Robin DiAngelo and white fragility: does her message make sense? And do her methods work?

July 20, 2020 • 11:15 am

The New York Times Magazine has a very long article on Robin DiAngelo, her white fragility hypothesis (and her best-selling book about it), and her methods of training people in government, colleges, and businesses to be anti-racist and promote diversity in the workplace. As the article notes, she’s made a ton of money off her hypothesis, but I don’t begrudge her that. After all, the Kardashians, who are completely useless, make much more. Rather, I’ll focus on the efficacy of her methods and whether her very message is consistent. If you read this site yesterday, you’ll have seen a post about John McWhorter’s take on DiAngelo’s book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, a take that was not only highly critical, but accused her methods of fostering a bigotry of low expectations towards African-Americans.

The NYT piece, which is pretty positive, raises some of these questions, but they’re examined in depth—and criticized—in a piece by Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine. The two pieces are below; click on screenshot to see the articles.

Chait’s piece:

I’ll deal with just four issues here.

Is “white culture” wrongly imbued with rationality, science, and linear thinking?  After reading the NYT piece, I realized that the chart from The National Museum of African American History & Culture, which I posted the other day, actually has a long history behind it, a history of listing the traits supposedly characterizing “white culture”. To review, here’s what the Museum had on its website until they realized they let their mask slip and removed the graphics:

The “emphasis on scientific method”, with “rational linear thinking,” “cause and effect relationships,” and quantitative emphasis” in “white culture” had puzzled me, as I didn’t think that these were particularly white traits. But both pieces say that this trope has been around for a while:

NYT:

Borrowing from feminist scholarship and critical race theory, whiteness studies challenges the very nature of knowledge, asking whether what we define as scientific research and scholarly rigor, and what we venerate as objectivity, can be ways of excluding alternate perspectives and preserving white dominance. DiAngelo likes to ask, paraphrasing the philosopher Lorraine Code: “From whose subjectivity does the ideal of objectivity come?”

. . . [Glenn Singleton, a diversity trainer] talks about white culture in similar ways. There is the myth of meritocracy. And valuing “written communication over other forms,” he told me, is “a hallmark of whiteness,” which leads to the denigration of Black children in school. Another “hallmark” is “scientific, linear thinking. Cause and effect.” He said, “There’s this whole group of people who are named the scientists. That’s where you get into this whole idea that if it’s not codified in scientific thought that it can’t be valid.” He spoke about how the ancient Egyptians had “ideas about how humanity works that never had that scientific-hypothesis construction” and so aren’t recognized. “This is a good way of dismissing people. And this,” he continued, shifting forward thousands of years, “is one of the challenges in the diversity-equity-inclusion space; folks keep asking for data. How do you quantify, in a way that is scientific — numbers and that kind of thing — what people feel when they’re feeling marginalized?” For Singleton, society’s primary intellectual values are bound up with this marginalization.

Chait:

Glenn Singleton, president of Courageous Conversation, a racial-sensitivity training firm, tells Bergner that valuing “written communication over other forms” is “a hallmark of whiteness,” as is “scientific, linear thinking. Cause and effect.”

This is not some idiosyncratic oddball notion. The African-American History Museum has a page on whiteness, which summarizes the ideas that the racism trainers have brought into relatively wide circulation. The museum’s page summarizes what it calls “white culture” in this astonishing graphic [JAC: chart above, now removed.]

“White” values include things like “objective, rational thinking”; “cause and effect relationships”; “hard work is the key to success”; “plan for the future”; and “delayed gratification.” The source for this chart is another, less-artistic chart written by Judith Katz in 1990. Katz has a doctorate in education and moved into the corporate consulting world in 1985, where, according to her résumé, she has “led many transformational change initiatives.” It is not clear what in Katz’s field of study allowed her to establish such sweeping conclusions about the innate culture of white people versus other groups.

We’ll get to the other aspects of “white culture” below, except to say that Chait gives a telling counterexample (granted, just an anecdote) about Trump  contravening all the “white values” while Obama, a black man, preached and lived them. Regardless, though, to say that “black values” are the opposite of these white values is to implicitly denigrate and stereotype blacks.

Is DiAngelo’s message consistent? Both the NYT and Chait point out some internal contradictions. If “the meritocracy,” “hard work”, “planning for the future”, and having goals” are aspects of white culture that, according to DiAngelo, are part of white supremacy, and are to be rejected, then how do black people succeed within American culture?

NYT:

[Leslie Chislett, former executive with the New York City Board of Education] is also concerned about something larger. “It’s absurd,” she said about much of the training she’s been through. “The city has tens of millions invested in A.P. for All, so my team can give kids access to A.P. classes and help them prepare for A.P. exams that will help them get college degrees, and we’re all supposed to think that writing and data are white values? How do all these people not see how inconsistent this is?”

