Is social justice just a new genre of self-help for white women?

Writing at Tablet, author Kat Rosenfield has noticed something interesting. If you look at reviews for self-help books and compare them to reviews for social justice books like White Fragility, it’s hard to tell them apart.

This book inspired me to continue on the journey of personal growth that I’ve been on and gave me some fresh new perspectives to consider.

It is a resource and a guide; like having a learned teacher with you in the intimacy of your own home as you confront some of the most troubling and critical truths about yourself.

It wants you to meet your full potential, but YOU have to DO the work.

The journey is hard, but I assure you, it is worth it.

Half of these lines come from five-star reviews of contemporary self-help books. (Titles include Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis and the early-aughts law-of-attraction phenom The Secret.) The other half come from reviews of anti-racist handbooks, all of which rocketed to the top of bestseller lists this month amid a nationwide movement sparked by the May 26 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. (Titles include Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy, and, of course, Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility.)

Rosenfield argues the self-help genre is aimed primarily at women and that’s true of the new genre of social justice self-help books too.

Female self-loathing is still a major moneymaker, the only difference being that the relentless focus on women’s flaws has moved under the skin. Your problem areas are now your problematic areas; it’s your soul, not your cellulite, that needs smoothing.

Of course, only the most elite women can afford the luxury of so much wallowing in their imperfections, a fact that feminist writers have readily critiqued in other contexts. A New York Times article by Jessica Knoll noted, accurately, that the trillion-dollar wellness industry “is a largely white, privileged enterprise catering to largely white, privileged, already thin and able-bodied women, promoting exercise only they have the time to do and Tuscan kale only they have the resources to buy.”

Rosenfield doesn’t say this but I will. White Fragility is being marketed to the same people that are buying those Peloton bikes. Remember that weird ad about the perfectly fit and clearly wealthy woman who is ever-so-grateful her husband bought her a stationary bike for Christmas? Remember how creepy it seemed that she was so dedicated to sharing her journey of marginal self-improvement with such gratitude? It turns out there’s a lot of money to be made in convincing a certain class of women that they still lack something in their lives.

Earlier this year, I wrote about a couple of women who were already cashing in on this new market in white women’s guilt. Race to Dinner, founded by Regina Jackson, and Saira Rao is exactly what it sounds like, a fancy dinner party at which the two guest lecturers berate guests about their complicity in white supremacy. The cost of these dinners is $2,500 and yet, there is apparently no shortage of people signing up.

It seems unlikely anyone would voluntarily go to a dinner party in which they’d be asked, one by one, “What was a racist thing you did recently?” by two women of color, before appetizers are served. But Jackson and Rao have hardly been able to take a break since they started these dinners in the spring of 2019. So far, 15 dinners have been held in big cities across the US.

White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo is doing even better than Jackson and Rao. Last year the Daily Caller reported she charged the University of Kentucky $12,000 for a two-hour “Racial Justice Keynote and breakout session.” That did not include the cost of travel, food and lodgings for DiAngelo and her team. Rosenfield reports that’s a fraction of her keynote speaking price:

Her keynote speaking fee is $40,000. Whatever is being sold, be it a jade vagina egg or a ticket to an anti-racist workshop, there’s a great deal of money to be made off the guilt, anxiety, and insecurities of financially secure white women.

This is a great way to make money not only because so many women are willing to pay but because the nature of social justice self-improvement is that it never ends. You never arrive at a perfect state from which you can then retire. The only option is to keep working at it for life.

Addendum: We had this in the headlines today but take a look at Matt Taibbi’s unsparing take on White Fragility.

DiAngelo isn’t the first person to make a buck pushing tricked-up pseudo-intellectual horseshit as corporate wisdom, but she might be the first to do it selling Hitlerian race theory. White Fragility has a simple message: there is no such thing as a universal human experience, and we are defined not by our individual personalities or moral choices, but only by our racial category.

If your category is “white,” bad news: you have no identity apart from your participation in white supremacy (“Anti-blackness is foundational to our very identities… Whiteness has always been predicated on blackness”), which naturally means “a positive white identity is an impossible goal.”

DiAngelo instructs us there is nothing to be done here, except “strive to be less white.” To deny this theory, or to have the effrontery to sneak away from the tedium of DiAngelo’s lecturing – what she describes as “leaving the stress-inducing situation” – is to affirm her conception of white supremacy. This intellectual equivalent of the “ordeal by water” (if you float, you’re a witch) is orthodoxy across much of academia.

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