Talking about Racism

Review of "White Fragility" by Robin DiAngelo

In White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo, a white anti-racism educator, describes the defensive moves that white people make when their ideas about race and racism are challenged. She terms these defensive moves “white fragility” – reactions characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt and by behaviours such as argumentation and silence. 

She argues that our largely segregated society makes these reactions possible, as it’s set up to insulate white people from racial discomfort. We do not have the racial stamina to engage in difficult conversations about race and therefore react with fragility.  She also argues that this happens because we see racism as a good/bad binary. In the binary, racism is bad. To be called racist is to have one’s character questioned which leads people to make the defensive move to prove that they are, in fact, a good person. This binary, argues DiAngelo, makes it impossible for us to reflect on our behaviour and how it may prop up racist structures. 

In distinction, DiAngelo argues that racism is a continuum. Racism, she explains “is so deeply woven into the fabric of our society that I do not see myself escaping from that continuum in my lifetime. But I continually seek to move further along it. I am not in a fixed position on the continuum; my position is dictated by what I am actually doing at a given time. Conceptualizing myself on an active continuum changes the question from whether I am or am not a racist to a much more constructive question: Am I actively seeking to interrupt racism in this context?”

White Fragility is an excellent book for those who are relatively new to the journey of anti-racism, as it takes the time to address the symptoms of racism. In the last chapter, titled “Where do we go From Here?” DiAngelo offers some advice. When receiving feedback on our inevitable but unaware racist patterns, she invites readers to engage in reflection, apology, listening, processing, seeking more understanding, grappling, engaging, and believing. She also helpfully provides readers with more complicated framework for understanding racism, such as “racism is a multilayered system embedded in our culture” and “all of us are socialized into the system of racism.” With these new assumptions, white people can work to minimize their defensiveness, stretch their worldview, and interrupt internalized superiority. 

Of course, while we must strive to change our hearts and minds, the work of anti-racism can’t stay internal and individual. It must be followed by political action and meaningful policy changes that disrupt the system of white supremacy.


  • Jessica works as a com- munications assistant and has a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and Media Communi- cations. She spends her free time photographing God’s creation and reading in her hammock.

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