John McWhorter, a Columbia professor and native of Philadelphia, says Robin DiAngelo’s book is “dehumanizing” and “deeply condescending to all proud Black people.”
Dr. John H. McWhorter is an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, and a native of Philadelphia. A product of Friends Select School, his resume is quite impressive: he’s taught at Cornell University, the University of California, Berkeley, and has written for numerous publications, including Time, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, among others.
. . . DiAngelo has convinced university administrators, corporate human-resources offices, and no small part of the reading public that white Americans must embark on a self-critical project of looking inward to examine and work against racist biases that many have barely known they had.
I am not convinced. Rather, I have learned that one of America’s favorite advice books of the moment is actually a racist tract. Despite the sincere intentions of its author, the book diminishes Black people in the name of dignifying us. This is unintentional, of course, like the racism DiAngelo sees in all whites. Still, the book is pernicious because of the authority that its author has been granted over the way innocent readers think.
Reading white fragility is rather like attending a diversity seminar. DiAngelo patiently lays out a rationale for white readers to engage in a self-examination that, she notes, will be awkward and painful. Her chapters are shortish, as if each were a 45-minute session. DiAngelo seeks to instruct.
She operates from the now-familiar concern with white privilege, aware of the unintentional racism ever lurking inside of her that was inculcated from birth by the white supremacy on which America was founded. To atone for this original sin, she is devoted to endlessly exploring, acknowledging, and seeking to undo whites’ “complicity with and investment in” racism. To DiAngelo, any failure to do this “work,” as adherents of this paradigm often put it, renders one racist.
As such, a major bugbear for DiAngelo is the white American, often of modest education, who makes statements like I don’t see color or asks questions like How dare you call me “racist”? Her assumption that all people have a racist bias is reasonable—science has demonstrated it. The problem is what DiAngelo thinks must follow as the result of it.
DiAngelo has spent a very long time conducting diversity seminars in which whites, exposed to her catechism, regularly tell her—many while crying, yelling, or storming toward the exit—that she’s insulting them and being reductionist. Yet none of this seems to have led her to look inward. Rather, she sees herself as the bearer of an exalted wisdom that these objectors fail to perceive, blinded by their inner racism. DiAngelo is less a coach than a proselytizer.
When writers who are this sure of their convictions turn out to make a compelling case, it is genuinely exciting. This is sadly not one of those times, even though white guilt and politesse have apparently distracted many readers from the book’s numerous obvious flaws. . . .
For those interested in solid criticisms of White Fragility, McWhorter’s article is well worth reading, especially because it comes from the perspective of an African American (to continue reading, click here). Perhaps one day DiAngelo will debate McWhorter head-to-head, but I highly doubt it. I’m sure McWhorter would welcome the challenge. DiAngelo, on the other hand, probably wants to debate McWhorter as much as Joe Biden wants to debate President Trump.
These 10 resources, written by conservatives and liberals alike, provide a toolkit for understanding — and debunking — Robin DiAngelo’s toxic concepts.
Robin DiAngelo, whose white fragility theory has become one of the most influential ideas about racism in America, is a scholar-activist who has openly called for academic “revolution” as a means of de-centering whiteness in America and stopping so-called white supremacy and institutional racism.
As she writes in her seminal paper on white fragility, “Whiteness Studies begin with the premise that racism and white privilege exist in both traditional and modern forms, and rather than work to prove its existence, work to reveal it,” making it clear she’s more interested in forwarding her narrative about the oppressive nature of whiteness than in using the scientific method to prove it. In her Author’s Note to her bestselling book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, DiAngelo admits that it’s “unapologetically rooted in identity politics,” and that we as Americans “have yet to achieve our founding principle, but any gains we have made thus far have come from identity politics.”
DiAngelo’s progressive activism is rooted in ideas that lack sufficient support from social science research, and as a scholar-activist, she tends to put politics over science, making her work more about ideological preferences than rational inquiry. Her work lacks rigorous hypothesis testing and quantitative measurement; makes sweeping generalizations about entire groups of people without backing these assertions with the use of statistical analysis; relies too heavily on anecdotal observations and flawed implicit bias research; and arrogantly presents her theories as settled science rather than hypotheses to be tested and further explored.
