DiAngelo treats her own project as if it stands above all racialized worldviews, like the supposedly neutral vantage point of the person who can see the proverbial blind men feeling the elephant. This amounts to what you might call a “meta-worldview”—one that she basically assumes rather than argues for.
Having recently finished reading Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, I thought it might be helpful to offer a few thoughts on it. I don’t intend to give a full review here. If you want to read a more substantial review, then I would recommend Coleman Hughes or John McWhorter. What I want to do here is specifically highlight certain points in the book that I personally found to be worthy of comment. Each point begins with a quotation from the book (emphasis added in bold), followed by my own reflections.
“We [Americans] have yet to achieve our founding principle, but any gains we have made thus far have come through identity politics.” (xiii)
It is worth observing that DiAngelo explicitly embraces identity politics. The identity groups that she considers relevant are those socially constructed according to a hierarchy of oppressor/marginalized. This is a basic tenet of Critical Race Theory. (I don’t want to get distracted by debates over whether DiAngelo herself is doing CRT; it’s enough simply to note its direct influence on her work.) On this view, to be white is to fall on the oppressive side of the hierarchy (regardless of one’s own personal awareness, beliefs, or intentions), while people of color fall on the marginalized side. Contrast this with the four primary biblical categories of marginalization—the orphan, the widow, the sojourner, and the poor (Zech. 7:9-10). Such people become marginalized due to personal life circumstances, rather than due to innate identity group membership. In Scripture, you can fall into and rise out of marginalization; in identity politics, you are indelibly stamped as either oppressor or marginalized (and sometimes both simultaneously, depending on your intersecting categories of race, gender, and sexual orientation).
“I have a white frame of reference and a white worldview.” (7)
There has been a lot of debate among evangelicals recently over whether CRT should be considered a “worldview” or merely an “analytical tool.” For her part, DiAngelo certainly believes there are worldviews, and she uses the term repeatedly in her book. But she sees worldviews as divided along the lines of race: there is a white worldview, a black worldview, etc. In her usage of the term, worldview has less to do with one’s basic beliefs about the world than with one’s experience of the world. Granting (for the sake of argument) this definition of worldview, I do wonder whether race is the most relevant criterion for delineating worldviews. Who are more likely to share similar experiences of the world: a rich suburban black person and a rich suburban white person, or a rich suburban white person and an impoverished rural white person? Geography and class seem at least as relevant (and probably much more so) than race. Further, she treats her own project as if it stands above all racialized worldviews, like the supposedly neutral vantage point of the person who can see the proverbial blind men feeling the elephant. This amounts to what you might call a “meta-worldview”—one that she basically assumes rather than argues for.
“When I say that only whites can be racist, I mean that in the United States, only whites have the collective social and institutional power and privilege over people of color. People of color do not have this power and privilege over white people.” (22)
The idea that only whites can be racist goes back to the 1970s, when the (white) sociologist Patricia Bidol-Padva defined racism as “prejudice plus power.” This has also been the definition adopted by many leading evangelical antiracists today, such as Jemar Tisby (The Color of Compromise, p. 16). However, the popular antiracist author Ibram X. Kendi rejects this definition of racism, considering it to be a “powerless defense” that denies the capacity of blacks to exercise power for themselves (How to Be an Antiracist, p. 140). I have to agree with Kendi on this. To deny that people of color can be racist is to deprive them of agency and to excuse (at least on a practical level) anti-white attitudes and actions. This is not the path toward genuine racial progress. Further, accepting the revisionist definition of racism as “prejudice plus power” would lead to some pretty absurd conclusions. For example, does the fact that white South Africans no longer hold a monopoly on institutional power mean that the Boer ethno-separatist movement can’t be called racist?
“White privilege [is] a sociological concept referring to advantages that are taken for granted by whites and that cannot be similarly enjoyed by people of color in the same context (government, community, workplace, schools, etc.). But let me be clear: stating that racism privileges whites does not mean that individual white people do not struggle or face barriers. It does mean that we do not face the particular barriers of racism.” (24)
It should be admitted that white privilege is real. Empirical studies have shown that, in certain areas of life, whites do have an advantage over people of color. However, in terms of measurable life outcomes, this form of privilege is relatively slight, and it receives an absurdly disproportionate amount of media attention compared to other forms of privilege. For instance, “two-parent privilege” is a much more significant factor in predicting desired outcomes in life. A black child raised by married biological parents has about a 1 in 14 chance of growing up in poverty, whereas a white child raised by a single parent has about a 1 in 4 chance of growing up in poverty. Where’s the privilege here? Political scientist Wilfred Reilly estimates that, after controlling for other factors such as family structure, class, education, and crime rates, the effect of white privilege probably only amounts to a 2-3% difference in life outcomes (Reilly, Taboo, p. xix). This number will vary depending on the particular outcome being measured, but the basic point is sound. It should also be noted that there are some cases where nonwhites have an advantage over whites, such as in student admission or faculty hiring at pro-affirmative action universities. In such cases, a black applicant may have a 300-400% advantage over an equally qualified white applicant (Sander and Taylor, Mismatch).