The so-called progressive left continue to attack their allies in the center. For example, last week, Slate published an interview in which feminist Robin DiAngelo explained Why White Liberals Are So Unwilling to Recognize Their Own Racism. These kinds of articles will drive more voters over to the Republicans.
There have been a lot of disturbing poll results over the past several years, but none more than this one: According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, 57 percent of white Americans believe that discrimination against white people is “as big a problem” in America as discrimination against minorities.
And the one reason is articles like this one.
Several months after the survey was conducted, of course, Donald Trump went on to win the presidency by getting well over half of the white vote.
Which is exactly what I would have expected based on the poll. The remainder of the article is an interview with Robin DiAngelo, a lecturer affiliated with the University of Washington and self avowed “angry feminist”. I’m only going to comment on her responses.
I applied for a job as a diversity trainer, and I was in for the most profound learning curve of my life. Part of being white is that I could be that far in life, be a full professional, educated adult, and never have had my racial role be challenged in general, or by people of color in particular.
Good. That is as it should be.
The other part was going into the workplace and trying to talk to overwhelmingly white employees about racism. The hostility was incredible. After just years of that, I got better and better at not only understanding how white people pull this off—how we claim racial innocence in a society that is so separate and unequal by race—but also at articulating [that privilege] in a way that white people could hear.
When you tell an individual that they are racist merely based on the color of their skin, you are yourself being racist. Why then are you surprised when they are hostile?
We’re taught to think of racism as individual acts of intentional meanness across race. That it’s always an individual, it has to be conscious, and it must be intentional. That definition exempts virtually all white people from the system that we’re all in and that we’ve all been shaped by. It is the bedrock of our country. That changes the question from “If I’m racist,” [to] which most white people would answer “No,” to “How is this manifesting in my life?” Because it is. It’s on me to figure out how.
People who aren’t acting out racism are not racist. If they are unconsciously racist, that doesn’t get them off the hook. You can murder someone in a blind rage, but that doesn’t get you off, though it may get you a lesser charge. You cannot police peoples thoughts.
I think the inability to answer with any depth whatsoever the question of what it means to be white is actually not benign. People of color know that most white people cannot answer that question. [If] I can’t tell you what it means to be white, I am not going to be able to hold what it means not to be white, what your experience is. I’m going to end up invalidating, minimizing, dismissing, and not believing. That’s what white progressives do every day.
Not identifying with one’s race is healthy. I don’t know anything about the experience of most others of my race. Why should I identify with them, rather than with the men and women I know well, who come from European, native, oriental, Persian, and Sikh backgrounds?
[Being white] means many things, but it means not ever having to bear witness to the pain of racism on people of color. It means not being held accountable for the pain that you cause people of color. It means not knowing the history of this country and being able to trace that history into the present. It’s being relentlessly reinforced in superiority and then not ever being able to admit that.
Bullshit. As a child, a close friend of mine who was from India was bullied, and I got to witness (and experience) it first hand. I also experienced bullying, including being beaten up by one kid while being held by two others. Being different earns you the pleasure of being abused when you are young. Part of becoming an adult is learning to be independent of your tribal identity. I agree this is harder for minorities, but we need to help people become independent, not label them by their race.
I don’t think white people are racially innocent, as we often like to position ourselves to be. There’s a kind of refusal to see or to know or to believe or to hear that allows us then not to have to act.
There is no such thing as racial guilt. We are responsible for our own actions, not the actions of others. We are not responsible to act on behalf of others. Trying to force people to act on behalf of others–for example, by shaming them–is likely to make them less inclined to do so.
OK. All of us have been shaped by the cultural water that we swim in. All white people have internalized a racist worldview. Let me own that. As a result of being raised as a white person in this society, I have a racist worldview. I have deep racist biases. I have developed racist patterns, and I have investments in not only the system of racism that has served me so well. It’s so comfortable. But I also have an investment in not seeing any of that because of what I believe it suggests about my identity as a good person. The way that I think about it is, “How do I be a little less white, a little less racist quite frankly, less defensive, less arrogant, less certain, less complacent, less passive?”
Being a good person has absolutely nothing to do with your identity, and everything to do with your actions. Defensiveness, arrogance, complacency, and passivity are all weaknesses, but they are not racism.