Below is a list of 10 resources which thoroughly critique DiAngelo’s theories and the concepts that underpin them.
1. The Flaws in White Fragility Theory: A Primer, New Discourses, by Helen Pluckrose and Jonathan Church. The title is self-explanatory: it’s a primer for understanding the major flaws in white fragility theory. Specifically, it analyses DiAngelo’s concept of “whiteness,” “white fragility,” and the shaky underlying concept of “implicit bias.” The article closes by illustrating how DiAngelo has constructed a house of cards full of logical fallacies.
2. White Fragility Theory Is a Bullying Rhetorical Tactic, The Agonist, by Jonathan Church. Robin DiAngelo believes that whites must shut up and listen. This article highlights how she uses white fragility theory to shut down whites — and any and all conversation — when they try to question or offer alternative viewpoints.
5. Diversity Training Shouldn’t Be Based On Flawed Implicit Bias Research, Philadelphia Inquirer, by Christopher Paslay. This article highlights the problems with implicit bias research, and how mandatory implicit bias trainings can have unintended negative consequences on education and business, such as hurting teacher/manager morale and provoking resentment among faculty/colleagues.
7. The Intellectual Fraud of Robin DiAngelo’s ‘White Fragility,’ The Logical Liberal, by David Edward Burke. Liberal activist and attorney David Edward Burke’s criticism of DiAngelo’s white fragility proves her questionable use of research and science is not simply a partisan issue. His article exposes how “Robin DiAngelo’s white fragility is snake oil masquerading as insight.”
8. Are Micro-Aggressions Really A Thing ?, The Good Men Project, by Jonathan Church. This article analyzes the scientific legitimacy of “microaggressions,” which like implicit bias, underpins much of whiteness studies, anti-racism, and white fragility theory.
10. 7 Reasons Why ‘White Fragility’ is the Worst Book Ever, by Ben Shapiro. This YouTube video by Ben Shapiro breaks down the problems with DiAngelo’s book in clear, layman’s terms. A great video to watch if you want solid arguments against the toxic narrative at the center of White Fragility.
According to Robin DiAngelo, niceness is not anti-racism. Whites must be blunt and actively call out the oppressiveness of “whiteness” in order to stop systemic racism. To be “less white,” DiAngelo states, “is to be less oppressive racially. To be less arrogant. To be less certain. To be less defensive. To be less ignorant.” But is this zero-sum approach — disrupting and stereotyping one group in order to advance another — really the best way to go? Is an approach based on confrontation, provocation, and agitation the best way to bond with our students and colleagues? Is forgoing curtesy and “niceness” going to develop the kind of core principles and values our community needs to create an atmosphere of teamwork and synergy?
Please subscribe to my growing YouTube channel, Inside White Fragility, and to its companion blog of the same name. Thanks for watching!
Here is my lengthy interview with Benjamin Boyce, where we discuss Robin DiAngelo, white fragility theory and white privilege, among other educational topics. Please watch, as this is a badly needed conversation (it is a true dialogue as opposed to an antiracist monologue).
Please subscribe to my growing YouTube channel, Inside White Fragility, and to its companion blog of the same name. Thanks for watching!
On Feb. 28, 2020, Dr. Robin DiAngelo delivers the keynote speech at the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education in Atlanta, Georgia. DiAngelo has become “perhaps the country’s most visible expert in anti-bias training.” She is also the author of a best-selling book on “why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism.”
The answer, she says, is “white fragility,” defined as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” This “racial stress” is the direct result of “implicit bias,” which runs so strong in white people that it is a core reason racism persists in America. This claim is based on a worldview, advanced by an increasingly influential field called Whiteness Studies, that racism is inseparable from the reign of Whiteness.
Whiteness is seen as a central pillar of society. What is Whiteness? It is hard to say, but the basic idea is that all the institutions of society are “white”—made by white people, ruled by white people, and kept in place by white people to make sure that white people continue to benefit from “white privilege.” These institutions are infected by white supremacy, a result of the long arc of racism in American history. Whiteness works through implicit bias, which refers to a whole range of unconscious behaviors, speech, and beliefs that keep white supremacy in place.
