Joy's Book Blog
Joy's Book Blog
Due to the subject matter, this review will be longer than my others.
You’ve probably already heard about this book in your daily lives, on social media, or even on the news. In fact, as of this post (June 27, 2020), it’s the #1 selling book on Amazon. To summarize, this book is considered one of the best resources out there right now to help the average white American learn about white fragility (a term she coined), how it protects racial inequality, and what can be done about it (kind-of).
So this review is hard for me to write because I’m of two minds: on one hand, I’m glad I read this
book. It made me turn my thoughts inward to analyze my own beliefs and behavior in a way that very few books have before. On the other hand: I’ve decided I’m not going to recommend this book to others as a group. Here’s why:
First, the author, Robin DiAngelo, takes it upon herself to redefine a lot of everyday terms that already have set definitions. But because she redefines them, she’s able to make shocking statements that don’t mean what the reader thinks they mean. Let me explain. In Chapter 2 of the book, DiAngelo redefines the term racism, writing “when a racial group’s collective prejudice is backed by the power of legal authority and institutional control, it transformed into racism, a far-reaching system that functions independently from the intentions or self-images of individual actors” (p. 20). In this way, she is able to make the statement “all white people are racist,” but she means that all white people automatically benefit from a system that controls the social and institutional positions of American society, allowing them to infuse their racial prejudice into the laws, policies, practices, and norms of society in a way that people of color cannot (p. 22). Therefore, using this definition, if you are white, you are automatically racist. And I can agree when defined that way, there is validity to her point. However, I can’t help feeling she is using the term racist to her own end; it enables her to make these shocking statements and get media attention for her book instead of making the same points by using common language. And there may be nothing wrong with that (she does want people to read her book, after all) but that brings me to my next point….
Second, DiAngelo spends the majority of the book breaking down any mental barriers that an individual white person may use to rebel against the belief that they are racist. She confronts the excuses “I don’t see color,” “I marched in the 1960s,” and “I have a lot of black friends” head-on. She also tackles the ideology of meritocracy, white privilege, and affirmative action. I appreciated her insights in these areas; like I said, this book really made me turn my thoughts inward to my own unacceptable behavior and beliefs and it will help me going forward.
However, DiAngelo made some controversial claims that I know will deeply offend some readers and probably cause them to abandon the book altogether. I’m not saying these claims aren’t without merit, but by stating them in such absolute terms (ALL white people are racist, NO black people are), it brings into question whether these statements are true. After all, there are always exceptions to every rule; as we learned in school, if a T/F question has the words “all” or “never” in them, the statement is probably false. DiAngelo further claims that although working-class whites may experience classism, they cannot experience racism and “people who claim not to be prejudiced are demonstrating a profound lack of self-awareness” (p. 19, 22). Again, there is quite probably truth in her statements, but by making them so absolute, DiAngelo almost goads the reader into a debate that they cannot win. After all, she’s not actually standing in front of us to debate with. And that will lead to frustration with no outlet except to stop reading and denounce the book.
My final reason for not recommending the book to everyone is that I kept waiting for her to give me some actionable tasks to help rebel against racism in America, but very few were forthcoming. By the end of the book, I felt so guilty about how whites (including myself) have treated the black people in our lives that I wanted to apologize to every black person I’ve ever met. And this change in thinking did seem to be her ultimate goal so she succeeded in that with me. But I wanted more, and I could only find a few actionable suggestions. First, DiAngelo recommends we “take the initiative and find out on your own” what to do about racism (p. 144). She recommends Google. What?! She’s an anti-racist educator. At least give me some suggestions! Second, she encourages me not be afraid to stand up against racism to other white people, but not with the intent to change other people or point out inappropriate statements, but instead to preserve my own integrity (p. 151). That’s alittle too self-serving for me. For a book with the last chapter being called “Where do we go from here?”, I was disappointed with how she ended it.
To finish up, DiAngelo’s book is good if you want to take a hard look at your own life and how racism affects you without you even realizing it. But as far as recommending it to everyone, I just can’t do that. I think it’s best for each reader to decide for themselves if they’re ready for a book like this, and to make the commitment to read this book knowing that they will be offended but that they will continue reading and finish it before they even start.
Up next: the next book I’m reading and will review is The Silent Patient