White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

The simplistic idea that racism is limited to individual intentional acts committed by unkind people is at the root of virtually all white defensiveness on this topic.

Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility

Note: Most of this review is from a draft written in July 2020. Other than light editing for spelling or adding missing words, I am posting it as it was originally written.

White Fragility challenges your perceptions on racism at every turn. The book shows how deeply embedded racism is in every aspect of society, and and how white people benefit from it regardless of their personal feelings on race, prejudice, and discrimination.

Individual whites may be “against” racism, but they still benefit from a system that privileges whites as a group.

Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this was the most uncomfortable book I’ve ever read. The more uncomfortable I felt, the less time I wanted to spend reading the book. I set aside time and again after brief reading sessions; as a result, it took nearly two months for me to finish it. I seriously considered not finishing it at all, in fact. I consider myself to be fairly progressive about many things, and absolutely not racist, so it was more than a little distressing to see where I fell short of the mark. I ultimately chose to stick with it (even though it rocked my sense of self) because the whole point of reading the book was to learn… and I couldn’t learn anything if I gave in to my impulse to abandon it halfway through the book. (Not to mention, I’d read enough of the book to realize my own white fragility was being triggered, and was being tempted by one of its common responses: avoidance.)

A racism-free upbringing is not possible, because racism is a social system embedded in the culture and its institutions.

Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility

The quote above struck a chord of melancholy within me that I haven’t been able to shake since I read it. As a young mother, teaching my children about racism, and why it was wrong, was extremely important to me. I suppose a “racism-free upbringing” was what I was trying to give them.

For those who ask why there is no White History Month, the answer illustrates how whiteness works. White history is implied in the absence of its acknowledgment; white history is the norm for history.

Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility

End of 2020 draft

I wish I could remember why I chose to include the final quote above. I know it had something to do with seeing the question raised on social media, or hearing people state that it “wasn’t fair” that it didn’t exist… but after the passage of so much time, I’m no longer able to recall what my point was meant to be.

Final thoughts: This will challenge your perceptions on racism and white privilege in society, and force you to take a deeper look at yourself as you consider what DiAngelo has to say. If inclusivity and anti-racism are things you care deeply about, this book definitely deserves a spot on your reading list.

Highly recommended.

I received an advance reading copy of this book courtesy of Beacon Press via Edelweiss.

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Author: Robin DiAngelo
Title: White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
Genre: Social Science, Discrimination & Race Relations
Publication Date: June 26, 2018 by Beacon Press
Rating: 4 stars

About the Book

Groundbreaking book exploring the counterproductive reactions white people have when discussing racism that serve to protect their positions and maintain racial inequality

Antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo first coined the term “white fragility” in 2011, and since then it’s been invoked by critics from Samantha Bee to Charles Blow. “White fragility” refers to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially. These include emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors including argumentation and silence. In this book, DiAngelo unpacks white fragility, explaining the underlying sociological phenomena. She’ll draw on examples from her work and scholarship, as well as from the culture at large, to address these fundamental questions: How does white fragility develop? What does it look like? How is it triggered? What can we do to move beyond white fragility and engage more constructively?

About the Author

ROBIN DIANGELO is an American academic, lecturer, and author working in the fields of critical discourse analysis and whiteness studies. She formerly served as a tenured professor of multicultural education at Westfield State University and is currently an Affiliate Associate Professor of Education at the University of Washington in Seattle. She is known for her work pertaining to white fragility, a term which she coined in 2011.

In a 2011 academic paper she put forward the concept of white fragility, the notion that the tendency for white people to become defensive when confronted with their racial advantage functions to protect and maintain that advantage. She further promoted the idea through her 2018 book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism.

2 thoughts on “White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

    • Thanks for the comment! It was a difficult book to read (and even harder to review), but I’m glad to have read it. I think books like this are essential reading if someone hopes to obtain a deeper understanding about racism and privilege.

      If you decide to read it one day, I hope to be able to read your thoughts on it, as well. This is one of those things where the reviews are every bit as thought provoking as the book itself!

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