The racist, determinist, and anti-individualist mythology behind Robin DiAngelo’s “most common myths white people believe about race”
Robin DiAngelo has suddenly gotten very well-known and much wealthier because of her tapping by cultural and educational elites as one of the “experts” on white racism and concomitant non-white suffering. The university at which I am employed lists her “groundbreaking” book White Fragility on its page of antiracism resources. All of us, we are told, would do well to consult her writings or, better still, to hire her to come preach to us face-to-face on our college campus. Her knowledge does not come cheap. An hour-long keynote address will run you in the vicinity of $30,000, a half-day antiracist retreat upward of $40,000.
I have not had the opportunity to attend one of these enlightening events, but I did indeed find it instructional to go through a brief video DiAngelo did for NBC News in which she succinctly “debunk[s] the most common myths white people believe about race.” What I discovered is that the real mythology has more to do with the questionable and often straightforwardly untrue things DiAngelo believes than about what she imagines “white people” do.
She begins with a dogmatic statement, axiomatically true for her: “To be white is to be raised to be functionally illiterate on race…to see oneself as outside of race, exempt from the forces of socialization.”
What could it mean to be “illiterate on race”? That whites cannot ably use race as an imperfect but perfectly functional way of categorizing people according to phenotypical characteristics and familial descent? I have never met a person of any race illiterate in this way. Do whites think they are “outside of race”? If white people exist who believe that only other people can be fit into a racial identity box and that whites magically levitate somewhere outside the categories, I have yet to run into any of them. Do whites believe they are “exempt from the forces of socialization”? Again, in my more than a half-century on the planet, I am still waiting to discover my first white person who doubts that he has been shaped significantly by his family, his community, and his experiences, just like any non-white person.
With each of these claims, it turns out, DiAngelo is not offering any useful commentary on whether or not whites have accurate beliefs about how racial categorization and identity work in societies like ours. She is simply lamenting what she considers the unfortunate fact that there exist at least some white people who do not share her ideas on race and how it works.
Her racial “literacy” consists, at bottom, in the belief that racial hierarchies can be overcome and individuals freed from the imposition of racial categories only by…accepting a racial hierarchy and our inevitable, determined place in it. Her distress at the fact that not all whites accept this view leads her to invent a fictional “white person” who does not exist, a person ignorant of basic realities of the world, so that she may beat up this effigy with her morally self-righteous posturing.
It would be easier to understand DiAngelo if she simply said what she means: “it’s utterly maddening that there are still people who don’t share my views on this topic.”
Now, what of her “myths”?
The first one is “I don’t see color.” For DiAngelo, this translates to “I refuse to acknowledge your reality.” “Acknowledging the reality” of Woke people with extravagant and frequently fictional grievance claims unrelated to their actual lives is an important element of the everyday goings-on in Woke circles. As a member of the Woke cult, you are required to accept the claims of victimization made to you by non-white persons—ultimately, that all or nearly all the negative things that have happened to them during their lives are the fault of white racism—or you are a racist.
This conveniently puts the claim about the grievances outside of the realm of argument and evidence. None is necessary. The claim must be accepted. QED.
But what if the “reality” of the aggrieved victim is mostly or entirely fictional, unconnected to any empirically demonstrable causes that have kept that person down? What if the “reality” of those who are not where they want to be is, at least in some cases, largely about their failure to have put in the work to get where they think they ought to be? I am told to accept your “reality,” but you have no burden to prove that your “reality” is based in something beyond your Woke ideology. This is irrational.
It turns out that “I don’t see color” is in fact the best practical mechanism for engaging with people one does not know. Assume they are a person without any group characteristics worthy of note, at least preliminary of evidence to the contrary, and treat them as you would anyone else. Social life would be much easier if more people did this.
What DiAngelo wants, however, is a world dominated by racial presumptions. If a white person meets a black person she doesn’t know, she should assume that this black person is a victim suffering under the burdens of monstrous oppression. Moreover, she must accept that she—the white person—is a significant part of the cause of the black person’s suffering, even though the two of them have never previously met. The black person in turn should assume that the white person is a recipient of unearned privilege and that any status she has attained is due not to her talents but to that unearned privilege.
In other words, we’re to begin our relationships with strangers by placing them in prefabricated and hyper-simplistic moral categories. What a recipe for unproductive and conflict-laden interaction. And how is this different from the way racists see the world, other than the flipping of the prefabricated moral categories?