This apparent inconsistency, which seemed to lurk within all the workshops I attended, might feel peripheral in a moment dominated by video of a white police officer’s knee jammed fatally against the neck of a Black man for more than eight minutes, but the implications may be profound and even crippling. I talked with DiAngelo, Singleton, Amante-Jackson and Kendi about the possible problem. If the aim is to dismantle white supremacy, to redistribute power and influence, I asked them in various forms, do the messages of today’s antiracism training risk undermining the goal by depicting an overwhelmingly rigged society in which white people control nearly all the outcomes, by inculcating the idea that the traditional skills needed to succeed in school and in the upper levels of the workplace are somehow inherently white, by spreading the notion that teachers shouldn’t expect traditional skills as much from their Black students, by unwittingly teaching white people that Black people require allowances, warrant extraordinary empathy and can’t really shape their own destinies?

DiAngelo really had no response except to reject “rationalism” as a hiring for criterion and to blather on about capitalism.

Chait raises the same issue after giving the Trump/Obama anecdotes:

Now, every rule has its exceptions. Perhaps the current (white) president happens to be alienated from the white values that the previous (Black) president identified with strongly. But attaching the values in question to real names brings to life a point the racism trainers seem to elide: These values are not neutral at all. Hard work, rational thought, and careful planning are virtues. White racists traditionally project the opposite of these traits onto Black people and present them as immutable flaws. Jane Coaston, who has reported extensively on the white-nationalist movement, summarizes it, “The idea that white people are just good at things, or are better inherently, more clean, harder working, more likely to be on time, etc.”

In his profile, Bergner asked DiAngelo how she could reject “rationalism” as a criteria for hiring teachers, on the grounds that it supposedly favors white candidates. Don’t poor children need teachers to impart skills like that so they have a chance to work in a high-paying profession employing reasoning skills?

DiAngelo’s answer seems to imply that she would abolish these high-paying professions altogether. . . .

The problem remains: if we reject a meritocracy, rationalism, hard work, and so on, will we get the society we want? There may be diversity, but ditching any ideas about quantity and quality of work seems counterproductive. Indeed, it’s unimaginable that we could change America so much that “white values” as limned above (they’re not really “white values”!), will disappear. And if that’s the case, notions like working hard and having goals will be a way for African-Americans to succeed. I’m not arguing here that we should eliminate race-based programs like affirmative action—just that DiAngelo’s jettisoning of traditional qualities leading to success seems inimical to her program.

Do “white fragility”  or other forms of anti-racist training work? That is, do they reduce racism? Here the results are mixed. While the NYT article’s author, Daniel Bergner, speaks highly of DiAngelo’s sessions and how deeply they moved him in a positive way, it’s another thing to determine whether DiAngelo’s one-day sessions, or reading her book, will really promote equality. And, at present, the results are not that positive, even according to the NYT:

One critique leveled at antiracism training is that it just may not work. Frank Dobbin, a Harvard sociology professor, has published research on attempts, over three decades, to combat bias in over 800 U.S. companies, including a 2016 study with Alexandra Kalev in The Harvard Business Review. (As far back as the early ’60s, he recounts in his book “Inventing Equal Opportunity,” Western Electric, responding to a Kennedy-administration initiative to enhance equity, presented lectures by Kenneth Clark and James Baldwin to company managers.) Dobbin’s research shows that the numbers of women or people of color in management do not increase with most anti-bias education. “There just isn’t much evidence that you can do anything to change either explicit or implicit bias in a half-day session,” Dobbin warns. “Stereotypes are too ingrained.”

When we first talked, and I described DiAngelo’s approach, he said, “I certainly agree with what she’s saying” about our white-supremacist society. But he noted that new research that he’s revising for publication suggests that anti-bias training can backfire, with adverse effects especially on Black people, perhaps, he speculated, because training, whether consciously or subconsciously, “activates stereotypes.” When we spoke again in June, he emphasized an additional finding from his data: the likelihood of backlash “if people feel that they’re being forced to go to diversity training to conform with social norms or laws.”

Donald Green, a professor of political science at Columbia, and Betsy Levy Paluck, a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton, have analyzed almost 1,000 studies of programs to lessen prejudice, from racism to homophobia, in situations from workplaces to laboratory settings. “We currently do not know whether a wide range of programs and policies tend to work on average,” they concluded in a 2009 paper published in The Annual Review of Psychology, which incorporated measures of attitudes and behaviors. They’ve just refined their analysis, with the help of two Princeton researchers, Chelsey Clark and Roni Porat. “As the study quality goes up,” Paluck told me, “the effect size dwindles.”

Still, none of the research, with its dim evaluation of efficacy, has yet focused on the particular bold, antisupremacist consciousness raising that has taken hold over the past few years — and that may well become even more bold now. “I’m not afraid of the word ‘confrontational,’” Singleton said, and he predicted, in one of his more optimistic moments during our post-Floyd talks, that the society will be all the more ready for this because “the racism we’re seeing is so graphically violent,” leaving white people less willing or able to “operate in delusion.”

