Recently I wrote about John McWhorter’s contention that the far-left ideology now running rampant on college campuses and in newsrooms is a religion. Today the Atlantic published a new piece by McWhorter in which he goes to the heart of this new faith by reading Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. While he says he believes DiAngelo is well meaning, he finds the book itself to be a “racist tract.”
I have learned that one of America’s favorite advice books of the moment is actually a racist tract. Despite the sincere intentions of its author, the book diminishes Black people in the name of dignifying us. This is unintentional, of course, like the racism DiAngelo sees in all whites. Still, the book is pernicious because of the authority that its author has been granted over the way innocent readers think.
First, McWhorter walks through some of the odd things in the book that others have noted. For instance, DiAngelo’s understanding of the lesson of Jackie Robinson’s story is one that will leave baseball fans scratching their heads. But what really concerns McWhorter isn’t the obvious errors in the book but its dubious goal.
Remember also that you are not to express yourself except to say Amen. Namely, thou shalt not utter:
I know people of color.
I marched in the sixties.
You are judging me.
You don’t know me.
You are generalizing.
This is an abridgment of a list DiAngelo offers in Chapter 9; its result is to silence people. Whites aren’t even allowed to say, “I don’t feel safe.” Only Black people can say that. If you are white, you are solely to listen as DiAngelo tars you as morally stained…
What end does all this self-mortification serve? Impatient with such questions, DiAngelo insists that “wanting to jump over the hard, personal work and get to ‘solutions’” is a “foundation of white fragility.” In other words, for DiAngelo, the whole point is the suffering. And note the scare quotes around solutions, as if wanting such a thing were somehow ridiculous.
Ultimately, McWhorter says White Fragility is a condescending book that infantilizes black people as a group, something he describes as racist:
DiAngelo’s outlook rests upon a depiction of Black people as endlessly delicate poster children within this self-gratifying fantasy about how white America needs to think—or, better, stop thinking. Her answer to white fragility, in other words, entails an elaborate and pitilessly dehumanizing condescension toward Black people. The sad truth is that anyone falling under the sway of this blinkered, self-satisfied, punitive stunt of a primer has been taught, by a well-intentioned but tragically misguided pastor, how to be racist in a whole new way.
I wonder how long the popularity of this book is going to last. Another author recently described it as a new kind of self-help book for white women after noticing that it was hard to tell the Amazon reviews for White Fragility from those for other self-help books.
I’m sure most of the people buying and reading the book are sincere, but I think that’s true of the people who buy Suzanne Somers diet books too. A lot of the readers of White Fragility are going to get a social justice buzz from reading it and then move on to other interests in a few months. What worries me is that the renewed popularity of this book is sure to create copycats looking to cash in. By next year there will be books competing to be the next White Fragility, not to mention that DiAngelo herself will surely write a sequel. And because people get tired of hearing the same thing, the books that come next will need to amp up the rhetoric even more. There’s going to be a kind of arms race in social justice self help books coming soon and I’m already exhausted just imagining it.
Ultimately I think this book is going to do more harm than good. Focusing people on the centrality of racial identity in every situation seems like a really bad way to combat the tendency of some people to focus on racial identity in every situation. It’s the opposite of Dr. King’s dream and it’s odd that doesn’t seem to matter to a lot of people all of a sudden.