John McWhorter, a Black linguist, academic, and professor at Columbia University, has called Robin DiAngelo’s 2018 book “White Fragility” “condescending,” saying there has never been another book written about race that is so dehumanizing.
DiAngelo’s book, composed of a series of short chapters intended to help white people confront and overcome their innate biases and racist tendencies, was published over two years ago, but has gained renewed attention amid the recent officer-involved deaths of Black people. DiAngelo, a white woman, is a professor focused on racial and social justice education.
McWhorter characterizes the purpose of DiAngelo’s book as, helping white people confront the “racist bias implanted in them by a racist society.” White people’s reluctance to confront their own role in societal racism is what DiAngelo refers to as “white fragility.”
However, although the book has been applauded by some leaders in higher education, and by professionals in corporate America, McWhorter says the book is unintentionally racist, and “diminishes,” Black people, even as the author’s intentions are to highlight the impact of white privilege, and dismantle white supremacy.
In particular, McWhorter takes issue with the way DiAngelo appears to coach white people on how they should treat Black people in a gentle fashion that is preoccupied with seeking not offend Black people. McWhorter details the strict list of rules DiAngelo has outlined regarding what white people should, and should not say when talking about race.
“You can’t say, ‘I marched in the civil rights movement,’ because that would make you too comfortable. You can’t say, ‘I don’t see race,’ because you almost certainly do. You can’t say, ‘it’s about class,’ because it’s about race,” McWhorter said.
McWhorter concludes “White Fragility” depicts Black people “as endlessly delicate poster children,” and concludes that the book is most effective at making white people feel better about themselves. In addition, he asserts that, if white people are held to DiAngelo’s standard of being anti-racist, they will “die a racist,” because her standards bar white people from expressing themselves or ever disagreeing with Black people during conversations about race.
On social media, some people applauded McWhorter’s response to DiAngelo’s book, while others criticized his comments.