Is DiAngelo’s form of training racist?  John McWhorter maintained so yesterday, saying this:

[DiAngelo’s] answer to white fragility, in other words, entails an elaborate and pitilessly dehumanizing condescension toward Black people. The sad truth is that anyone falling under the sway of this blinkered, self-satisfied, punitive stunt of a primer has been taught, by a well-intentioned but tragically misguided pastor, how to be racist in a whole new way.

The NYT doesn’t take up this issue, of course, but Chait echoes McWhorter’s argument from a different angle:

The ideology of the racism-training industry is distinctively to the left of that. It collapses all identity into racial categories. “It is crucial for white people to acknowledge and recognize our collective racial experience,” writes DiAngelo, whose teachings often encourage the formation of racial affinity groups. The program does not allow any end point for the process of racial consciousness. Racism is not a problem white people need to overcome in order to see people who look different as fully human — it is totalizing and inescapable.

Of course, DiAngelo’s whites-only groups are not dreamed up in the same spirit as David Duke’s. The problem is that, at some point, the extremes begin to functionally resemble each other despite their mutual antipathy.

I want to make clear that when I compare the [diversity-training] industry’s conscious racialism to the far right, I am not accusing it of “reverse racism” or bias against white people. In some cases its ideas literally replicate anti-Black racism.

. . .Ibram X. Kendi, another successful entrepreneur in the anti-racism field, has a more frontal response to this problem. The achievement gap — the long-standing difference in academic performance between Black and white children — is a myth, he argues. The supposed gap merely reflects badly designed tests, he argues. It does not matter to him how many different kinds of measures of academic performance show this to be true. Nor does he seem receptive to the possibility that the achievement gap reflects environmental factors (mainly worse schools, but also access to nutrition, health care, outside learning, and so on) rather than any innate differences.

Kendi, like DiAngelo, argues that racism must be defined objectively. Intent does not matter, only effect. Their own intentions are surely admirable. But the fact is that their insistence on denying that America provides its Black children worse educations inhibits working toward a solution. Denying the achievement gap, like denying the gap in how police treat white and Black people, seems to objectively entrench racism.

It’s easy enough to see why executives and school administrators look around at a country exploding in righteous indignation at racism, and see the class of consultants selling their program of mystical healing as something that looks vaguely like a solution. But one day DiAngelo’s legions of customers will look back with embarrassment at the time when a moment of awakening to the depth of American racism drove them to embrace something very much like racism itself.

I’m surprised that New York Magazine let Chait say stuff like this, given how they muzzled Andrew Sullivan. Is Chait going to get the pink slip as well?

As I said yesterday, I haven’t read DiAngelo’s book, and won’t pronounce on whether her program is racist or not. But that even a pretty worshipful profile like the one in the NYT can bring up the problems of internal contradictions and lack of efficacy of the “white fragility” program—and other forms of anti-racist training—means that we shouldn’t wholeheartedly endorse them without learning more about them and, more important, seeing whether they work.

 

74 thoughts on “Robin DiAngelo and white fragility: does her message make sense? And do her methods work?

  1. I haven’t read her book either, but just commenting on the articles here, there does appear to be some throwing the baby out with the bathwater going on. “Meritocracy” is a good example: true, there is probably no perfect meritocracy. Whether it’s academic testing, employee hiring, sports recruitment, etc., they are likely all going to have non-meritocratic factors that are hard to see or get rid of. But does this mean we abandon the notion altogether, or that we try and improve meritocratic systems to better live up to their promises? I guess as an old liberal I side with the latter, but it seems the new left is thinking more seriously about the former.

    1. I can’t get by the internal inconsistencies. Surely while writing the book, Robin tried to put out the best product she could. She must have had at least tried to do her research, and she had editors to make sure that the book was intelligible and engaging with the constraints of standard English.

      Isn’t all of this attention to detail and rigor part of the “meritocracy” paradigm that she hates?

      Again, it just smells of the bigotry of low expectations. I, white women, should be held to a much higher standard than those poor non-white folks.

      1. “I, white women, should be held to a much higher standard than those poor non-white folks.”

        I would not be surprised if the next demand from the intersectionalists would be separate classes in colleges, separate offices and facilities in companies such as Google and Microsoft because just the sight and smell of white people is offensive.
        Protection from whiteness through Apartheid.

  2. Starting with Rousseau there has been a stream of Western thought that has sought to dismiss the idea of objective reality, and its minions, fact and rationality. This thread carried through to the deconstructionists, and it’s always seemed to me very much a case of, if you can’t win the game, change the rules. To assert that blacks, or any other group, can only succeed by applying other standards has always struck me as racist (sexist, classist, etc.). At the same time, the inability to agree on common standards does not bode well for a society.

    1. “To assert that blacks, or any other group, can only succeed by applying other standards has always struck me as racist (sexist, classist, etc.).” Yes I agree, but I think it is possibly worse than that.

