I began reading this book with the assumption that I'd get a better understanding of why it's so hard to talk to other white people about race. Maybe there'd be a couple things I needed to be aware of in myself, but all in all, this would be a book about other white people.
Well! Damn if I wasn't wrong! Right in the beginning, Robin DiAngelo knocked me off of my why-I'm-not-racist pedestal. She called me out in the very beginning by suggesting that I the reader was probably sitting there thinking of all the ways I am not racist. Bam, bam, BAM! Down I went. How predictable we white people are, even when we think we're not. Even when we are certain we're not racist. Even when we think we're different from other white people. How predictable I am. In order to get anywhere with racism, we first need to be willing to look at all the ways we (each white person) uphold and perpetuate racism. My sitting there reassuring myself that I am an exception and these x, y, z are the reasons to prove I am not, all but ascertained that I was not going to learn anything, or enough, from this book. I am so grateful that Ms. DiAngelo began this way. Did it make me uncomfortable Hell, yeh, it did. Believe me, I was sitting there squirming, biting my lower lip, and almost wanting to just not read the book at all. However, I knew that the fact that it made me uncomfortable was the biggest reason I needed to read this book. Not so I could get insight into other white people, but to get insight into myself. To point out my flaws and uncover the ways racism manifests itself through my words and actions.
Robin DiAngelo begins by explaining exactly what racism is and why it is that most white people are so afraid of being seen as racist. Explains why we put all our energy into "proving" we're not. I found the definitions she used to be incredibly helpful:
"Prejudice is pre-judgment."
"Discrimination is action based on prejudice."
Racism "is a far-reaching system that functions independently from the intentions or self-images of individual actors." It develops "when a racial group's collective prejudice is backed by the power of legal authority and institutional control".
"Aversive racism is a manifestation of racism that well-intentioned people who see themselves as educated and progressive are more likely to exhibit."
Confusing these terms and thinking that racism is only an intentional act of discrimination leads us to believe that we are exempt from racism, we are not racist, and thus ensures that we will do nothing to change. It "protects our biases, because denying that we have them ensures that we won't examine or change them."
Every aspect of Western culture is based on white superiority. It is backed by authority and institutional control (I would say especially so in the United States). When racism and racist thought are rooted so deeply into our culture, it is "the norm rather than an aberration. Feedback is key to our ability to recognize and repair our inevitable and often unaware collusion." We are conditioned into racism and a white supremacist worldview. Thus, rather than focusing our energy into convincing ourselves and others that we are not racist, we need to focus that energy on confronting our own racist tendencies and ideas. As Ms. DiAngelo points out, "We do have them, and people of color already know we have them; our efforts to prove otherwise are not convincing."
I think this is an incredibly important book. Though it is very basic and rudimentary and repetitive at times, this book is a crucial starting point. It demands we look honestly at ourselves. If we are against racism and truly want change, we have to first start with ourselves. I cannot change my behaviour or thoughts if I am certain I am without blame. How then can I hope to change an entire system I need to be open to criticism without becoming defensive. Is it comfortable to do so Nope, absolutely not. But I can deal with a bit of discomfort, especially in light of all the pain that people of colour have endured and still endure. It is imperative that I honestly examine myself; it is not going to kill me -- but racism does indeed kill people of colour. White fragility functions to"keep people of color from challenging racism in order to avoid white wrath. In turn, not challenging white people on racism upholds the racial order and whites' position within that order." I implore all white people to read this book, even if you are certain you are not racist. ESPECIALLY if you are certain you are not racist. Let's all work on changing ourselves and then perhaps much-needed change can take place in our society and in our judicial systems. It is our responsibility to be less fragile and to finally listen to people of colour and be open to examining our flaws and biases. There is so much more I could write about, including the things I discovered about myself reading this book, but instead I will finally end this lengthy review and encourage you to read the book.
"I have found it much more useful to think of myself as on a continuum. Racism is so deeply woven into the fabric of our society that I do not see myself escaping from that continuum in my lifetime. But I can continually seek to move further along it. I am not in a fixed position on the continuum; my position is dictated by what I am actually doing at a given time. Conceptualizing myself on an active continuum changes the question from whether I am or am not racist to a much more constructive question: Am I actively seeking to interrupt racism in this context And perhaps even more importantly, how do I know"