Family & Community
Ray Carter | May 24, 2021
Tulsa library paid ‘White Fragility’ author $15,000
Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility, was paid $15,000 by the Tulsa City-County Library for an April 22 “fireside chat” that lasted about 90 minutes and was conducted entirely on Zoom.
During her speech, DiAngelo, who is white, informed listeners that white people can never be free of racism and that school teachers are major contributors to white supremacy.
“We don’t arrive and now we are not racist,” DiAngelo said.
She also said the “mainstream definition” of “racism” is a “simplistic idea that a racist is an individual who consciously doesn’t like people based on race and is intentionally mean to them,” and declared that definition is used “to protect the system of racism because that exempts virtually all of us.”
The core argument of DiAngelo’s White Fragility is that white people are racist and if white individuals object to being labelled racist it is an implicit sign of their ingrained racism exhibiting itself as “white fragility.”
Details of the Tulsa City-County Library’s contract with DiAngelo become public through a public-records request filed by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.
Under the library’s contract with DiAngelo, if the Zoom event were canceled within 30 days of the speech, the library system would pay DiAngelo 50 percent of the $15,000. If the event had to be rescheduled for a date no more than six months from the original event date, DiAngelo was guaranteed a 25-percent rescheduling fee.
The contract also stated, “Because she is traveling, speaking, and writing throughout the year, Dr. DiAngelo’s schedule generally cannot accommodate phone conversations. Most correspondence can be handled via email with her assistant, Jason Toews. If phone calls are deemed necessary, Jason can represent her. Phone calls directly with Dr. DiAngelo will be charged at a rate of $300 per hour.”
DiAngelo also insisted on strict controls that reduced the likelihood of facing critical questions from Oklahoma audience members who might disagree with her racial views.
An Oct. 27, 2020 email from DiAngelo’s representative informed Tulsa officials that $15,000 for a 90-minute presentation was DiAngelo’s “standard fee” and included a link to DiAngelo’s event requirements. In a section on audience “question and answer” sessions, that document stated, “Dr. DiAngelo’s policy is no live audience Q & A when delivering a keynote. She would much prefer to have the time to present content, which she has consistently found to be a more valuable use of limited time. On a topic as charged as racism, opening the floor to the audience allows for very problematic dynamics (e.g. long-winded speeches, convoluted questions, debates).”
In an Oct. 30, 2020 email, a library representative responded, “With a virtual event, we have a lot more control over questions and we can try to ask for some in advance as well.”
In an April 6, 2021 email with a Tulsa library official, DiAngelo noted that the first 60 minutes would be devoted to her keynote speech and the remaining 30 minutes would be spent on questions and answers. DiAngelo stressed to library officials that she wanted tight control over what questions could be asked.
“I would appreciate if the questions were pre-written, or if opened to the floor live, that they be screened,” DiAngelo said.
Tulsa officials responded by agreeing that all questions would be written and submitted to DiAngelo in advance.
In an April 7 email, library officials also agreed that they “would not keep any digital copy of the program.”
DiAngelo’s Zoom presentation was part of Tulsa’s year of remembrance of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
The Tulsa City-County Library paid more, and received less, for DiAngelo’s time than what the University of Kentucky did in 2019. The Daily Caller reported that the University of Kentucky paid DiAngelo $12,000 for a two-hour “Racial Justice Keynote and breakout session” that was conducted in person. (However, the $12,000 did not include additional money paid for travel expenses, housing accommodations, and meals.)
On Oct. 29, 2020, The College Fix reported that DiAngelo was paid $12,750 for a three-hour address, which included her talk and a Q&A session, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. That event, like the Tulsa event, was conducted virtually.
Yet the Tulsa City-County Library could have been charged an even larger amount. On July 25, 2020, Charles Fain Lehman, who is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote in the Washington Free Beacon that a speakers bureau representing DiAngelo revealed a 60-to-90 minute keynote “would run $30,000, a two-hour workshop $35,000, and a half-day event $40,000.”
DiAngelo’s work has been criticized by individuals on both the political right and left.
David Burke, who describes himself as the “logical liberal” and is a founder of an organization trying to get “big money out of politics,” has described DiAngelo’s book as a tome “peddling intellectual fraud.”
“If a similar book were written about any other racial group—Asian Insecurity, Black Hostility, Latinx Insensitivity, etc., not only would the book never become a bestseller, it would never be published,” Burke wrote. “People would see the book for what it is—an absurd generalization that attributes negative qualities to an entire race of people—the very definition of racism.”
One of the most stringent critiques of DiAngelo’s book was written by Matthew C. Taibbi, a liberal political journalist who described DiAngelo’s theories as “Hitlerian race theory.”
Taibbi wrote that a central tenet of DiAngelo’s book “is that racism cannot be eradicated” and requires lifelong vigilance.
“A useful theory,” Taibbi wrote, “if your business is selling teams of high-priced toxicity-hunters to corporations as next-generation versions of efficiency experts—in the fight against this disease, companies will need the help forever and ever.”
In the Washington Free Beacon, Lehman also reported that the “eight to ten private events DiAngelo says she speaks at each month likely net her at least $1.5 million annually” and that DiAngelo owned three homes even before the publication of White Fragility.
Lehman noted the proceeds from the sales of White Fragility all “flow to a woman who has made a career arguing that white people like her are inescapably, intolerably privileged—an injustice you can only remedy by buying her book.”
The $15,000 invoice was sent to Tulsa officials on April 22.
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.