      I think many people in this cult suspect, deep down, that Blacks truly are less able than others to use written communication, engage in cause-and-effect reasoning, plan for the future, delay gratification, and other supposedly white cultural traits. I think many of these folks really are convinced of racial essentialism, and they see the adoption of totally different ways of knowing or acting or evaluating as the only way for Blacks to succeed alongside others. It’s racist in a totalitarian way: racial differences are overwhelming, inescapable, unchangeable, and permanent. You can’t overcome them or maneuver around them, so you can only go in a another direction toward “other standards.”

      Also just to be clear: I don’t share those views. I think the differences among groups of people in school scores and other measures of success are cultural and economic, and that if we lifted up poor people economically then we would lift up all of the Black (and other) people who need help the most. And we would avoid spending resources on lifting up the least marginalized Black (and other) people who already have a big leg up on the rest of the world (cf. the discussion of wealthy privileged professional classical musicians and blind orchestra auditions).

      1. Re: your second paragraph. There are linkages here to earlier postmodernist notions of ‘other ways of knowing’, but in the past those were more likely to be referenced in regards to feminism and sex, not race.

        However I don’t necessarily see everyone on the far left buying into this. I think some of the issue here is just plain frustration: frustration with improvement just not happening fast enough. The liberal ‘establishment’ has been talking about making education and employment more equatable for decades, but yet it’s still not fixed, and in the face of this failure, I think there are a lot of people willing to entertain postmodernist ideas not because they really think different groups come to knowledge differently, but because they’re just forking tired of slow, two steps forward one step back, type change. In the face of that frustration, they’re willing to entertain the devil they don’t know over the devil they do. And what we need to do is not just tell them ‘postmodernism is wrong,’ because merely complaining about the other guy’s plan never really works. We have to think hard about how to better our plan (of, for example, improving meritocracy rather than burning it down), so that they again see it as the better alternative.

        1. Yes I agree: this is not a universal problem on the left, and it’s origins include frustration with slow progress on improvements. And yes: improve the meritocracy, don’t burn it all down.

  3. Once we have gotten rid of meritocracy, objectivity, and quantitative emphasis, we will achieve the utopia in which engineering, brain surgery, and piloting airplanes and ships will depend only on the application of Social Justice principles. As a small step in the direction of that happy day, my own organization is working on the following series of educational units, to be supplied to school system at a substantial price.

    (1) The “1603 Project” will show that scientific linear thinking and quantitative emphasis were invented by the white Italians to further white supremacy over the more spiritual civilizations of Africa. This unit will be included in the 5th grade curriculum.

    (2) The “1450 Project” will show how the European development of written communication in printed books was exclusively a means to spread Racism, Imperialism, and Toxic Masculinity. This will soon be taught to our grandchildren in 3rd grade.

    (3) The “800 Project” will show that all European civilization consisted from the start of Racism, Islamophobia, and White Fragility, as will be taught to our grandchildren in kindergarten.

    1. The 510 B.C. Project: shows how the Ancient Athenians invented democracy to oppress slaves, women, and people of foreign origin.

    2. The 1754 BC Hammurabi Project will argue that written laws, moral and legal, are a form of cultural appropriation oppressing anyone not of Middle Eastern descent.

  4. There is only one reasonable response to this insanity: Dudeism. ” Life is short and complicated and nobody knows what to do about it. So don’t do anything about it. Just take it easy, man. Stop worrying so much whether you’ll make it into the finals. Kick back with some friends and some oat soda and whether you roll strikes or gutters, do your best to be true to yourself and others – that is to say, abide.”

    1. Or as those two great philosophers of the San Dimas school of philosophy, William S. Preston, esq., and Ted Theodore Logan said: Be excellent to each other and Party on, Dudes!

  5. … the Kardashians, who are completely useless …

    You know me, boss, always down for throwin’ shade at the whole damn Kardashian Klan. But Kim K did manage to squeeze her bodacious badonkadonk into the Oval Office long enough to convince her hubby Kanye’s homey The Donald to commute the federal sentence of Alice Johnson, the Memphis great-grandma who was doing life without parole for a 1993 drug beef.

    So props where props are due to Kimmy for that righteousness. Might turn out to be more than Robin DiAngelo will ever be able to claim to have done for any actual real-life Black folk.

  6. “After all, the Kardashians, who are completely useless, make much more.”

    But DiAngelo is worse than useless, she is actively doing great damage.

    1. If you watched the Kardashians, and found out that there are millions and millions of people who are obsessed with them and consider them something to aspire to and use their lives as a kind of guide map for their own, you might find that they are doing great damage as well.

      “Get naked on the internet for clout–>bicker pointlessly and cause drama with family, friends, lovers for others’ entertainment on TV–>become rich–>get a baby daddy, who you will cheat on or who you know will definitely cheat on you, as a publicity stunt–>become even richer by featuring products on your social media accounts–>get plastic surgery–>become even richer by putting your name on beauty products” is not all that much better a lifestyle or belief system to sell than what DiAngelo is selling. And it makes sense that there might be some people, with no hope of the Kardashian dream ever becoming a reality, who instead turn to people like DiAngelo.

