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Summary

Groundbreaking book exploring the counterproductive reactions white people have when discussing racism that serve to protect their positions and maintain racial inequality

Antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo first coined the term "white fragility" in 2011, and since then it's been invoked by critics from Samantha Bee to Charles Blow. "White fragility" refers to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially. These include emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors including argumentation and silence. In this book, DiAngelo unpacks white fragility, explaining the underlying sociological phenomena. She'll draw on examples from her work and scholarship, as well as from the culture at large, to address these fundamental questions: How does white fragility develop? What does it look like? How is it triggered? What can we do to move beyond white fragility and engage more constructively?

©2018 Robin DiAngelo (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic reviews

“[T]houghtful, instructive, and comprehensive... This slim book is impressive in its scope and complexity; DiAngelo provides a powerful lens for examining, and practical tools for grappling with, racism today.” (Publishers Weekly)

“As a woman of color, I find hope in this book because of its potential to disrupt the patterns and relationships that have emerged out of long-standing colonial principles and beliefs. White Fragility is an essential tool toward authentic dialogue and action. May it be so!” (Shakti Butler, president of World Trust and director of Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible)

“A rare and incisive examination of the system of white body supremacy that binds us all as Americans... With authenticity and clarity, she provides the antidote to white fragility and a road map for developing white racial stamina and humility. White Fragility loosens the bonds of white supremacy and binds us back together as human beings.” (Resmaa Menakem, author of My Grandmother’s Hands and Rock the Boat)

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  • philliesrule54
  • 18-07-18

Great read

Every White person should read this book & I am a better person for wrestling with it's topics. I plan on integrating this into my supervision & teaching.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Rebecca S. Swearingen
  • 29-07-18

Mandatory reading for every white person!

I highly recommend this book to everyone! DiAngelo breaks down the topic like never before!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • G. Newton
  • 30-07-18

Insightful Read

Great book. I plan on listening to/reading it again. This is the most in-depth book I’ve read on white fragility thus far.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • jkracker
  • 28-07-18

Very challenging and important

White Fragility is an important analysis of the racial divide in America today. I’m so glad I read it and hope to be able to take to heart it’s lessons. This was so helpful to break down the impasse that develops when reconciliation attempts are made.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 06-08-18

Good book but...

Overall, this was a good book but I have read all of the books Robin DiAngelo references in her book and she simply placed a white wrapper around the thoughts of these other authors, most of whom are authors of color. As a person of color in an extremely white workplace who is forced to navigate racism and white fragility on a daily basis, I see the value in presenting the work of a white person to my organization as a stepping stone to start the conversation. As a person of color, I am also deeply bothered by having to do so. In doing this, it actually feeds into the pitfalls and concerns DiAngelo discusses. I think this book is an excellent starting person for white people interested in delving into the topic. I would suggest people of color start with some of the reference books especially Bonilla-Silva’s Racism Without Racists and Ibram Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Henry F. Sherrod III
  • 18-07-18

important

Every white liberal / progressive should read this book. There is so much we think we understand but don't really.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Adam Shields
  • 27-06-18

Best book for explaining racism to white people

Over the past several years have been reading a lot about racism, history around race and related materials over the past several years. It has not been one thing, it has been a huge number of things together that have really forced me to pay attention to both my own racist blindspots and the broader issues of culture, racism, and history. But there are really two distinct parts of the racial world that I keep running up against. One is the easier to understand, hurt and history of racial minorities in the US. I have read histories about slavery and reconstruction, Jim Crow, Civil Rights Era, and contemporary racial problems. There is frankly, no end to learning about a previously unknown problem in historical or contemporary treatment of racial minorities.

The second part I think is more subtle, but also quite important, the understanding of what it is that a White person should be doing in light of the significant history of injustice that continues to be perpetrated today. I have read two books in this area that I think are both helpful, White Awake and Raising White Kids. Both I very much think are worth reading, but both are slightly different than White Fragility. Robin DiAngelo has a PhD in multicultural education and specialized in Whiteness Studies. Her best known book previous to this one (which I have not read) is What Does It Mean to Be White: Developing a White Racial Identity. While she has been a full time professor and still is a part time lecturer, her main job is as a consultant to business, non-profit and governmental groups in areas of race and communications. 

