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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Reasons why Robin DiAngelo is bad Part 1: Race essentialism

The problem with a confidence trickster is that they prey on people's tendency to believe them. People who are opposed to racism will tend to believe and side with others who oppose racism.

And Robin DiAngelo, author of "White Fragility" published last year, has made a profitable career based on the credence given to her claims by people of good will who oppose racism, including many in the media.

And that is why Robin DiAngelo is so pernicious.

And since many anti-racists on Twitter think DiAngelo is a great thinker and a great opponent of race-based injustice, it is necessary to explain why DiAngelo is not helping to improve the situation of race in America.

1. DiAngelo is a race essentialist much like the proponents of race science are.

Like the proponents of race science, DiAngelo uses terms like "black" and "white" but refuses to explain exactly who falls into these categories. But that does not prevent race science - nor DiAngelo - from making essentialist claims about "whites" and "blacks" when it suits them.

In the case of race science, "black" people are held to be innately less intelligent and more criminal.

In DiAngeloism "white" people are held to be racist, regardless of actions or beliefs.

DiAngelo literally believes that all white people are racist, from Donald Trump to herself, quoted here in a Slate interview:
I want to be clear. I don’t see myself as redefining the term. I want to change the way the average white person understands what racism is, but I am using the sociological definition. You asked me, “What would you call the difference perhaps between Trump and me?” But I actually think, yeah, we both are racists. I see that as a continuum that I’m on and will be on for the rest of my life. In any given moment, I have to ask myself, “How am I doing on this continuum? What end am I behaving closer to? How do I know?” He and I may be on different spots on the continuum, but we’re both on it. I don’t tend to distinguish between the two of us, which probably shocks some readers, but if you’re asking me to somehow identify that difference, I would say “avowed” versus maybe “implied” or “implicit.”
So DiAngelo thinks there is a continuum of racism - but all white people are on it.

The race science proponents don't think all black people are stupid or criminal. They just think blackness gives them a likelihood of being that way.

Just as DiAngelo thinks being white gives one a tendency to be racist. 

And in fact by these standards DiAngelo is more extreme than race science proponents, which hardly seems possible and yet: race science proponents will admit there are black people who are smart and who are not criminals. 

DiAngelo will not admit any white person is not racist.

You don't have to take my word for it that DiAngelo believes all white people are racist - this is what one of her admirers wrote:
That anyone can be prejudiced, but in America, only white people are racist. And, actually, all white people are racist because, as DiAngelo says:  
"Racism comes out of our pores as white people. It's the way that we are."
DiAngelo constantly mentions America, as in the Slate interview. If you haven't been following her career for four years, as I have, you might think she is, reasonably, basing her belief in white racism on the North American race system begun with slavery and continued up to the present time, which impacts relationships between "white" and "black" people. But that is not the case.

Unlike many who write about race, DiAngelo also applies the charge of innate racism to those who grew up outside the North American system, as in the story DiAngelo tells in her recent book:
 I was working with a small group of white participants when a woman I will refer to as Eva stated that because she grew up in Germany, where she said there were no black people, she had learned nothing about race and held no racism. I pushed back on this claim by asking her to reflect on the messages she had received from her childhood about people who lived in Africa. Surely she was aware of Africa and had some impressions of the people there? Had she ever watched American films? If so, what impression did she get about African Americans? I also asked her to reflect on what she had absorbed from living in the U.S. for the last 23 years, whether she had any relationships with African Americans here, and if not, then why not. 
We moved on, and I forgot about the interaction until Eva approached me after the workshop ended. She was furious and said that she had been deeply offended by our exchange and did not “feel seen.” “You made assumptions about me!” she said. I apologized and told her that I would never want her to feel unseen or invalidated. 
However, I also held to my challenge that growing up in Germany would not preclude her from absorbing problematic racial messages about black people. She countered by telling me that she had never even seen a black person “before the American soldiers came.” And when they did come, “all the German women thought them so beautiful that they wanted to connect with them.” This was her evidence that she held no racism. With an internal sigh of defeat, I gave up at that point and repeated my apology. We parted ways, but her anger was unabated. 
A few months later, one of my co-facilitators contacted Eva to tell her about an upcoming workshop. Eva was apparently still angry. She replied that she would never again attend a workshop led by me. Notice that I did not tell Eva that she was racist or that her story was racist. But what I did do was challenge her self-image as someone exempt from racism. Paradoxically, Eva’s anger that I did not take her claims at face value surfaced within the context of a volunteer workshop on racism, which she ostensibly attended to deepen her understanding of racism.
"Eva" was understandably insulted that Robin DiAngelo would tell her that she, Robin DiAngelo, understands her more than she understands herself. That Robin DiAngelo would imply she doesn't know whether she is racist or not.

DiAngelo implies that the German woman was racist because although she consciously grew up with the message that black people were beautiful, she might have seen an American film or received "messages" about people who live in Africa and that would have made her unconsciously racist.

As an aside: exactly which American films does DiAngelo think would make a German into an anti-black racist? I am not aware that black people are routinely shown as bad in American films, and until very recently the problem was more about an absence of black people than black people being portrayed badly.

Now it is certain that DiAngelo could find bigotry and a preference for whites in Germany. Human beings tend to prefer their own groups and people who look like them. What DiAngelo does is attempt to make that solely a "white" pathology, not an unfortunate pan-human tendency.

But as Germany, of all places, has demonstrated, "white" people are certainly capable of injustice and horrific cruelty against other "white" people. A system of "othering" is what is necessary and doesn't have to be other based on skin color. But of course it isn't just white people who can be vicious towards members of their own "race" as the Rwandan genocide or the killing fields of Cambodia demonstrate.

And as with race science, there is a problem with DiAngelo's essentialist race system - where do those who are "mixed-race" fall in the black-white continuum? Is one only innately half-racist if one is half-white?

This demonstrates the problem with all forms of race essentialism - it attempts to freeze human ancestry at one point in time, call that frozen essence "race" and then make claims based on that bogus construct. And it is especially ironic that race science and white fragility essentialists are doing this at a time when intermarriage happens more now than ever.

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