  7. “Borrowing from feminist scholarship and critical race theory, whiteness studies challenges the very nature of knowledge, asking whether what we define as scientific research and scholarly rigor, and what we venerate as objectivity, can be ways of excluding alternate perspectives and preserving white dominance.”
    Damn, these folks align with tRump’s position on the insignificance of an objective reality supported by facts.

  8. It’s one thing to criticise ‘Whiteness’ or aspects of ‘White’ Culture in the USA but what is being proposed to replace it?

    And in the unlikely event that ‘White’ Culture in the USA is replaced or overhauled will other countries in the world stand back astounded at the moral certainty so exposed or will they exploit every aspect of failed meritocracy and the mess of exchanging rationality for emotion?

    1. The role of world superpower would probably go to China or even India — two countries that really do value entrepreneurship and technical expertise.

  9. If planning for the future and having goals are symptoms of whiteness, doesn’t this make the whole enterprise of dismantling racism equally ”white”?

  10. Unlike most of the readers who have commented on this book, I have actually read it, as have several of my friends. None of us were checking for total accuracy of facts. We were reading more to understand the basic concept of “white fragility,” and to see how we (all of us white) fit into that concept.

    As someone who was raised by an extremely prejudiced father, someone who has been working on that issue for several decades, I found the book useful because it brought together many threads of the concept “racism.” Several of my acquaintances claim not to be racist, in spite of their being invested in the power/cultural structure that enables racism. Because they have a Black acquaintance or two, they think that enables them to claim they are not racist. I wish I could get them to read the book so they would be confronted by the harm their attitudes cause and perhaps be forced to acknowledge their part in perpetuating racism.

    Importantly, the author has given my friends and me ammunition to use against acquaintances who are adamant that they are not racist.

    1. “be forced to acknowledge their part in perpetuating racism.”
      Just how do they (and you apparently) do that?

    2. “Unlike most of the readers who have commented on this book, I have actually read it, as have several of my friends.”

      I take it that Diangelo has not said enough on the record (to suit you), via media other than her book (part of the “written tradition” of white culture), on which one may reasonably base a critique of her views.

    3. Ruthann, I mean this in a totally sincere and honest way: you need to read “1984” again so you can see what’s wrong with the idea that you can indict your friends who are not racists simply by getting them to say “I am not a racist.” It would be helpful to you to see what’s wrong with the reasoning underlying that approach. That kind of flawed reasoning colors all of DiAngelo’s arguments.

  11. First and foremost, I would want to see her sources. Do these descriptions come from communities of color, for example, or were they applied to them without their knowledge?

    I think the difficulty here is the usual postmodern “everything is just for appearances” attitude that tends to crop up in such circles. It’s as if students do well in school if we just say “Good job! We as society label you an awesome student!”, and people do well at work if we say “Everyone thinks you’re awesome at work!”, and there’s no objective standard there that makes some features immutable. For example, the idea that if you want to study the hard sciences, rational thinking is simply a part of that, regardless of your personal background; or that if you want to excel in sales you have to be conscientious and good about follow-up, etc. I think this is more “reality is a social construct” type thinking, but the problem with that is, reality is not a social construct, and the skills you need to excel in certain fields tend to be dictated by the fields themselves, not our opinion of how we would like the world to be.

    I think the nice thing about this country is that, in my opinion, we do leave a fair bit of space open for people who don’t fit a particular mold (I say that as someone who has always struggled with being kinda ADD and was always the person who was late, forgot to read the directions, left their project at home, forgot the appointment, etc. etc. – so I’m not coming at it from some “Everyone should be diligent like me!”, I’ve had to find my own niche in life.) Being a super hard worker with great all around emotional intelligence and impulse control will generally be very helpful to a person in our culture, but often you can find a way to contribute if you are creative, funny, empathetic, athletic, good with people, and so on. That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement in making a wider ecosystem of roles and jobs available to all types of personalities, I’m sure there is – but I don’t think the way to go about doing that is to try to change jobs and fields to make them workable for people with any given personality. There are some fields that simply require perfectionism and a ton of hard work (something which I think people of all races are capable of, let me be clear on that). In others those very things would be a liability. But confusing the areas doesn’t really help anybody. I really don’t want to go to a laid back slacker doctor and then unwind by watching an uptight, rigid comedian.

  12. One aspect of the New York Magazine article caught my attention, and raised my hackles, before I read a single word: the photo the editor chose to accompany the article. It looks like New York Magazine grabbed a screen shot from a video of DiAngelo’s talk for the General Commission on Religion and Race of the United Methodist Church (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=21&v=h7mzj0cVL0Q&feature=emb_logo). This strikes me as a sophomoric cheap shot that weakens whatever message the article intends to convey.

    1. I didn’t notice anything unusual about the photo until you pointed it out. It seemed like a generic stock photo. How is it a cheap shot?

  13. ” . . . she’s made a ton of money off her hypothesis, but I don’t begrudge her that. After all, the Kardashians, who are completely useless, make much more . . . .”

    “DiAngelo really had no response except to reject “rationalism” as a hiring for criterion and to blather on about capitalism.”

