In the past several months, with the George Floyd protest and Black Lives Matter movement, many people have recently discovered Robin DiAngelo’s book ‘White Fragility’ and propelled it to the top of the both the New York Times and Amazon best seller’s list.

This is a wonderful first step for many white people to begin the journey of their whiteness education and to address the centering of white normalcy.

Now, it is inevitable that initial adrenaline rush doesn’t last and that some serious criticism of her work has come to the surface in past couple of months.

Some are concerned that her experience and her expertise are in a corporate context where people are paid (and maybe required) to attend her workshops (where she is paid) and while she may be an expert in this one highly-regulated environment, that is not how race-relations look out in the real world or on the street.

This is the ‘meta’ of the moment: we no longer want to center white people’s perspectives and white ways of thinking or we recreate the very thing that we are hoping to work against.

Others point out that the phrase ‘white fragility’ was already in use before she claims to have ‘coined’ it. This is a real problem for a white person to both profit off of the work of a person of color and to not give credit is to ‘erase’ the individual or community and make them invisible.

Still others are concern that white people are attracted to her white way of framing and presenting the work and by reading her book (or attending her class) they will think that have done their work … but they have not done anything anti-racist yet that benefits communities of color.

A white person coming to terms with their own whiteness is a great first step but it does nothing for communities of color. That is where the anti-racist work begins so that the end is in trans- forming economically, politically, legally, regionally, socially, religiously, psychologically, and emotionally.

Some white people have gotten defensive or discouraged about this critiques of ‘white fragility’ but I want to submit to you that it is a good thing! This is productive direction to go. After DiAngelo it is time to read an author-of-color who may not say things in ways that you like to hear them or may frame the whole subject in a completely different light and it may be really uncomfortable.

This is the natural progression of becoming a white-ally. Fist, address your own white awareness and fragility, next listen to and learn from a thinker of color, third might be to then be in dialogue and activism (partner) with people of color, and then continue the anti-racist journey by advocating for and participating in organized actions.

White fragility can be a wonderful first step in move beyond it and leave it behind.

This is just the nature of this work. Let me give you two examples – one recent and one a little dated.

In 1988 Peggy McIntosh wrote a paper that has become so influential and so frequently referenced that its success is becoming a problem.  McIntosh’s “Invisible Knapsack” of White Privilege is so wide-spread and so elementary that you almost have to reference it in any address of whiteness just to show that you know what you are talking about. A recent academic review said it this way:

In her review of the broader field of whiteness studies, McWhorter (2005) observes that “no thorough over- view of Whiteness Studies ever omits reference to Peggy McIntosh’s article” (p. 545). [1]

Don’t get me wrong – McIntosh’s list of 46 assumed privileges was (and is) an amazingly helpful lens through which to see issues of assumed white normalcy and to come to terms with their implications. It’s just, as the article points out, not enough to come to terms with one’s own whiteness … one must then utilize that new platform to begin to address issues of systemic racism, class privilege, and discrimination of every kind.

It’s not that McIntosh is bad (she was and is great), but it cannot be the be-all and end-all of that conversation. SO much more is needed. If you have read the ‘Invisible Knapsack’ article in the past 32 years, then well done! Keep going – there is so much more to be learned and to be done.

In the same vein, there is a famous quote from the 1960’s that originated in the boxing world but has been applied in so many other areas of life: the reporter Jimmy Cannon famously said of Joe Louis that “he is a credit to his race, the human race“.

This compliment, at the time, would have resonance because it brought similarity and identification but would soon be out of date because it is based in erasure of difference. Soon people would ask, ‘oh you can only see the virtue in him because is like you? Why not acknowledge his blackness and difference?’

This is how whiteness work goes. There are initial steps that then have to transcended and even transgressed in order to move on to real anti-racist work.  It is a scaffolding that begins a project but then must be dis-assembled to create a structure that we can live in.

It is the natural and good progression. Myself, for instance, I want to be a gateway drug. I hope these videos and even the Whiteness Workshop to be starting point that you soon leave behind. In my podcast and book with Randy Woodley I hope to model constructive discourse but ultimately be a stepping-stool that helps you along the way.

[1] McIntosh as Synecdoche: How Teacher Education’s Focus on White Privilege Undermines Antiracism – Midwest Critical Whiteness Collective