Following is a book review of White Fragility, Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo. I purchased the book captivated by the title and the Ms. DiAngelo’s impressive credentials.
We live in world where a callous or inappropriate comment can derail an opportunity or end a career. More importantly, many of us want to make sure we uphold our self professed values. How can we start to understand our place in a system that helps some thrive and oppresses others? In my opinion, it starts by understanding how the system works and our place in it.
Race can be a difficult topic to discuss with friends and family, not to mention others outside this “safe” zone. It is important to understand what prejudice, racism and white privilege is. This basic knowledge will help us start to understand our contribution to the established societal system that maintains racism in place.
What is prejudice? Prejudice is pre-judgement about another person based on the social groups to which that person belongs. In turn, prejudice can include thoughts and feelings, including stereotypes, attitudes, and generalizations that are based on little to no experience; and then are projected onto everyone from that group (R. DiAngelo, p. 19).
Ms. DiAngelo goes on to say that we all have prejudice, as this helps us to understand our place in the social group. Since we have been taught through socialization that it is important to not be prejudiced, when we do feel it, the result is shame and we go on to deny our prejudice. Even worse, when someone is accused of being prejudiced, the conversation shifts from exploring the message to defending their character.
Discrimination is action based on prejudice. For example, someone feels uncomfortable around a group of people and avoids interacting with them based on those feelings. The prejudice causes the person to act differently, the result is discrimination.
When a racial group’s collective prejudice is backed by power of legal authority and institutional control, it is transformed into racism. Racism is a structure of oppression, it is not an event but instead a system. Racism is a deeply embedded historical system of institutional power (R. DiAngelo, p. 24).
White privilege is a system of advantages based on race. The system of structural power privileges, centralizes, and elevates white people as a group (R. DiAngelo, p. 30). A member of the group receives benefits as a result of belonging to the group.
I encourage anyone who is interested in understanding race relations to read White Fragility Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism. Reading the book pushed me to understand my values and how these have shaped by my upbringing. White Fragility is not an easy read, it will push the reader to analyze long held beliefs that will cause personal discomfort.
I am not a social scientist or expert on the topic of race relations. This blog post does not begin to scratch the surface of prejudice, racism and white privilege. As a Mexican woman living in the United States, I have experienced my share of prejudice, and generalized insensitive comments about Mexican people. If I pointed out my ethnic background, people will quickly say “Of course this does not apply to you!” Reading the book helped me understand what is goin on, on how to approach a similar situation in the future. It is my hope that we can start to have conversations that will have long lasting, positive changes for all in our society.
Thank you for reading! I welcome your feedback and comments.