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!