    ” . . . asked DiAngelo how she could reject “rationalism” . . . DiAngelo’s answer seems to imply that she would abolish these high-paying professions altogether. . . .

    Diangelo blathers about capitalism, and would abolish high-paying professions, apparently excepting her own speaking fees/job/career.

    1. One of the advantages of someone like DiAngelo focusing on race rather than on class is the she can cop to her own whiteness and racism (as the first step in the grift), but she can’t give her whiteness to a Black person to make amends. If she and others were to focus on class and economic inequality, there would be an obvious and easy way for her work to directly help a poor Black person (or any other poor person): she could give her wealth away. Instead it’s “thoughts and prayers” all the way down.

      1. I agree that that ‘class and economic inequality’ is a very important issue, but so, alas, is race and economic inequality, and the latter should not be ignored because it seems easier to focus on class. One need only look at the ‘Windrush betrayal’ in Britain to see the importance of race, and racism.

  14. There’s an interesting post on Areo examining D’Angelo’s Ph.D. thesis. My takeaway is she enjoys being a power in the room and is incapable of objective analysis (or perhaps does not want to employ it since, afterall, that’s a “white” trait).

  15. Good laugh at the poster beginning with “Rugged Individualism” especially the rather physical sounding “rugged”.

    I suppose that the Japanese sumo wrestlers do exhibit some aspect of ruggedness, especially strength.

    But these days, from what we read about US obesity rates, the typical USian (and elsewhere too, unfortunately) appears to be the shape of the Sumo man, but far from the ruggedness. However maybe it means more that he wields an AR15 semiautomatic weapon, especially the white power dickhead, and that’s from where the ruggedness comes.

    Something about the amazingly large numbers of Mass Murderer donald’s continuing supporters which makes it hard for me not to mock at least that subpopulation to the south of me. That mockery above might be called ‘fatism’ or ‘foodism’ or whatever on my part, a modern sin against the wonky-minded wokes, but perhaps not against the more extreme racists. At least this unhealthy eating seems to be pretty universal in US, so no racism there by me. Maybe even the opposite, in that living in a ghetto with nothing better than 7-11s (and Macdonalds) as food stores makes decent food hard to obtain.

    Maybe “Rugged Individualism” should be changed to “Pathetic Exceptionalism”, the latter phrase certainly applying to government US Covid response within the league of western democracies.

  16. I haven’t read White Fragility, but from the several articles I’ve read about Robin DiAngelo’s thinking (including the two pieces linked to in the post above) it seems it may be of descriptivist value — in terms of raising consciousness regarding the discrepancies in advantage that are so deeply ingrained in our society as to be all but invisible to those who benefit from the advantage.

    But in terms of prescriptivism — in terms of proposing some means for rectifying those societal discrepancies — it strikes me as muddleheaded, counterproductive crap.

    1. I agree that her prescriptions fail, and that her descriptions may be correct. I’d go further – white fragility is plenty real, and you can see it on display in many of these threads. But Dobbin’s research showing anti bias education having no effect is not surprising. You can read all you want about how to ride a bicycle, but it won’t make you a good rider. Even if everything you read is true and you believe it.

      1. You can also read all you want about flapping your arms and flying, and really believe it, and still be unable to flap your arms and fly.

        In the absence of any empirical data, there is no way of telling these two scenarios apart. But then, focusing on empirical data is somehow racist in this worldview. Convenient.

        Anti bias training might fail because it is the wrong way of going about things (in that focusing obsessively on racial differences can create a self-perpetuating discomfort between people that only feeds on itself over time, vs. focusing on common cause and group solidarity, which, it seems to me, has been far more successful in bringing people together, historically). That is why some manner of evidence is important instead of an “O’ ye of little faith” approach.

        1. Accusing DiAngelo (or worse, me) of going without empirical data is a straw man. She has plenty of data for her diagnosis – the problem is that it provides very weak, easily outweighed evidence for her prescriptions. I agree that her anti bias training has the wrong way of going about fixing the problem, although I’m betting that you and I would disagree about what is the right way.

      2. “White fragility is plenty real, and you can see it on display in many of these threads.” Well sure, but observing that some white people get defensive when they are told they are inherently, unalterably racist doesn’t mean its causes are those that DiAngelo describes: the inherent and unalterable racism of each white person, no matter the evidence of the qualities of each of those white persons. Actual evidence of the racist acts of individuals is needed before accusing such individuals of racism could be expected to lead to some kind of improvement in behavior.

        1. If white racism were unalterable, that would put a pretty big dent in DiAngelo’s anti-bias training model. I admit I haven’t read her book, or even a full review of it. But I have heard a longish interview on the radio. I don’t think she says what you think she says.