It should not be surprising that many white people are not convinced. If so, DiAngelo says, they are experiencing “racial stress,” which gets in the way of dismantling Whiteness. In other words, they are exhibiting white fragility. It turns out, however, that white people have good reason to be skeptical.
What’s ‘Fragile’ Is DiAngelo’s Response to Criticism
One of us, Mr. Church, has written several essays about DiAngelo’s theory over the last year and a half. Among other topics, he has explained how the research on implicit bias does not give us reason to think that implicit bias predicts much of anything about how we think and behave. He has also pointed out many methodological flaws in her work. But his ultimate assessment is simple: “White fragility” is a phrase DiAngelo invented to delegitimize any disagreement with her views on what causes racial inequality.
DiAngelo is attempting to address one of the most important issues of our time. But she does so with an air of piety that presumes she knows all the answers. One of the main challenges in the analysis of Whiteness and white privilege is the deeply ambiguous nature of these terms (see here, here, and here). As historian Eric Arsenen wrote, “whiteness has become a blank screen onto which those who claim to analyze it can project their own meanings.” The inherent ambiguity in a term like Whiteness is likely one of the main reasons DiAngelo has encountered resistance over the years.
In response, she has doubled down, defining “one aspect of Whiteness and its effects, White Fragility,” as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves,” which “include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation,” all of which allegedly “function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.” In other words, disagreement is bad.
In effect, DiAngelo has pulled off a master stroke of rhetorical legerdemain. “White fragility” is a term that rhetorically delegitimizes in one stroke any “defensiveness” when confronted with DiAngelo’s views about racism and Whiteness. Unfortunately, this approach invariably leads to rampant speculation, rather than careful hypotheses, about what Whiteness is and how it causes racial disparities.
The inquisitional nature of this approach is so remarkably transparent that one is at a loss to explain how DiAngelo gets away with asserting incoherently that “[h]uman objectivity is not actually possible” given that such a claim is itself an objective statement that also confuses objectivity with neutrality. Instead, the act of pointing out this incoherence is reflexively treated as an act of heresy which must be “cancelled” or punished for allegedly accommodating white supremacy.
Schools Eat Up Incoherent ‘White Fragility’ Theory
One area in which this theory has become increasingly influential is education. Mr. Paslay has spent two decades in Philadelphia classrooms and teacher training workshops. He has found that white fragility—apart from raising awareness about structural inequality—is having some unintended side-effects on schools in America. Above all, the theory fosters intolerance from facilitators leading anti-bias trainings in educational settings, which can provoke resentment among teachers.
Dr. David W. Johnson, a co-director of the Cooperative Learning Center at the University of Minnesota, studies the benefit of cooperative learning, social interdependence, and constructive conflict. He offers eight guidelines for facilitating classroom discussions with students who are prone to challenge their professors, suggestions many educators leading the professional development workshops Mr. Paslay has attended have ignored.
The first is simply being respectful. Johnson writes of students who are overly critical of their professors, “Do not discount them as people or treat them impolitely (such as cutting them off or not calling on them).”
Yet Mr. Paslay has been cut off in the middle of speaking numerous times in anti-bias teacher trainings. DiAngelo freely admits to limiting the participation of whites in her workshops in favor of people who look different, and even talks of cutting off whites who try to defend themselves. Indeed, in one of her academic papers, she recommends denying “equal time to all narratives in our classrooms.”
Johnson also suggests that teachers should listen to their students carefully, and when disagreeing with them, the focus should be on the issue, not on the person commenting. Again, these are not approaches many facilitators have taken in teacher trainings Mr. Paslay has attended. These trainings are clearly influenced by the theory of white fragility.
In multiple circumstances, the workshop leaders half-listened in a perfunctory manner, knowing that what Mr. Paslay was saying deviated from the tendentious ideological script they had been assigned to deliver. When Mr. Paslay was finished offering his alternative perspective, if he had not been shut down or cut off, the facilitators often took issue with him personally—labeling him “racist” or “biased”— not the issue at hand.
