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  • Jennifer Waters

The Faults of White Fragility

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

Jennifer Waters deconstructs and critiques the exploitation of white guilt at the heart of Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility.

Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and its reflective approach to addressing societal racism exploits white guilt in a manner that will not only corrode the mindset needed to properly learn about the black perspective but will result in ineffectual discourse if it continues to receive the level of acclaim it currently does. For a white reader to purchase White Fragility is already indicative of good intentions, however, the dogmatic shame DiAngelo imparts on them confuses reeducation with contrition. For understandings of racial divides to be reached in good faith, shame is a toxic means to achieve this sense of harmony. It is in this way ‘White Fragility,’ and its imposition of shame onto white readers creates an unsustainable attitude towards the achievement of racial equality. Ultimately, this dogmatism, and inapplicability of ‘White Fragility’s’ messages to its readers can be attributed to the inherent shortcomings of the perspective of Robin DiAngelo herself.

Robin DiAngelo is white, as she frequently mentions, and this lack of information only achievable through the direct experience of being black, inevitably leads to her oversimplified accusation that if you are white, you are inherently guilty of racism. This argument of inherent racism facilitates a powerful emotional spiral within a white reader rather than revelation. Through the foundation of shame, White Fragility centres the focus of racism away from actual social issues, but towards an offshoot of internal catharsis. Inasmuch as metacognition can be beneficial, to make insecurity the driving force of metacognition hinders the progress of both genuine sympathy and interest. The degree of removal that necessitates the kind of reflection DiAngelo has deemed critical to becoming anti-racist, only takes those tasked with reflection farther from confronting issues that exist apart from their experience. White Fragility depicts racism like original sin, and in doing so, turns a call to social proactivity into an internal pilgrimage.

The acceptance of the way White Fragility exploits this guilt that is imposed onto its white readers highlights further issues with the principles of the book itself, as well as its uptake. There is a glaring issue that society’s newfound susceptibility to accept white privilege required a white person to validate its existence. It is because of this I feel it safe to say that the only reason DiAngelo has not been accused of reverse racism is because she can use ‘we’ in her accusations of privilege. The first-person, inclusive resolve that is unique to ‘White Fragility’ serves as a testament to the hypocritical and dogmatic appeal to the book’s messages about the correct approach to racial re-education. Somehow, re-education must be from the white perspective to be without it.

DiAngelo’s sweeping generalizations about racism, and where it exists only takes away the nuance of its effects, and the ways through which it is manoeuvred by actual black people. It is due to this inherent lack of insight that she becomes her own cyclical archetype. She abuses her privilege in order to convey her condemnation of it, superseding the legitimacy of the perspective of those who are pushed aside from that privilege. Because of the landscape, DiAngelo constructed, her appropriation of the black perspective in order to provide insight in how to approach it is a problematic transgression.

There is exploitation in the circular reasoning of someone’s positions that they shouldn’t have a position, and then capitalizing on that position and taking up the space of people who actually are qualified to have a position. Not only is this begging of the question harmful to white readers' sincere approach to combating racism, the newfound shame for white people to overcome and the caution they now feel they need in order to approach discussions of race infantilises black people. DiAngelo’s presumptions based on her donning of the black psyche are not substantial enough to make her white readers question the approach they’ve cultivated through their own initiative. DiAngelo cannot provide direct insight, therefore all she can be is a harbinger of unsubstantiated doubt.

DiAngelo’s anthropological treatment of the black perspective and the sense of mortification her readers feel obliged to have, colours the approach to discourse with black people with anticipation of sensitivity induced volatility. ‘Volatility’ is an especially problematic aspect to cause hesitation in racial discourse because it is the same associations of volatility that delegitimise black people accusing white people of white privilege. It is a discredit to black people to anticipate such hostile reactions to genuine inquiry of their perspective, especially when bridging the sense of ‘otherness’ was meant to be a form of racial translation ‘White Fragility’ supposedly provided.

Basically, if you want to become informed about racism from a black perspective, read about it through a book written by a black person. If you want a sustainable approach to re-education about racism, and to ‘develop the stamina that would allow constructive engagement across racial divides’, don’t fall into the spiral of white guilt reiterated and perpetuated by ‘White Fragility.’

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