'White Fragility'

Matt Taibbi on 'white fragility'

“DiAngelo isn’t the first person to make a buck pushing tricked-up pseudo-intellectual horseshit as corporate wisdom, but she might be the first to do it selling Hitlerian race theory. White Fragility has a simple message: there is no such thing as a universal human experience, and we are defined not by our individual personalities or moral choices, but only by our racial category.

For corporate America the calculation is simple. What’s easier, giving up business models based on war, slave labor, and regulatory arbitrage, or benching Aunt Jemima? There’s a deal to be made here, greased by the fact that the “antiracism” prophets promoted in books like White Fragility share corporate Americas instinctive hostility to privacy, individual rights, freedom of speech, etc.” (Matt Taibbi)

Robin DiAngelo, author of “White Fragility”, says she grew up poor and white (with a capital “w” which I’m leaving out because I’m not going along with the current revival of 19th century race theory implied by the nailing of immutable categories to “B” and “W”). Hard to believe her. If she had she would know that growing up poor and white in a western country means standing pale-faced at the local metro station begging for a few cents to get your next fix. You want the fix because when you wake up in the morning you can’t stand the unbearable pain of your own existence, but you can’t quite bring yourself to jump in front of a train. That’s one example of white and, for the most part, male privilege among the lower orders. No doubt at all that a young guy in that situation is fully aware of the privilege that has accrued to him for being white and male. The psychopathic corporate system we live under is colour blind, it doesn't care who it kills as long as it doesn't affect its image. Embedded as she is in that system, Ms DiAngelo’s class privilege permits her to blank out compassion that doesn’t fit into her race studies department intellectual categories. The system's claim to colour blindness doesn't extend to refraining from hiring Ms DiAngelo for race awareness training for its executives, thus scoring a triple whammy by helping to reify the concept of race, a welcome step back to the nineteenth century, polishing its image as a non racist system, and distracting from the serious racist business of plundering the land and destroying the lives of indigenous people in parts of the world that don't count.

DiAngelo provides a pretty exhaustive list of possible reactions to her description of white privilege, all of which she takes as evidence of a desire on the part of white people to defend their privilege. If you make an argument that precludes all possibility of contradiction then you haven’t made an argument at all, you’ve made a declaration of faith. “I believe in God”. “I don’t and I think you’re mistaken.” “Well that’s evidence of your lack of faith, maybe you’ll see the light someday.”

I’m not arguing against white privilege, which as a sub category and enabler of class privilege clearly exists and has a pernicious effect on the world we live in, or even fragility, but against the absoluteness of DiAngelo’s position and her evident desire to stifle debate.

One of the items on her list is actually “class”: according to DiAngelo some people want to avoid the issue by saying it’s all about class, thus defending white privilege by refusing to engage with it. No doubt sometimes true, but the intellectual leap from “sometimes true” to “anyone saying the real issue is class is dodging the issue”, is unsustainable and simply wrong.

The trouble with class is that class got there first. Race is an invention devised to protect class privilege. Those who hold power can be extremely inventive when it comes to keeping it. For centuries colonists have nurtured class elites and hierarchies among the lower orders in conquered lands to keep populaces divided. German colonists in 19th century Rwanda corrupted the (at that time) fluid and harmonious coexistence of Hutus and Tutsis, inculcating the idea of race; later to be expanded by Belgian eugenicists who began measuring people’s skulls and issuing racial identity cards. Some of the colonized were considered to be more intelligent, therefore better suited for the administrative class. The aim of course was to use race as a means to keep the ruling colonists in control of the new class system.

One of Diangelo’s points is that racist attitudes are institutionlaized in western societies. That’s so obvious as to be almost a platitude. Might still be worth discussing with a few Daily Telegraph readers, or with Donald Trump. But the big question we all wanted to ask but never dared to:…what about institutionalized racism in ME?

That’s important (though it’s arrogant to assume that millions of people haven’t been answering that question for decades). But changing that will never change the world. What it will do is make us more polite. Godda be a good thing. The English aristocracy are and were polite, so it’s said at least, while they were plundering the world and committing serial genocide.

There’s a more serious side to anti-racism that seems to escape many anti-racists. Just leaving the +most+ serious one, world poverty, driven by racism, aside…think western wars. I rarely see them mentioned in academic articles dealing with race and racism. Does Robin DiAngelo know how many civilians died as a result of the western invasion of Iraq? Is she aware that these wars are driven by racist disregard for lives that don’t count? Is she aware that some people who share her views, like Hillary Clinton, an underprivileged woman, glory in these wars? Would she be prepared to call Barack Obama who bombed 7 Muslim countries and terrorized thousands of dark-skinned people with hovering drones a murdering scumbag?

Well, probably not. It wouldn’t be polite to call a black person a murdering scumbag even if he is one. Not even Condoleeza Rice or Colin Powell…must be some mistake there. After all they’re educated, they went to university, they belong to our class and they’ll make us feel good if we’re polite to them. Why look at causes if you can sound impressive playing around with symptoms?

Race, the white race, was invented by supremacists, imperialists, whose skin colour was white as it happened, to divide their underlings by declaring some of them more valuable, more privileged. Many imperialists believe their own propaganda; it’s been around for a long time. Churchill did. He hated Indians and used his conviction of their inferiority to justify their murder. But he was motivated by power, his belief in the British Empire and in the British ruling class, and in his own personal brand of megalomanic narcissism.

It’s not a coincidence that the upper echelons of the Democratic party in the US and the Labour party in the UK are playing the “white privilege”, “white fragility” card…anti-black racists who love black people. President Bill Clinton loved black people. He listened to the right music, played the saxophone, back-slapped his way to the title of 'America's first black president', while approving the 100-1 sentencing disparity between the use of cocaine by the affluent and crack cocaine used by the poor, mostly black. To improve his image as a strong man he bombed one of Sudan's two pharmaceuticals factories, a dirt poor country. If you can get citizens pre-occupied with the politeness of their manners at home, get them back-slapping, guilt-trip them, double-bind them, get them even more obsessed with themselves, there’s a good chance they won’t notice while in far away places you carry on with the Great Game, on the Grand Chessboard; power, manipulation and business as usual, Churchill’s game – just incidentally murdering millions of people of colour whose lives neither matter nor even exist.

Di Angelo's "white fragility" narrative by reifying race as a concept regresses to 19th century race theory and is for that reason itself racist. By personalizing and side-tracking racism it minimalizes and even trivializes the concept and is thereby an effective enabler of the worst kinds of racism to which bourgeois self-obsession is virtually blind, racist wars conducted by western societies in our name for corporate profit.