      3. DiAngelo seems to be thoroughly bad news. But I shall say that I am in complete agreement with Ken Kucek & Paul Torek. One imbibes prejudice with one’s mother’s milk – prejudice that is not consciously articulated in the manner of the very consciously articulated racism on which colonialism, apartheid and slavery were built by Western powers – as one discovers (though many don’t) if one lives in a culture other than one’s own for any length of time. It is a salutary experience. And, yes, ‘white fragility’ is, as Paul Torek says, ‘plenty real’. One notices it in oneself, if one wants to

        1. All cultures across the globe is incredibly broad, though. I don’t deny that almost everyone, save perhaps very young children and advanced spiritual types, probably feel at least a bit uncomfortable when they find themselves in the midst of an unfamiliar culture (and that includes cultures in this country – how comfortable would most coastal liberals feel if plopped in the middle of an impoverished, rural Southern town?) But that seems to me to be a universal phenomenon that is a feature of being human in general, not a sign of Western powers, colonialism, etc.

            1. Someone who has reached the point where they genuinely see conscious, sentient beings (although this is sometimes phrased different ways, i.e., “brother and sister in Christ”, etc.) first and foremost all other secondary characteristics they are only minimally aware of (perhaps enough so to interact appropriately, but they have no real emotional salience.)

              To be fair, that could be true of a highly advanced humanist as well. I’ve just heard it spoken about mostly among spiritual / religious types.

              1. GBJames – Maybe. I admit there is a hypocritical side to my demand for evidence when it comes to notions of spirituality. Not that I don’t ask for it at all, but my standards are much lower and the occasional anecdotal tale of transcendence suffices for me.

        2. I am not talking about all cultures across the world. I am talking about the experience of living in a culture very different from one’s own. And I am not talking about the discomfort that anyone might feel if they if they go to live in a different culture – the culture shock that is natural for anyone who goes to live in a very different culture. I am talking specifically about white, Western people like myself whose nations have a history of racism directed at people who are not white and the salutary experience of having brought to consciousness prejudices and attitudes that one was not aware of and on the conscious level assumed that one didn’t have and preferred not to have. I also had the same sort of experience when I worked in my youth as a labourer on farms, building sites and factories where class was concerned. Of course, there a number of people who reject this salutary experience. It is a great mistake to suppose that racism, anti-Semitism or a sense of superiority with respect to classes ‘below’ the class one was brought up in consist only in consciously held and articulated beliefs.

          1. I think that’s a laudable thing to do, although the difficulty would be in distinguishing ill-intentioned xenophobia from fish-out-of-water discomfort.

            1. I don’t think so. ‘Ill-intentioned xenophobia’ shows itself explicitly. It is really not simply ‘fish out of water discomfort’: if you go and live in a very different culture, as I have done (I have lived in Japan for nearly fifty years), you find, if you have not closed yourself in a bubble of your own countrymen, that a great many assumptions that you were not consciously aware of are brought into question. That is what the term ‘culture shock’ is; some run away from the experience and double down on their ‘identity’, which includes those unconscious assumptions, others – though not liking the discomfort of the experience – follow it through.

              It is these assumptions or prejudices, and the lack of obvious intention, that play a part in ‘institutional racism’ as defined in the Macpherson report on the murder of Stephen Lawrence: “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin”. It is seen in “processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people”.

              Naturally, the report was attacked by a right-wing think-tank and the egregious Michael Gove.

              I should add that I have no respect at all for DiAngelo’s superficial and silly approach, which not only appears to be useless but also counter-productive..

              1. I’m glad this has been helpful for you, although I must admit it doesn’t really resonate with me. I grew up in a Trump state and moved to one of the most diverse areas in the US as a young adult, often providing in-home services for people from countries all over the world, and I can’t say I ever had my world rocked by the experience. I feel like people are remarkably similar when you get down to it. There are superficial differences that I found interesting – some people would insist you eat, sometimes an entire meal, before leaving the house; some would haggle over the price of services when I thought they were an un-haggle-able realm; some had, err, not too flattering opinions of Americans in general; some would celebrate holidays I had never heard of and so on – but nothing where I was ever like “I never imagined that people from X country did Y thing!”.

                I guess I did go through a period of what you describe, where my enculturated beliefs were hugely challenged, but for me that was learning about atheism and reading philosophy that I’d never heard of. I think we probably all go through that period of learning that what we think of as True North or Totally Normal is a somewhat arbitrary concept based on the life we happened to be born into, although that can probably take many different forms.

              2. After being born & growing up in London, I worked from the age of 17 on farms in different parts of England and Wales, and worked also as a labourer in building sites and in factories. Now I have lived in Japan for nearly fifty years. I can assure you that going to different parts of your own homeland and mixing with foreigners in one’s own country is radically different from going to another country, particularly one with a very different culture from any European culture, and working not for some foreign company there among compatriots, but living among those people and working with them in their own companies and institutions. Differences are not quite so superficial as you suppose.

              3. Tim – I guess I would need a more specific example, although that’s probably too long a conversation for these comments, as I’m already well over 15% (in general I hope that as long as I only do this very occasionally, it’s not to big a Roolz violation, ha ha). It is hard for me to picture what you’re thinking of in terms of what, culturally, would be particularly culture shock inducing and make one realize that they’d been walking around with unconscious colonial attitudes. Maybe 50 years ago, but in 2020 that seems unlikely (I’m not sure how old you are so part of this may be explained by a generational difference.)

