White Guilt, White Fragility: Robin DiAngelo Doesn’t Understand Race

[This is the transcript for Alex Sheremet’s video essay, White Guilt, White Fragility: Why Robin DiAngelo Doesn’t Understand Race. It first appeared in the AUTOMACHINATION literary magazine.]

In 2011, an academic named Robin DiAngelo coined the phrase “white fragility” in reference to white people’s perceived defensiveness over questions of race. It didn’t explain this defensiveness—it only gave it a name. And it named only a small part of a more general condition. We’ll get to the condition of the white race in a bit, but for now, suffice to say that there are many types of white person. Some are just as fragile, yet break in a less predictable direction. Under the right circumstances, they could pressure themselves into joining a revolution. In more stagnant periods, they reach out to anyone willing to touch them. This is still fragility because it is unstable, because it is easy to recruit, because it is so common. Yet Robin DiAngelo—who is technically a scholar of ‘whiteness studies’—has little space for it. This means that ‘whiteness’ itself is not really being examined, and in failing to explain whiteness, or to give a credible story of what it means to be white, she cannot properly deal with race. Her work alludes to her own racial anxiety, but will not make sense of it. Her theory of racism is a theory of rugged individualism—and this is why it’s popular. The individual is tasked with the burdens of racism. So the individual, as under all right-wing systems, is forced to kneel.

Robin DiAngelo soon published a book, White Fragility, based on her original paper. There are many problems with this text, but chief among them is that she treats black Americans as if they were extraterrestrials—and some, without any idea of who she is, will rise to her challenge. After all, why should a black American feel any affinity for exotic cults, or religious bullying? This sort of idleness used to be the domain of white America, which once held a whip and defined itself against it. Today, it is not so much that the whip is out of fashion, but how it is held has changed. On occasion, the whip even gets handed over to nonwhites. What they are allowed to do with it is rather limited, but sometimes, a white woman or a white man will beg to be whipped. At other times, a white person will grow impatient and will grab the whip so they could self-flagellate more effectively. It is as if, by first losing the right to own slaves, and then other forms of status, some are now trying on a new identity in their free time. Meanwhile, black America, in gaining a little bit of freedom, is encouraged to exaggerate this freedom—to bandage over all the history and paper over all the present with publicity stunts. No doubt this kneeling woman believes that she is doing something right. Yet the Black Israelites believe this too. It might have … Continue reading →

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