The Corner

Books

Are Individualism, Objectivity, and Opposition to Racism Racist?

Apparently so, according to the author of the new book White Fragility, who has spent years accusing white people of racism in diversity workshops and found that they react badly to the charge.

Here is an excerpt from the review of the book in The New Yorker:

Much of “White Fragility” is dedicated to pulling back the veil on these so-called pillars of whiteness: assumptions that prop up racist beliefs without our realizing it. Such ideologies include individualism, or the distinctly white-American dream that one writes one’s own destiny, and objectivity, the confidence that one can free oneself entirely from bias. As a sociologist trained in mapping group patterns, [author Robin] DiAngelo can’t help but regard both precepts as naïve (at best) and arrogant (at worst). To be perceived as an individual, to not be associated with anything negative because of your skin color, she notes, is a privilege largely afforded to white people; although most school shooters, domestic terrorists, and rapists in the United States are white, it is rare to see a white man on the street reduced to a stereotype. Likewise, people of color often endure having their views attributed to their racial identities; the luxury of impartiality is denied them. (In outlining these discrepancies, DiAngelo draws heavily on the words of black writers and scholars — Ta-Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison, Ijeoma Oluo, Cheryl Harris — although, perhaps surprisingly, she incorporates few present-day interviews with people of color.)

In DiAngelo’s almost epidemiological vision of white racism, our minds and bodies play host to a pathogen that seeks to replicate itself, sickening us in the process. Like a mutating virus, racism shape-shifts in order to stay alive; when its explicit expression becomes taboo, it hides in coded language. Nor does prejudice disappear when people decide that they will no longer tolerate it. It just looks for ways to avoid detection. “The most effective adaptation of racism over time,” DiAngelo 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. (Pause on that, white reader. You may have subconsciously developed your strong negative feelings about racism in order to escape having to help dismantle it.)

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