I just wrapped up listening to the audio book version of White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. The book is her attempt to define the term white fragility. In a rough paraphrase, white fragility is the concept or response that white people often have to their discomfort when talking about race or receiving feedback that they may have done something which could be interpreted (or just is) racially insensitive. It is a nice juxtaposition to the traditional viewpoint that whites, as a race, hold the power and are therefore strong in the she lays out how a typical defensive response by a white person is actually highlighting our frailty and inadequacy when it comes to talking critically about race relations.
Overall, I would recommend it. I would say it still skews academic, and that has been a critique of mine for books of a similar genre. If you can get past that, or if you don’t have a negative opinion about that particular writing style, you will find this to be a somewhat enjoyably exhaustive look at the way the “typical” white person talks about race and racism. I found myself cringing at times when she would reference something I have said or recently heard a friend or colleague say. I would be prepared to have a similar reaction if you are white and reading it for the first time. However, I would still say it is worth the read, or at least “reading” the audio book.
I can see some easy connections to the concept of implicit bias – the idea that we are all biased in certain directions but are unaware of those biases. Many of the examples she used to illustrate her points paint the picture of an oblivious offender. While Robin doesn’t pull any punches, she does so in a way that never implies that she is attacking the reader. I would liken her work to holding up a mirror to the things a white person may say or do that seem fine, but are ultimately mildly destructive.
If we use this story arc for racial reconciliation in America:
Self awareness + perspective => empathy which empowers us and others to change
This work would fall mostly in the self awareness bucket. The idea that we are all racist in some way and all contribute to the problem is still fresh for the masses. If you are picking up White Fragility expecting it to have actionable items for you to physically do to racially reconcile America beyond growing in your own self awareness you may be disappointed, but I never got the impression that this was Robin’s intentions with her work – to help white people grow in self awareness. If you are looking for a way to give words to the phenomenon of white people stammering around the concept of racial inequity and what can be, at times, blatant defensiveness in the face of obvious wrongdoing, you would appreciate this book.