Family & Community
Whites will always be racist, author says at Tulsa event
April 26, 2021
Women and minorities who achieve success and obtain positions of power are not evidence that the United States is not a racist, patriarchal society dedicated to white supremacy and male domination, according to Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility.
“Systems of oppression are deeply embedded in the foundation and fabric of a society and all of its institutions,” DiAngelo said. “These are not fluid systems. They don’t change overnight. We live in patriarchy. We live in an androcentric male-dominated patriarchal society and we have from the founding and it didn’t change in 1920 and it wouldn’t have changed if Hillary Clinton had become president and it didn’t end because Kamala Harris is vice president. All systems of oppression can allow for exceptions. The rule will be consistent.”
Speaking to Oklahomans in a recent Zoom speech sponsored by the Tulsa City-County Library system as part of its commemoration of the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, DiAngelo—who is white—described herself as an “insider to whiteness” and said that provides her with insights racial minorities “can’t have and that they don’t have.”
Despite decrying a “powerful convergence of both patriarchy and white supremacy” in society, DiAngelo stressed that white women are nonetheless racists.
“While we may have been oppressed as women, we were elevated as white,” DiAngelo said. “And there is no more a universal women’s experience than there is a universal human experience. I’m not talking the spiritual plane. I’m talking the physical plane that we’re living on in a society that is deeply separate and unequal by race and gender. There is not some shared experience. White women can and do perpetrate racism. We are no less racist. We haven’t developed any less-racist patterns just because we also experience patriarchy.”
While acknowledging that use of the phrase “white supremacy” is “a fairly charged term,” DiAngelo defended its deployment even though it involved lumping most citizens into the same category as members of the Ku Klux Klan.
“I grew up thinking of white supremacy or white supremacists as people who would wear white hoods,” DiAngelo said. “And of course it includes people who would wear white hoods, but it is a highly descriptive sociological term for the society we live in, one that centers white people, that is dominated and controlled by white people and yet presented as if it’s just objective and neutral.”
DiAngelo 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. You need those three parts to the formula: individual conscious malintent. And I don’t know that you could have come up with a more effective way to protect the system of racism because that exempts virtually all of us from that and it guarantees that we’re going to be defensive if you suggest that we are racists.”
During her speech, DiAngelo said individuals who have been “taught to treat everyone the same,” “have people of color in my family,” worked in foreign countries with dramatically different racial demographics, are “a minority myself,” or were “marching in the ‘60s” to end Jim Crow laws that discriminated against black citizens are nonetheless racist.
“This claim—‘I’m not racist.’—is functionally meaningless,” DiAngelo said. “Seriously, when white people say that anyone who understands systemic racism—and most black people that I know, when white people say that—that’s not convincing. We haven’t just told them that we’re actually not racist. We’ve just told them that we don’t understand systemic racism, we’re not particularly self-aware, and we’re likely not going to be very open to any feedback to the contrary.”
While citizens can work on addressing racism, they can never be free of it, she said.
“We don’t arrive and now we are not racist,” DiAngelo said.
She also singled out teachers as a major source of racism.
“Pretty much everyone has been taught by white people who were taught by white people who were taught by white people who were taught by white people using textbooks written by, for and about and centering white people but presented as objective and neutral,” DiAngelo said. “Do you feel the weight of that whiteness?”
She dismissed much of the racial focus of public-school education.
“Did you study systemic racism in your K-12 education?” DiAngelo said. “I’m not talking about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King in February, stripped of all their activism.”
At one point, DiAngelo indicated that white college professors should “have to demonstrate that they were able to engage with issues of systemic racism in the curriculum and classroom dynamics before they were considered qualified to teach,” and that such requirements should also apply to those who “practice law or medicine” as well as those who “teach or work with children or work in customer service or banking or counseling or any other field.”
“If we’re being really honest, white people measure the value of their neighborhoods and their schools by the absence of people of color and black people in particular,” DiAngelo said.
According to the CollegeSimply website, Westville State University in Massachusetts, where DiAngelo earned tenure, ranks “low” in racial diversity. The site shows that 77 percent of Westville students are white and just 4 percent are black.
At the University of Washington, Seattle, where DiAngelo is currently an affiliate associate professor of education, just 4 percent of students are African-American.
DiAngelo also blamed Hollywood for perpetuating a culture of racism, saying white people get “all that implicit bias that’s still inside of us” from “media, from movies, from television.”
DiAngelo’s book and teachings, while hailed by some, have drawn strong criticism from a wide range of sources.
Writing in The Atlantic, John McWhorter, a black professor at Columbia University, described White Fragility as “a racist tract” that is “replete with claims that are either plain wrong or bizarrely disconnected from reality.”
McWhorter wrote that the book is “about how to make certain educated white readers feel better about themselves” and that he “cannot imagine that any Black readers could willingly submit themselves to DiAngelo’s ideas while considering themselves adults of ordinary self-regard and strength. Few books about race have more openly infantilized Black people than this supposedly authoritative tome.”
“The problem is that White Fragility is the prayer book for what can only be described as a cult,” McWhorter wrote.
In his review of White Fragility, Matthew C. Taibbi, a longtime liberal journalist, wrote, “DiAngelo isn’t the first person to make a buck pushing tricked-up pseudo-intellectual horse---t as corporate wisdom, but she might be the first to do it selling Hitlerian race theory. White Fragility has a simple message: there is no such thing as a universal human experience, and we are defined not by our individual personalities or moral choices, but only by our racial category.”
Taibbi writes that White Fragility is “based upon the idea that human beings are incapable of judging each other by the content of their character, and if people of different races think they are getting along or even loving one another, they probably need immediate antiracism training.”
Despite arguing that society is defined by racism, DiAngelo conceded in her speech to Oklahomans that race does not truly exist.
“This is a construct,” DiAngelo said. “There’s no true race at the biological level.”
(Image: Robin DiAngelo)