Treating White People How She’d Never Treat Black People
DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” is a focused attack on the behaviors of white people, as opposed to placing the primary focus on particular issues. In an interview with Teaching Tolerance, DiAngelo explained that in her workshops, making generalizations about white people and the fact that they are complicit in systemic racism causes them great umbrage.
DiAngelo stated, “Right now, me saying ‘white people,’ as if our race had meaning, and as if I could know anything about somebody just because they’re white, will cause a lot of white people to erupt in defensiveness. And I think of it as a kind of weaponized defensiveness. Weaponized tears. Weaponized hurt feelings. And in that way, I think white fragility actually functions as a kind of white racial bullying.”
Incredibly, white people taking offense to being called fragile, racist, or reacting with tears or hurt feelings is racial bullying, according to DiAngelo. But all of DiAngelo’s name calling, personal judgements of character, and attacks are not? This amounts to a rhetorical bullying tactic in itself.
It is also a classic example of psychological projection, which is another way scholar-activists like DiAngelo can protect the presumed infallibility of white fragility theory while failing to consider perspectives that run counter to its ideology. Tragically, as research suggests, these workshops are a setback for diversity, and too often leave whites with a feeling of frustration or resentment.
How Anti-Bias Training Breeds Racism
In the world of education, this means white teachers go back to their classrooms feeling guilty, accused, and even more close-minded than before. The recent actions of New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza are a prime example. His use of anti-bias training to dismantle what he called “White Supremacy Culture” in schools sparked a major backlash, prompting administrators, teachers, and parents to call parts of the workshops “ugly and divisive.”
Specifically, teachers were told by diversity consultants to “focus on black children over white ones,” and one Jewish superintendent who described her family’s Holocaust tragedies “was scolded and humiliated.” To make matters worse, four white New York City school district executives, who were demoted or stripped of duties under Carranza’s administrative reorganization, sued the city, insisting he had created “an environment which is hostile toward whites.”
In essence, white fragility theory boils down to Power vs. Force, a concept made popular by Dr. David R. Hawkins. It analyzes “the hidden determinants of human behavior.” While true power resides from within, force is applied through projection—an outside force trying to impose its will. Force can only work for so long; once it encounters true power, it immediately unravels.
Interestingly, many of the emotions DiAngelo cites as evidence of white fragility—such as anger, shame, guilt, and apathy—are listed by Hawkins as a reaction to force. Nowhere in white fragility theory or whiteness studies can one find positive responses related to true power, such as courage, love, joy, or enlightenment; everything tied to white fragility is zero-sum and is based on dichotomy rather than unity.
White fragility theory is counterproductive and divisive. White teachers should not be discounted, bullied, or shut down when presenting alternative perspectives during anti-bias trainings in schools. A tolerant, holistic approach to social equity in education must be achieved to bring about positive change, and to prevent the unintended perpetuation of racial stereotypes and low student expectations in America’s classrooms.
Jonathan Church is a government economist, CFA charter holder, and writer whose work has appeared in Quillette, Areo, Arc Digital, Merion, Agonist Journal, Good Men Project, and other places. You can follow him on Twitter @jondavidchurch. Christopher Paslay is a Philadelphia public schoolteacher and coach. His articles have appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, American Thinker, and Real Clear Politics, among other publications. You can follow him on Twitter @cspaslay.
The founders of KIPP have been successfully reeducated by modern anti-racists.
On July 1st, KIPP charter school founder Richard Barth announced KIPP was retiring its national slogan, ‘Work hard. Be nice.’ According to Barth, the slogan “ignores the significant effort required to dismantle systemic racism, places value on being compliant and submissive, supports the illusion of meritocracy, and does not align with our vision of students being free to create the future they want.”
Barth also stated that KIPP is committed to “eliminating the presence of police in our schools wherever possible,” and demands “a commitment to anti-racism as a condition of employment because everyone who works at KIPP must be committed to anti-racism in their beliefs and in their behavior.”
