consistently backing Black people in the movement while Black are expected to have to speak up for everyone.

    It’s good that you want every one to matter but since this is a white author, perhaps she isn’t all that informed and has a narrow understanding of the subject as a whole. I wanted to add an additional perspective and I think this was a really good review.

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    1. Thank you! And that is absolutely fair! The author does (very briefly) mention that there is racism between minority groups, and I know a lot of it is directed at black people. I think my issue was simply because of how the author set up this book. It’s supposed to be a book about white racism, not just white racism against black people (at least according to the title). It’s also not a book about racism against black people. Both of which are valuable discussions, but the way the author of this book framed what she was attempting to do, and then portrayed it in such a narrow lens was why I didn’t really find it that well done.

      I think this book is a good starting point, but I found that there was a lot lacking and needs to be explored later. My biggest issue was that she seemed to really only discuss racism as she’s encountered it as a white person. Which, while valid, was different than mine as another white person. It just felt like a very narrow view for something that should be much broader.

      I completely agree that racism against black people is an extremely important subject we need to address, and it’s why I read this book. I just didn’t think it was addressed in a comprehensive way in this book. The message felt very “try to discuss racism with white people but be gentle, they don’t like to think they’re racist”. And it just feels like we’re past that point.

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  3. Thanks for your thoughts on this one! I have read a lot of criticism of how simplistic this book is and it does feel weird that a lot of people have reacted to the current moment by going to a white woman for her opinion on anti-black racism. I’ll definitely prioritize Stamped From the Beginning over this one.

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    1. I absolutely recommend Stamped from the Beginning! It had me questioning a lot of what I’ve been taught as a white person. I thought I was educating myself pretty well, but that book proved me wrong. I think if you’ve already read on this topic, that’s definitely the way to go. White Fragility was fine, but it felt a lot like “be nice to white people, they’re sensitive about being racist” which wasn’t really what I was looking for. If you’re trying to convince people that racism is still a thing, give them this book. Otherwise, definitely read Stamped. It’s brilliant (and also by a black author, which just feels not weird haha).

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