Are We 'Fragile' or Just Colorblind?

A bestselling book on race is deeply and dubiously flawed.

Michael Swartz · Jul. 10, 2020

Two years ago, the nonfiction shelves had a bestseller by author Robin DiAngelo called White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. Generally, a popular nonfiction book will stay on the bestseller lists for a few weeks, but recent events have given DiAngelo’s book a second bite of the apple.

As described there, the book “Refer(s) to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially… White fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue.” More succinctly, according to Dr. Jesse Lile — who wrote on the book last year at The Federalist — DiAngelo’s diatribe is “an inherently racist concept.”

Lile pointed out that the definition of white fragility — a term DiAngelo coined back in 2011 in the widely read International Journal of Critical Pedagogy — presents an automatic contradiction in terms: “According to [DiAngelo’s] definition, if a white person voices any disagreement, such disagreement may be categorized as argumentation (which is assumed to be fueled by anger, fear, guilt). Therefore it is one’s white fragility that causes him or her to disagree.”

“On the other hand,” Lile continues, “if a white person disagrees but doesn’t voice it (because he or she knows it will only draw such criticism and censorship), he or she remains silent or chooses to exit the conversation, and this too is due to white fragility. This means that whatever one does, he is termed fragile unless, of course, that individual agrees openly and submits to the label.”

And yet DiAngelo managed to create a 169-page bestselling book out of that one-note samba. Go figure.

It’s in that vein that we as a society can’t progress beyond the argument that, despite the fact that one is a subset of the other, it is only acceptable to proclaim “Black Lives Matter,” never that all lives matter.

While Dr. Lile can be dismissed as right-leaning (and therefore automatically racist), DiAngelo’s conundrum is receiving criticism from the Left as well. In a surprisingly critical look at the book (surprising since it was published in The Washington Post), reviewer Carlos Lozada noted, “Even as it introduces a memorable concept, ‘White Fragility’ presents oversimplified arguments that are self-fulfilling, even self-serving. The book flattens people of any ancestry into two-dimensional beings fitting predetermined narratives. And reading DiAngelo offers little insight into how a national reckoning such as the one we’re experiencing today could have come about. In a ‘White Fragility’ world, nothing ever changes, because change would violate its premise.”

Longtime leftist scribe Matt Taibbi was even more acidic, asking “Have the people hyping this impressively crazy book actually read it?” Then he drops the gloves: “DiAngelo’s writing style is pure pain. The lexicon favored by intersectional theorists of this type is built around the same principles as Orwell’s Newspeak: it banishes ambiguity, nuance, and feeling and structures itself around sterile word pairs, like racist and antiracist, platform and deplatform, center and silence, that reduce all thinking to a series of binary choices. Ironically, Donald Trump does something similar, only with words like ‘AMAZING!’ and ‘SAD!’ that are simultaneously more childish and livelier.”

In the end, though, the biggest problem with DiAngelo’s book is the premise that all who are white are guilty and must prove their innocence, which is impossible because they’ve never experienced being the innocent black person. Put another way, DiAngelo’s theory has no falsifiability. So much for Martin Luther King’s ideal of judging on character instead of skin color.

Sadly, we live in a time when Robin DiAngelo’s book is flying off the shelves, and demand for her services (which don’t come cheap — DiAngelo recently charged the University of Kentucky $12,000 for two hours of her seminar time) is at its peak. She may be laughing all the way to the bank, but we are all poorer for the Left having lent credibility to this rubbish.

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