It appears we need to do some unpacking here, to use a phrase from the modern anti-racist movement. But before we do so, let’s give praise where praise is due: KIPP charter schools have had legitimate success over the past decade, especially when it comes to preparing mostly low-income students for college and beyond. As of the fall of 2017, KIPP’s national college completion rate was 36 percent for all alumni who completed eighth grade at a KIPP school, and 45 percent for those who graduated from a KIPP high school; low-income alumni of KIPP schools are graduating college at nearly 4 times the national average compared with the 11 percent rate expected for that student population.
Although there are many variables when it comes to academic success — educational achievement is indeed a complex equation — hard work is no doubt one of those variables. KIPP founders knew this from the charter’s inception, which is why KIPP students spend 50 percent more time learning than students in traditional schools, with a school day that typically goes from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., along with a mandatory three-week summer-school program.
Jay Mathews, an education columnist for The Washington Post, agrees. In January of 2019, he wrote:
I consider KIPP one of the best charter networks in the country, mostly because of its success attracting and developing great educators who help impoverished students learn. The teachers I have interviewed at 42 of KIPP’s 224 schools have supported the network’s long hours, high standards, intricate field trips, focus on character development, and creative use of music and games.
So why is Barth retiring KIPP’s mantra, “Work hard. Be Nice.”? He is doing so in part as a response to the June 18thletter written by KIPP co-founder Dave Levin, who has decided to embrace the newly emerging cult of modern anti-racism, a highly political and extremely polarizing approach to social justice. Levin wrote to KIPP alumni:
[A]s a white man, I did not do enough as we built KIPP to fully understand how systemic and inter-personal racism, and specifically anti-Blackness, impacts you and your families – both inside of KIPP and beyond. It is clear that I, and others, came up short in fully acknowledging the ways in which the school and organizational culture we built and how some of our practices perpetuated white supremacy and anti-Blackness. In recent years, I have come face to face with the understanding that white supremacy doesn’t just mean the public and hateful displays of racism; it applies to all aspects of the world that are set up for the benefit of and perpetuation of power for white people at the expense of Black, Latinx, and other People of Color.
Incredibly Levin, a man who’s transformed the lives of thousands of low-income students of color through selfless dedication, sacrifice, and love, now believes he actually fostered a charter school system that “perpetuated white supremacy and anti-Blackness,” and that the world is set up “for the benefit of and perpetuation of power for white people at the expense of Black, Latinx, and other People of Color.”
In other words, his worldview is now zero-sum: in order for people of color to achieve, “white privilege” and “white supremacy culture ” must be dismantled; the advancement of one group requires the disruption of another.
Hence, the retiring of KIPP’s famously awesome slogan. According to the cult of modern anti-racism (not to be confused with traditional multiculturalism, which is proactive instead of reactive, and is celebratory rather than accusatory), “hard work” is a racist term, because it implies that there is no systemic oppression for people of color. Suggesting a student of color could simply “pull himself up by his bootstraps” discredits the impact of a white supremacy culture, and forwards the “illusion of meritocracy.”
Unlike traditional multiculturalism, anti-racism is rooted in confrontation, provocation, and agitation, and aims to shock implicitly racist whites out of their “privileged bubble.” Robin DiAngelo’s book, White Fragility, is a textbook course in triggering whites through such agitation, only when whites feel bullied or stereotyped — or dare to offer an alternative point of view — DiAngelo informs them they suffer from White Fragility, and that they basically need to “get over it.”
So the slogan “Work Hard. Be Nice,” has now been ripped down like the statue of Ulysses S. Grant in San Francisco. According to the tweet by Max Eden, an education policy expert and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute:
“Don’t work hard, don’t be nice” is truly the message that woke whites are trying to send to at-risk POC youth. This move by KIPP is an instantiation of systemic racism that will only help reify white privilege.
It’s quite disheartening that the co-founders of KIPP have been completely reeducated by the cult of modern anti-racism. Their intensions are good, granted, but to use another phrase from the anti-racist movement: intention don’t matter. Only impact does.
