Online Reviews of ‘White Fragility’ Make Case for Book’s Title?

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A book titled White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Race has drawn a few negative reviews online, seemingly underscoring author Robin DiAngelo’s point about it being difficult for White people to talk about racism.

Here’s are some of the critical reviews published on Amazon for White Fragility:

  • “This book promotes blatant racism. It puts [W]hite people in one category and promotes labeling all [W]hite people with these issues.”
  • “This book promotes racial division.”
  • “Instead of identifying and building on common values and cooperative behaviors in the workplace, she uses this collective guilt to try to get [W]hites to self-label as racist, tearing themselves down so she, the Enlightened One, can build them back up. Ironically, Ms. DiAngelo is acting the part of White Savior-to other [W]hite people. This kind of ‘diversity training’ is counter-productive.”

To be fair, White Fragility only had four critical reviews (compared to 13 positive ones) on Amazon (last checked 07/04/2018). However, all four critical reviews portrayed a defensiveness of “not all Whites” without acknowledging DiAngelo’s critique of the foundations of race, namely “whiteness” and the values assigned to it.

Over at Barnes and Noble’s website a lone anonymous reviewer, who initially seemed to use the “I know some minorities” defense, justified his/her one-star rating by insisting: “Race will no longer be an issue when those of you stop making it an issue.”

Oddly, but perhaps not surprisingly, there were a slew of one-star ratings for DiAngelo’s book at the popular goodreads website. However, none of the one-star ratings were accompanied by actual feedback—which suggests white fragility might have been at play.

White Fragility was published June 26 and is based on DiAngelo’s experience and research as an academic in the fields of critical discourse analysis and whiteness studies. Sociology professor and author Michael Eric Dyson wrote the forward.

DiAngelo, who formerly served as a tenured professor of multicultural education at Westfield State University, explains in her book that White progressives are usually the most difficult to get through to on the social construct of race and its manifestations and ramifications on Whites and people of color. She defines White progressives as White people who think they aren’t racist, or believe they are less racist or know all there is to know about racism. The author states bluntly that this group is her primary audience with White Fragility.

DiAngelo coined the term “White Fragility” in a 2011 paper (pdf) with that title in the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy. In the paper, she writes:

“White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.”

The positive responses to White Fragility far outnumbered the negative ones, which appeared to have mostly been offered by people who did not actually read the book but perhaps wanted to register their protest of its message—and inadvertently made themselves examples of the title.

Among positive reviews on Amazon, visitors found this one written by James Gayl Yamakawa to be most helpful:

“I pre-ordered this book after reading her previous work What Does It Mean To Be White? This contains much of the same information but better presented, in more detail, and includes insights and numerous examples of the ways that White Folks deflect and shut down when confronted [a]bout [r]acism. Most important in my mind is the reminder that [W]hite folks’ ‘guilt’ is not what is necessary, but rather an acknowledgement of ‘responsibility’ and that none of us (even those of us who think we know better) are free from that.”

As noted by Yamakawa, White Fragility is related to DiAngelo’s earlier book, What Does It Mean to Be White?, however, some of the themes she touches on are also reflected in her 2017 essay, ”No, I Won’t Stop Saying ‘White Supremacy.”


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Written by Nicola A. Menzie

Nicola A. Menzie is Managing Editor of Faithfully Magazine. Nicola is a religion reporter in NYC whose bylines have appeared on the websites of the Religion News Service, The Christian Post, CBS News and Vibe magazine. You can find her on Twitter @namenzie. Email: nicola.menzie (at) faithfullymagazine.com.

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