I cracked open a paperback review copy (which hate reading, so I tend to never pick up) because I was interested and screen shot page five to a private facebook groups I participate in. The main quote from that page that struck me was:

"This book is intended for us, for white progressives who so often—despite our conscious intentions—make life so difficult for people of color. I believe that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color. I define a white progressive as any white person who thinks he or she is not racist, or is less racist, or in the “choir,” or already “gets it.” White progressives can be the most difficult for people of color because, to the degree that we think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us as having arrived. None of our energy will go into what we need to be doing for the rest of our lives: engaging in ongoing self-awareness, continuing education, relationship building, and actual antiracist practice. White progressives do indeed uphold and perpetrate racism, but our defensiveness and certitude make it virtually impossible to explain to us how we do so."

Part of what made White Fragility so helpful was that it was both academic when necessary (I cannot think of a point when a term was introduced that I was not aware of exactly what the term that was being introduced meant in this context) and it was personal and refreshingly honest. DiAngelo’s chapter at the end, walked through a racially insensitive comment that she made in a work related meeting and how she processed it when she became aware of offense. And how she not only attempted to reconcile with the offended person after fully processing what it was that she had done wrong, but also asked after a full apology what she (DiAngelo) had not yet understood. It was such a good example of the type of every day event that a book like this needs to address. 

White Fragility also does not pull punches. It has a whole chapter devoted to White Women’s Tears that talks about how Whites, (women in one way and men in others) tend to refocus attention not on the victim of racial harm, but on the perpetrator who may not have intended the harm, but was still the cause of the harm. 

This is not a long book, just over 150 pages of main content. But it is full of wisdom. One thing that DiAngelo says more than a couple times, is that when she is hired by companies to teach about how racism works to largely White audiences, she is always amazed how often (as she says on page 117) “You ask me here to help you see your racism, but by god, I’d better not actually help you see your racism.” The main theme of the book is that White people work quite hard to insulate themselves from understanding racism. 

The best response to why you should read the book is her quote toward the end of the book: 

"When white people ask me what to do about racism and white fragility, the first thing I ask is, “What has enabled you to be a full, educated, professional adult and not know what to do about racism?” It is a sincere question. How have we managed not to know, when the information is all around us? When people of color have been telling us for years? If we take that question seriously and map out all the ways we have come to not know what to do, we will have our guide before us. For example, if my answer is that I was not educated about racism, I know that I will have to get educated. If my answer is that I don’t know people of color, I will need to build relationships. If it is because there are no people of color in my environment, I will need to get out of my comfort zone and change my environment; addressing racism is not without effort."

At some level, this is a book largely focused on helping White people that are already willing to pick up a book about racism understand their own racism. But there are several examples through the book where DiAngelo notes that people hired her or individuals paid to come to a meeting to understand racism, but were unwilling to listen. Just because we as White people identify that racism is a problem does not mean that we as White people are willing to do the work to gain enough understanding about how racism works to do something about it. 

I left my paperback at home and finished the last half of the book as an audiobook. The narrator grew on me. Her voice felt too mechanical at times. But at other times, I thought that was exactly the right choice for the content. I didn't love the narrator, but she was clear and even if a bit mechanical at times, that isn't necessarily the worst choice for content like this.

16 of 30 people found this review helpful

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  • Oscar
  • 20-08-18

Positive Solutions in the Divide

Dr. DiAngelo gives readers terminology to deconstruct White Fragility, and she gives readers real world experiences to show how it keeps itself intact. I was impressed with the solutions she posed and how it can lend toward deeper dialogue in modalities of allyship. As a Native American male I learned a great deal about my implicit reinforcement of White Fragility and what I can do to disrupt it. While this book is written for a White audience, I would recommend minorities to read and pass along to their White allies.

P.S. I’m going to covertly place copies of this book around the offices where I work ;)...

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  • Libby
  • 19-08-18

Every white person should read this book.

please do yourself a favor and read this book. it's really really good. it will change how you see yourself and will help you if you've ever felt helpless in a racially charged conversation. this book will tell you what not to drop, help you reexamine your reactions, and then help you change so you can be the ally you think you are or want to be but probably aren't.

read it.

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  • S tarr B
  • 19-08-18

Impressive.

I've never heard the comprehensive truth on this topic delivered so unapologetically and without pause--unless by a fellow black person--until now. I'm encouraged.

My 40+ friends, seasoned school administrators, and coworkers whom I see as allies are unwilling to even DISCUSS what my 11-year-old must LIVE--regardless of whether he is able to handle it emotionally or psychologically. Thank you for demystifying this.