And what will the impact be when hard work and niceness are recast as “racist”? When a white KIPP student — or a student from any school, for that matter — learns from his anti-racist teacher that theoretically his achievement is not earned, that all of his success has actually come as a result of anti-blackness? Will his parents sue the pants off of the school?
We shall see. That day is coming sooner than you think.
Unfortunately, there is no real communication when it comes to anti-racism. “Conversations” about anti-racism are in reality monologues disguised as dialogues.
In February of 2009, Eric Holder called America “a nation of cowards” for not talking about race. Ten years later, through the efforts of anti-racist educators like Robin DiAngelo, this conversation has finally come to fruition—although the “dialogue” on race is more of a monologue, where scholar-activists like DiAngelo lecture whites about their privilege in an inherently racist society, and where whites shake their heads and say yes. Yes, I live in a world of white supremacy. Yes, my unconscious is loaded with implicit racial biases. Yes, America was founded on the backs of slaves. Yes, yes, yes . . .
This is the only acceptable way for whites to engage in a “conversation” about race in 2020: to sincerely and enthusiastically swallow whole the teachings given them by experts on anti-racism and white racial literacy. Silence and nonparticipation are not allowed. According to prominent whiteness scholar and anti-racist Robin DiAngelo, “The racial status quo is not neutral; it’s racist. Therefore, anything that works to maintain the status quo rather than challenge it maintains racism.”
In other words, white silence maintains racial comfort and equilibrium, which keeps white supremacy in place by failing to disrupt the racial hierarchy. So if you’re white and don’t want to appear close-minded, you’re obligated to join the “conversation.”
Disagreeing, of course, is strictly forbidden. Questioning, probing, challenging, or offering any alternative perspective outside of the approved anti-racist school of thought is not an option; all disagreements are invalid, born out of ignorance and misinformation. If whites are persistent in their challenge, they may be told they suffer from “white fragility,” a condition where whites become defensive or standoffish because they lack the endurance to withstand having their views on race confronted. Developed by DiAngelo, the theory is heavy on politics and light on science.
In reality, the “conversation” on race is nothing more than a one-sided lecture by zealous whiteness scholars, aimed at indoctrinating the white listener into the cult of anti-racism. These so-called “conversations” have three rules:
Rule#1: Whites have zero understand what it’s like to be a person of color in America. In other words, whites are from Venus and people of color are from Mars, and despite the fact that we are all human and have similar life experiences and emotions — such as love, hate, joy, grief, and compassion — whites could never, even in the smallest sense, empathize with people of color. Black lives are so drastically oppressed, and white lives are so fantastically privileged, that whites couldn’t possibly understanding the life experiences of people of color.
Rule#2: Because Whites live in a privileged white bubble, they are racially illiterate, and have zero authority on racial matters. Conversely, people of color are racially fluent, and hold a monopoly on racial authority (although, curiously, this still doesn’t stop liberal whites like DiAngelo from lecturing whites on their racial transgressions 24/7).
Rule# 3: Whites must acknowledge their privileged status in America, and accept their role in perpetuating systemic racism. And remember: silence and disagreement aren’t an option.
So where’s the conversation? Where’s the exchanging of ideas on race, racism, and better communication? The answer: There is none.
As a public school teacher in Philadelphia, I’ve dedicated my life to teaching, coaching, and mentoring children of all races and ethnic backgrounds. I teach them to read, write, speak, and listen. I help them to think critically about the world around them, and instill in them the values of love, respect, compassion, and tolerance for diversity.
Still, this is not enough. Because I believe in the unity of classic multicultural education, which is more celebratory than accusatory — and seeks to unify people by core values rather than divided them into dualistic groups based on identity — I am the so-called “problem.” As a white person, I’m expected to blindly swallow whole the divisive ideologies at the core of anti-racist identity politics, which preaches all whites are privileged racists, and all people of color are oppressed victims.
Unfortunately, there is no real communication when it comes to anti-racism. “Conversations” about anti-racism are in reality monologues disguised as dialogues.
The concept of colorblindness has been hijacked and redefined by anti-racists, so much so that its meaning has literally been inverted and turned on its head — going from a positive that society should strive to attain to a negative that it should guard against.