Myth #2 is “I have black friends,” and therefore, I cannot be racist. DiAngelo thinks she disproves this by noting that racists are perfectly capable of being “in proximity” to blacks. Her response inadvertently reveals something that the people she calls her friends will be interested to know. Being someone’s friend is not at all the same thing as just being in the proximity of someone. You are in the proximity of people who you do not know and who therefore, by definition, cannot be your friends every day that you go outside your home to public places.
Having a black friend is not at all comparable to merely being in the same building as black people. One hopes that DiAngelo knows this. If she doesn’t, she is admitting that her friends are merely people around whom she spends some time and that she fails to distinguish them from strangers on the metro, people at the next table at the restaurant, or the guy that she sees in the office cafeteria a few times a week.
DiAngelo bluntly claims that “you cannot talk about any issue without talking about how race informs that issue.” Really? How about math? Or the structure of the atom? Or the beauty of the natural world? Or the joy of watching children play? Or the fear we all have of death? Or our desire to know why we are here and where we are ultimately headed? How does race usefully inform and transform these topics?
Myth #3 is “It’s not about race, but class.” In DiAngelo’s crisp denunciation of this claim, she asserts that “talking about class is a way to get race off the table.” Why? Does she imagine it is non-relevant to the life experiences of two people—and the relevant amounts of suffering they are likely to endure based on those experiences—if one is born the child of Barack and Michelle Obama and the other is born to a white single mother on welfare in Appalachia? An accurate translation of DiAngelo’s statement would be something like “taking class off the table is a way to keep my simplistic, reality-distorting racial binary neatly intact.”
Myth #4 is ”Focusing on race is what divides us.” We’re already divided by race, DiAngelo claims, and it’s refusing to grapple with “how race shapes virtually everything” that keeps us apart. Did you catch that? The secret to undoing racial division is to accept the view that everything we can imagine is a product of racism and the racial system, that all people are inexorably members of racial groups in a perfectly determined hierarchy and nothing we might try to do to escape that destiny can possibly succeed. Our only hope of freedom is to accept the eternal, inescapable trap in which we find ourselves. Up is Down, Good is Bad, and Freedom is Total Determinism by The Structure.
DiAngelo concludes the video with a reiteration of her confused view on freedom and individualism. No white person can say “I’m not racist,” according to her system. We cannot even hedge with “If I’m racist. . .” The correct way for whites to engage the topic is by asking the following questions: “How have I been shaped by the forces of racism? How is it manifesting in my life?” DiAngelo declares that “none of us can be exempt from [racism’s] forces” because it “circulates 24/7/365.” Amid this total determinism, astonishingly, DiAngelo states: “This is where individualism can come in [!]. I have a particular story, but that story didn’t exempt me. How did all the things I see as unique about me set me up into the overall racist structure? Because it did.” “Individualism,” under DiAngelo’s view, means recognizing that my individual identity is a fully determined consequence of my necessary position in a racist structure.
Of course, that’s not individualism. Quite the opposite. It’s determinism by racial identity. And where have we heard that idea before? In the simplistic racism that DiAngelo somehow thinks she is opposing but is in fact carefully shadowing.
If you are disturbed by the fact that this person with this risibly wrong worldview is spreading her fallacies to untold numbers of young people on campuses around the country, here’s something more optimistic to consider.
YouTube recently changed its policy on tallying dislikes so that only the creator of videos can see the total. Thus, you cannot see how many dislikes this video has gotten, though a glance at the comments section indicates the imbalance is in the direction of dislikes.
Why did YouTube make this change? Here they explain. They claim “groups of people” were just clicking the dislike button to express their dislike for “the creator and what they stand for.” But what if some of those people just think the ideas aren’t any good? And why would positive votes not be hidden for the same reason? How many of those who clicked “like” on this video didn’t even watch it and just liked the general idea of bashing white people? Many, undoubtedly. The comments on this video prove that there is still hope in America, because clearly many people are not having any of Robin DiAngelo’s nonsense.
And nonsense it is. This is not only a misguided ideological position. It is fantastically, laughably incompatible with reality. The fact that elite educational and media circles are trying to foist this breathtaking, malevolent stupidity on the rest of us reflects how poorly they think of us.