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White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

Robin DiAngelo
Beacon Press
192 pages
Reviewed by Max Rodriguez

White Fragility is another in a line of necessary and well-intended books on this subject matter. Other books - So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo; Beverly Daniel Tatum's Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race; Daniel Hill's White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White, and others have walked this gauntlet. A Google search on 'whiteness' results in over a billion responses. Still, there is a need for more discussion.

In this “vital, necessary, and beautiful book” (Michael Eric Dyson), antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo deftly illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility and “allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people’ (Claudia Rankine). Referring 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. In this in-depth exploration, DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.

Talk and commiseration can certainly help to actualize behavioral change. This book is not only for white folks. Emotional fragility, wrought from institutionalized "distinctions" weigh on both blacks and whites. We are all impacted and remain deeply injured. The healing, however, is our own and requires courage. Maybe one can begin asking oneself "of the people that I have invited to spend a family weekend at my home, how many are culturally diverse from me?" That being said, there remains the issue of accountability - who might be first responsible for extending their hand outwardly. I am reminded of the story of the Pig and Hen who considered going into the breakfast business together. "It's a perfect partnership", said the Hen. "I will provide the eggs and you can provide the ham. We will split the profits equally." When the Pig wisely refused, the Hen asked why? "Given our circumstances, said the Pig, "what would be a mere investment for you, my friend, would a life-altering commitment for me." Herein lies the gauntlet: if there is to be a change, all must walk the path. What we are asked to "give up" will be different for all but equally painful. The reward, however, is access to a freedom and sense of humanity that surpasses any outwardly-imposed cultural conditioning.

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