“YES WE ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS!”

Robin Diangelo and I are on the same side. I, too, want to live in a multicultural society that promotes diversity in unity. I want to become someone who celebrates and respects everyone else, no matter what their colour, creed, gender identity or sexual-orientation. 

However, I also agree that we are animals that generalise, and that our societies encourage us to have certain culturally constructed expectations about certain types of people, no matter that these types are also cultural constructs.

It is impossible to be completely without prejudice, so we must be constantly vigilant and self-critical, expecting to make errors and being open to having them discovered, without that revelation destroying our sense of self-worth. I am an opinionated, ignorant and un-empathetic bigot, but I desire to be less so[1] and I want to be loved despite this. 

Professor Diangelo presumably paints an accurate picture of US society, which is clearly very messed up. She mentions a study which found that white Americans mistakenly associate high populations of colour with high crime rates[2]. Judges and others in the legal system are also more likely to attribute criminal behaviour to bad circumstances if a defendant is white, but bad character if they are black or “Latinx”. An astonishing 2016 study found that “half a sample of medical students and residents believe that blacks feel less pain” (p63) (For fuck’s sake!) A 2009 study found that “suburban parents” say they select schools on test scores, but are really more influenced by the racial mix.  (p67)[3]

So, White Fragility provides us with a perceptive analysis of the racial conflicts and tensions that plague the modern USA. However, it’s difficult to assess how practical, accurate or reliable her revelations would be when dealing with real people in real situations. This is because, in the way of theory, incredibly complex, often contradictory situations are reduced to single causes that lead to single, universal effects. 

Diangelo breezily admits this early in the book. On page 12, she says, “as a sociologist, I am quite comfortable generalising”. I expected her to point out the ways she would address this vulnerability in her method. Instead she simply dismisses the problem and moves on: “social life is patterned and predictable in measurable ways. But I understand that my generalisations may cause some defensiveness for the white people about whom I am generalizing, given how cherished the ideology of individualism is in our culture.” (ibid

I agree totally with the Professor about the damaging influence of the culture of individuality. However, I’m uncomfortable with the claim that white people are simply defensive, and deluded by false consciousness, because their objection that she is generalising unfairly is entirely valid and needs to be addressed. In fact, generalising about individuals that you don’t know is the fundamental operation of prejudice, something that Diangelo admits but then simply fails to address. (P13)

The obvious response would be NOT TO accuse individual people of committing intentionally racist acts because this will make them highly resistant to your message. Instead, admitting that culture is pervasive and makes us internalise its constructs allows you to address injustices as systemic and societal without blaming and antagonising people, and so bring them with you. 


[1] The closest I can come to a definition of a good person is somebody who sincerely wishes to be better than they are, even if they fail. Catastrophically. Every day. And cause terrible harm in the process.

[2] Perhaps, rather than naked racism, this could be an indignant condemnation, by white people, of their capitalist, racist society that forces people of colour into poverty and then forces the poor into criminal activity while simultaneously criminalising their behaviours? No? Dammit! 

[3] The UK is very different, in this respect. Here, white working class boys achieve the lowest exam results, on average, of any subgroup of the school population. Parents have little choice and usually have to make do with their nearest state-funded school, irrespective of class or race. British schools are also funded centrally, so can request funds according to need and school size, and so on, whereas, in the USA, I believe schools are funded by local taxes, so a poor area will have less money available for education. Thus, if racial minorities are denied financial opportunities, they will collect in poorer areas with less well-resourced schools. When suburban parents reject these schools because of their poor attainment levels, they are continuing racial segregation. 

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