Robin DiAngelo wrote a book entitled “White Fragility.” The book has been touted as essential reading during this era of anti-racist protests. As its title explains, it deals with the concept of race through the lens of white people.
It is honestly surprising that the book has gotten as much attention as it has. Anyone who is familiar with the term “intersectional” and has read DiAngelo’s book knows what I mean.
The fundamental flaw with her book is the way it frames race and racism. DiAngelo’s entire concept of racism seems to be that of a psychological/cultural issue. Her framing in the book is that racism stems mainly from internal and external issues related mainly to “white” culture. By her measure, racism in white people is like a mental illness that can only be cured away with therapy or quarantined off from society.
DiAngelo, to my greatest disappointment, lacks any inherent intersectional analysis of race relations. She seemed to gloss over one of the most important factors in discussing the effects of racism; capitalist society.
To be fair, Robin DiAngelo did attempt to allude to wider racist entrenchment in society, but her analysis falls flat there as well. She seems to attribute systemic racism as more the fault of individual racists within the system, rather than racism being the basis of the system itself. She glossed over decades of research that argues that racism is much more than just a personal or cultural problem.
The very first book to link systemic racism to capitalism was “Slavery and Capitalism” by Eric Williams. His book was published in 1944, and many other black scholars and activists have built upon his theories. People like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Huey Newton, James Baldwin, WEB DuBois, Angela Davis, all espoused their belief that white privilege and supremacy are inherent to the capitalist system.
Capitalism requires the oppression of a permanent underclass to survive. Our very concept of capitalism was born from mercantilism. Mercantilism created the racial slave caste to exploit free labor to harvest cash crops for European merchants from which slave owners would profit. Everything modern capitalism is based upon comes from mercantilism and the ideologies that justified it.
By DiAngelo’s logic, Martin Luther King and company are completely wrong. She sees the permanent underclass as an extension of racist actors within the system, rather than the system itself being the problem. By that standrd, if we could only “cure” racism away from every individual white person, then capitalist society would be fine. This leads to the next, perhaps most egregious, problem with White Fragility.
If racism is measured only by the individual, then that essentially means systemic racism can never truly be solved. You obviously cannot eliminate the thoughts from every person’s mind, so what’s the solution then? Well, according to DiAngelo, “White people, you need to do better.”
On the surface, that seems reasonable. Of course, white people should better themselves regarding race relations. However, how do individuals “better” themselves when they live in a system that fundamentally encourages that behavior? It reminds me of a recent video where a bunch of white people were kneeling in front of black protesters “renouncing” their white privilege. How do you renounce personally, a systemic privilege?
White privilege doesn’t exists because someone proclaims it. Its endemic to a system, a capitalist system. DiAngelo rants against “individualism” a lot in her book, but her solutions seem to only invoke individual actions that can be taken to combat systemic racism.
“Bettering” yourself by renouncing a privilege that isn’t tied to you as an individual just comes off as cringey performance art. It offers no real solution to systemic racism in a capitalist society.
In effect, that’s the crux of the issue with White Fragility. She offers no real solution to white supremacy and privilege other than self-improvement. Her answer seems to be seminars, racial sensitivity counseling, and policing your own thoughts and language.
I should note that DiAngelo is a corporate consultant who gets paid handsomely for “racial sensitivity” seminars. She was recently paid $8,600 for seminars on behalf of the Trump administration for diversity training. There lies the obvious reason why DiAngelo will not tie racism to a capitalist society.
Its also pretty convenient that the “solutions” that she ascribes just so happen to coincide with what she does for a living. It certainly isn’t suspect to have someone who gets paid to do racial sensitivity seminars recommend racial sensitivity seminars as an answer to racism. Pure coincidence, I’m sure.
She’s a capitalist. She’s a part of corporate America and has a financial interest in saving the image of capitalism. Of course she wouldn’t implicate the wider system. The system pays her well, so naturally the issue must be directed somewhere else.
Including capitalism as part of the race discussion puts people like DiAngelo in the line of fire as well, forcing them to examine their own place within the oppressive hierarchy. Sorry to say, but upper-class liberals can be just as bad as conservatives when it comes to introspection.
How ironic that corporate society advertises Robin DiAngelo, a rich white woman, over Angela Davis, a black civil rights scholar and activist. The answer to why she is promoted over Davis is easy. Davis is a socialist revolutionary. DiAngelo is not.