Self-righteousness becomes a seductive complement to “White Fragility,” as gin is to a mystery novel.
Di Angelo, for all the outrageousness she documents, never comes across as anything other than preternaturally calm, patient, and lucid, issuing prescriptions for a better world as if from beneath a blanket of Ativan.Her almost motorized equipoise clarifies the book’s stakes: she cannot afford to lose us, who are so easily lost.For all the paranoid American theories of being “red-pilled,” of awakening into a many-tentacled liberal/feminist/Jewish conspiracy, the most corrosive force, the ectoplasm infusing itself invisibly through media and culture and politics, is white supremacy.That’s from a white progressive perspective, of course.Nor does prejudice disappear when people decide that they will no longer tolerate it. “The most effective adaptation of racism over time,” Di Angelo claims, “is the idea that racism is conscious bias held by mean people.” This “good/bad binary,” positing a world of evil racists and compassionate non-racists, is itself a racist construct, eliding systemic injustice and imbuing racism with such shattering moral meaning that white people, especially progressives, cannot bear to face their collusion in it. You may have subconsciously developed your strong negative feelings about racism in order to escape having to help dismantle it.) As an ethical thinker, Di Angelo belongs to the utilitarian school, which places less importance on attitudes than on the ways in which attitudes cause harm.
Unpacking the fantasy of black men as dangerous and violent, she does not simply fact-check it; she shows the myth’s usefulness to white people—to obscure the historical brutality against African-Americans, and to justify continued abuse.And the expectation of “white solidarity”—white people will forbear from correcting each other’s racial missteps, to preserve the peace—makes genuine allyship elusive. Di Angelo addresses her book mostly to white people, and she reserves her harshest criticism for white liberals like herself (and like me), whom she sees as refusing to acknowledge their own participation in racist systems.“I believe,” she writes, “that .” Not only do these people fail to see their complicity, but they take a self-serving approach to ongoing anti-racism efforts: “To the degree that white progressives think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us as having arrived.” Even the racial beliefs and responses that feel authentic or well-intentioned have likely been programmed by white supremacy, to perpetuate white supremacy.The value in “White Fragility” lies in its methodical, irrefutable exposure of racism in thought and action, and its call for humility and vigilance.Combatting one’s inner voices of racial prejudice, sneaky and, at times, irresistibly persuasive, is a life’s work.(Or even comical, though some of her anecdotes—participants in a voluntary anti-racism workshop dissolving with umbrage at any talk of racism—simmer with perverse humor.