A major part of anti-racism is challenging a white person’s belief in colorblindness, and how this belief serves to both obscure and perpetuate white privilege and institutional racism. Traditionally, colorblindness is a positive — a way of viewing the world not through the superficial lens of race and skin color, but through a deeper perspective, one centered on universal human values like love, compassion, tolerance, honesty, and friendship. Often times, the concept of colorblindness is associated with Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, where he famously stated that he dreamt of a time when his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
But today, the concept of colorblindness has been hijacked and redefined by anti-racists, so much so that its meaning has literally been inverted and turned on its head — going from a positive that society should strive to attain to a negative that it should guard against. Within the field of whiteness studies, the concept is now known as “colorblind racism,” and anti-racist educators now call for people not to be colorblind, but to be “colorbold.” According to DiAngelo, colorblind racism is “pretending that we don’t notice race or that race has no meaning. This pretense denies racism and thus holds it in place.” DiAngelo’s definition ties in directly with the essential question of her book on white racial literacy What Does It Mean To Be White?, which asks, “What does it mean to be white in a society that proclaims race meaningless, yet is deeply divided by race?”
But there’s a fundamental problem with both the essential question of DiAngelo’s book and with her definition of colorblind racism. According to “An Empirical Assessment of Whiteness Theory: Hidden from How Many?”, which used data from the American Mosaic Project to test the hypotheses developed in the paper, race does matter to white people, as 74 percent of white Americans surveyed — almost three-fourths — said that their racial identity was either “very important” or “somewhat important.”
And according to a 2016 Pew Research study on America’s views on race and inequality, 31 percent of whites admitted that being white made it easier for them to succeed, while 53 percent of whites said more must be done to bring about racial equality in America.
It’s not that the majority of whites think race doesn’t matter, it’s that they think it shouldn’t matter; there’s a major difference between these two concepts. Nearly all Americans are aware of race, especially in light of the news media’s obsession with race and racism on television, in newspapers, and on the internet. Granted, some whites may not always be aware of the advantages race gives them in their daily life, or the ways in which race may disadvantage people of color in certain situations. But the notion that whites believe race doesn’t matter is misrepresented and overblown.
True colorblindness isn’t “pretending we don’t notice race or that race has no meaning” as DiAngelo claims. Traditional colorblindness is the filtering out of the superficial characteristics of eye shape, hair texture, and skin tone, and of connecting and interacting with others via the universal human values of love, kindness, honesty, tolerance, respect, and compassion. If all people learned to do as much, not just casually but with the very core of their beings, the world would be a different place. Racism, prejudice, discrimination, and all manner of social injustice would begin to subside.
A major goal of anti-racist educators within the field of whiteness studies is to level the playing field and end systemic racial disparities. The purpose behind creating the term “colorblind racism” is clearly to make whites as equally aware of race and racism as nonwhites are, which will in effect “bear witness” to injustice, and help bring an end to it. But what happens then? Once everybody’s sufficiently aware of the ugly consequences of race, then what?
Logic would suggest the next step would entail teaching people not to judge people by the color of their skin, and to connect and interact with them as fellow humans instead of treating them as “others.” In other words, it would be time to circle back and employ colorblindness. As T.S. Eliot said, We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
At its core, whiteness studies is really a battle to define and control whiteness itself. By redefining “racism” to mean inherent white privilege and oppression, all whites become guilty by default, even those whites who are caring people free from discrimination. Thus “whiteness” becomes “racism,” which ultimately transforms the property of whiteness into the commodity of racism, and enables the politically oriented whiteness studies movement to usurp “whiteness” to use and redistribute as it sees fit.
Which is exactly why the field of whiteness studies doesn’t take the direct path and preach traditional colorblindness, and that’s because indoctrinating society to be hyper-aware of race is helping keep race at the forefront — right where anti-racists need it to be. Race and skin color are indeed invaluable when it comes to identity politics, so teaching Americans to be “blind” to it makes no sense politically, and would negatively impact race as a commodity and source of power.