I put that warning up in case you are offended by anything I say here. I won’t blame the author for this review because she didn’t make me read her book about racism. I’ll blame myself and I will congratulate myself at the same time for attempting to describe here what most white people could not possibly be expected to understand, at least not right away. But, maybe, just maybe, we can all learn and change a generation, whether or not it be ours is up to us.
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“Read me!” the book says.
It’s titled White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, a white gal herself. It’s a self-help book of sorts for aiding white folks in acquiring some rational basis for talking about a subject that’s hard for most people to discuss, regardless of one’s racial identity. A book on racism for white folks but not just any white folks. The audience for “this book is intended for … white progressives,” DiAngelo says, who she defines as “white people who think they are not racist.” Yep, she actually said that, funny gal that she is.
If you weren’t offended by that, here are some quotes to get you started; here are some challenges for most white folks.
- “Whiteness has psychological advantages that translate into material returns.” In short, if you didn’t know that, where have you been?
- “It is rare for white people to own and repair our inevitable patterns of racism.” Me included, but try as we must to repair the damage of racism: its history; its contemporary patterns; and its current inevitability.
- “Consider racism a matter of life and death (as it is for people of color), and do your homework.” As evidenced by the Black Lives Movement, black people are in fact getting brutally killed by police.
- “Not challenging white people on racism upholds the racial order and whites’ position within that order,” for which DiAngelo intends to mean that each of us must start to practice anti-racism, she adds, “that is both active and kind.”
If you’re a racist then this book will challenge you, will “unsettle [your] racial status quo,” make your stomach ache a bit, and/or make you feel the terrible, horrible pain of being uncomfortable. Yep. If you’re white, you’ll feel that way anyway because of your privilege, about which DiAngelo is both candid and refreshingly nice.
If you know nothing about racism, think racism is simply a word, or believe that there is no racism in your own backyards nor in your mirrors, then this is not your book, although it should be. The cornerstone of this book is that we, white folks, need to learn how to become, not just anti-racists, but active and kind anti-racists.
“Seeking to avoid conflict …, I have chosen silence all too often,” DiAngelo says. All I can say is, me too.
I recently had the displeasure of discovering a local racist, a neighbor of mine, a fellow volunteer. He was spouting about how he had stopped watching football because of Colin Kaepernick’s protest, taking a knee to bring attention to the plight of black victims of police brutality. He thought that was over the line, while I thought: Kaepernick was just taking a knee; he was just protesting; he was just bringing attention; he harmed no one; and be an anti-racist, be an anti-racist, be an anti-racist. I couldn’t. (I hadn’t read DiAngelo’s book, but in retrospect, I believe its contents would’ve helped me.)
What could I have said to be anti-racist in a kind, nice way?
- I could’ve pointed out that Kaepernick’s career in football is over because of it, so he could go back to watching, but that would not have raised the need to help him discover his own racism, nor would it have been necessarily nice.
- I could’ve gently said that Kaepernick was protesting in a unique and quiet way. That no one should take away one’s right to protest. That would’ve at least started a conversation, but probably on protesting, not on racism.
- I could’ve placed the onus on the volunteer and have said (again, kindly) that I disagreed, which could’ve produced an immediate power struggle and an uncomfortable conversation but one in which the volunteer would have to consent to engage in order to learn, or quit his stammering about someone who made history.
Part of learning to engage as an anti-racist is to work on one’s own assumptions about race and to tolerate, even welcome, when an anti-racist may call you out on something. First, however, one’s paradigm about race and racism has got to change, improve, and progress.
DiAngelo says, “If I believe only bad people are racist, I will feel hurt, offended, and shamed when an unaware racist assumption of mine is pointed out. If I instead believe that having racist assumptions is inevitable (but possible to change), I will feel gratitude when an unaware racist assumption is pointed out; now I am aware of and can change that assumption.”
I’ve never had the pleasure of being an anti-racist myself, so I honestly don’t know how I should approach the subject nor how agitated or stressed I may likely get when it does finally happen. I still somehow believe that racists can’t be talked to, just like I know that talking self-interest in voting to a MAGA Republican is useless and may even bounce you into mortal danger.
As for you, my readers, “I offer that we must never consider ourselves finished with our learning.” Life-long learning was a concept popularized back in the 1980’s. DiAngelo promotes it as a sound basis for surviving the, sometimes intense, discomfort of anti-racism.
I highly recommend DiAngelo’s book to any progressive who is looking for smart change in their own lives. It’s an ingeniously written, woke book that has not been banned in Florida’s public library system yet, so now is the time to take some time to read it.
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