                I also think using “different cultures” here is too broad. It implies that the conclusion is 100% forgone, which makes it seem like a result of confirmation bias. There are lots of cultures around the world and they are very different. It would be surprising if one came to the same conclusions upon immersing oneself in all of them, from North Korea to Japan.

              4. I’m sorry, Roo, I don’t really think you know what you are talking about with the irrelevant talk about ‘100 percent foregone’ and ‘confirmation bias’, and am not surprised that you find it difficult to picture what I am talking about since you have never lived in another very different culture and appear to have the happy conviction that you are wholly without prejudice. The illusion that one does not have any prejudices is a common and harmful one, as the analysis of the ‘institutional racism’ in the report by Sir William MacPherson on Stephen Lawrence’s murder brings out. I should have thought that Japan is a pretty specific example of a culture and civilisation that is not Western.

                Anyway, that is enough – I don’t propose to carry on with this any longer, since I feel I have said enough.

  17. “The problem remains: if we reject a meritocracy, rationalism, hard work, and so on, will we get the society we want?”
    In a nutshell, this is the issue to I have with most activism – even (especially) on issues I agree with. It’s not enough to say what things are wrong and how they are wrong, because pointing out a problem doesn’t mean there’s a better solution out there. The Winston Churchill quote about democracy comes to mind.

    Any rule, any value, any structure that is imposed on humans is going to fit some better than others, and some are going to use those rules to their benefit. There’s too much natural variation and complexity to come up with something to works equally well for everyone The complaints about free speech are a good illustration of this – yes free speech can be used by the powerful against the powerless, but it also gives the means for the powerless to fight back. It’s not on equal footing, though, because of the existing power imbalance, so it’s derided as a tool of oppression.

    This is why it’s so it to be able to explain alternatives, because it recognises the need to satisfy the range of issues that any given idea / value / structure / institution addresses. That way there’s at least a chance to talk through the pros and cons of what is under scrutiny and how it could be improved.

    (Of course that last idea is rationality, something that for reasons I cannot comprehend is seen as “white culture” in a pejorative way.)

  18. I don’t see how color based “group” labels have become so popular among presumably liberal media, but I am even more amazed about the use of different capitalization. How can any or all of that not be racist?

    1. I don’t propose to address the question of different capitalisation, a practice that I should certainly not follow, but the fact is that the colour of people’s skins and other racial differences have been historically important in the way in which people are treated and, regrettably, remain so now.

  19. The “emphasis on scientific method”, with “rational linear thinking,” “cause and effect relationships,” and quantitative emphasis” in “white culture” . . .

    Other non-white cultures — such as the Mayans, Vedic Indians, Chinese, Egyptians — had developed sophisticated astronomical and mathematical systems long before they came into contact with “white” people. Plus, they were all quite good at engineering and architecture, as you can see from the monuments that they left behind. Those cultures could not have achieved what they did without engaging in rational thinking and understanding cause and effect. Really, NO culture could survive for long without understanding cause and effect relationships. How would they grow crops or raise animals without some kind of rational, cause-and-effect thinking? The scientific method is just a refined version of what all humans do in their daily lives. To imply that white people have a peculiar knack for this kind of thing is a subtle insult to other cultures.

    1. White I’m at it: how will we solve the COVID-19 crisis without rational linear thinking or quantitative analysis? With tribal shamanism or indigenous healing practices? If DiAngelo et. al get sick, I wager that they’ll go to the same western-style hospitals that the rest of us go to.

  20. A great deal of the knowledge and attributes DiAngelo ascribes to white culture was derived from non-white cultures as JP415 points out. We all can benefit and learn by interacting with people of different backgrounds and cultures.

    Shortly after WWII when I started school, California was testing all students periodically to try to match up students’ educations to their tested IQ abilities. This was for all students. By the time my children were in school in the 70s – 80s, the educational approach had changed to all students being required to pass the same standards on a defined list, regardless of whether they already knew the material or not. “Paid seat time” would have been better served by allowing them to study something new or different. This was for all students. By the time my grandkids were in school, no one was being taught how to write using good English, punctuation, spelling, etc. It was more important that students feel free to express themselves however they could rather than teach them standard English. This was for all students.

    We come from different cultures with different histories, different humors, different speech patterns. When with our own group, we act and speak appropriately to interact with them. We also learn the different behaviors and languages to mix with others. All of us should learn as much as we can and then be able to choose how and with whom we want to communicate. We’re never going to all be the same. That be boring, bro.

  21. Re this quote: “The problem is that, at some point, the extremes begin to functionally resemble each other despite their mutual antipathy.”

    Watch this hilarious video:

    “When Wokes and Racists Actually Agree on Everything”

  22. How do people pronounce “Jonathan Chait”? (Genuine question, I’m not a native speaker) With me, it tends to sound as either Haidt (confusing) or Shite (bad!)

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