When they ask me, “What do I do?” I have to ask a couple questions back. The first thing is “How have you managed not to know? It’s 2018. As a white person in 2018, why is that your question? How have you managed not to know what to do about racism when good information is everywhere and people of color have been trying to tell us forever?” That’s meant to be a challenge. The first thing you have to break with is the apathy of not taking initiative.
Again, you claim that we are responsible for more than our own actions. If a struggling factory worker is worried that he may lose his job and be unable to support his family, why would you expect him to look beyond his own problems? When you shame him for being a racist because he is not taking the initiative you desire, don’t be surprised when he votes for someone who–honestly or not–promises to bring back the good jobs that his father’s generation had.
When I say “white supremacy,” I’m connecting it to me, I’m not talking about someone in a robe, right? Get up to date. If you have better language that captures the systemic nature of racism, then I’m open to it, but right now we don’t have better language. You have to change the way you understand what those terms are, not demand that people don’t use terms that you don’t like and find ones that are so neutral and comfortable that we’re back to protecting the status quo.
How many people will be willing to call themselves white supremacists, when that term entails the horrors of Nazism, which was itself a racial identitarian movement.
I’m all for strategy. I do want to move the white collective forward. I want us to cause less pain, suffering, and damage. I’m all for whatever strategy would do that. There are many, many styles, and all of them are important. While I may be talking very bluntly to you or in an interview, if I was doing a presentation … I mean, I assume you read my book. I hope it doesn’t come across as scolding, but there is a kind of directness that I think is necessary. For many people, my directness is what completely changes them. For other people, my directness shuts them down. Great. Go over to somebody else somewhere. Don’t use that as a reason not to engage.
So you are happy that when you tell people that they are racist, some people will go over to somebody else somewhere, even if that somebody is Donald Trump?
I hope my directness was illustrated in the earlier claim I made that I have a racist worldview, patterns, and investments. That is a pretty bold claim in this society for a white person to make. I’m very clear and comfortable making it, but I point that finger towards myself if you notice that. That helps other white people. If they identify with what I’m saying and they see me owning it, they’re more able to own it in themselves. Right? I try to point the finger inward, not outward.
If you are pointing at yourself, why don’t you start there? The belief that your experience is automatically shared by people that have the same skin color as you is a delusion.
I also try to overwhelm them with evidence that makes it undeniable. I do use humor. There’s a little bit of mocking the narratives, the evidence that white people give for their lack of racism. If we can laugh at it a little bit, if I can go, “Oh, my God, I’ve said that. Now I do see how silly it is,” maybe there’s a little space there. The laughter helps loosen that up. Hopefully, they’ll think more deeply next time they’re compelled to say something like that.
OK, let’s hear it then. What is your compelling argument for “institutional racism”?
What you’re saying will redefine racism in the minds of a lot of people. Their definition of racism would be different. Their definition would be Richard Spencer, David Duke, or, dare I say, the president.
Richard Spencer and David Duke are good examples of extreme racism. Trump is doubtless out of touch with the average person, being that he is a billionaire. Does that make him racist, or is his elite position in society a bigger differentiater than his race?
I just call that “avowed racist.” I’m not an “avowed racist.” I’ve named my racism, but I am committed to challenging it. They are not committed to challenging it. I say they are committed to perpetrating it. I just say “avowed racist” versus me. Does that make sense?
This makes sense. You can be an unintentional racist. When you live in a culture where racism is the norm, you have to become conscious of your own thoughts, your own actions. Only then can you test their validity.
I want to be clear. I don’t see myself as redefining the term. I want to change the way the average white person understands what racism is, but I am using the sociological definition. You asked me, “What would you call the difference perhaps between Trump and me?” But I actually think, yeah, we both are racists. I see that as a continuum that I’m on and will be on for the rest of my life. In any given moment, I have to ask myself, “How am I doing on this continuum? What end am I behaving closer to? How do I know?” He and I may be on different spots on the continuum, but we’re both on it. I don’t tend to distinguish between the two of us, which probably shocks some readers, but if you’re asking me to somehow identify that difference, I would say “avowed” versus maybe “implied” or “implicit.”
I buy the idea of a continuum, but not that every point on it is racist. For example, if you have an in group sexual preference, does that make you racist? I would argue it does not. Are you more comfortable with someone you don’t know if they are of the same race? Again. I wouldn’t call that racism, as long as you consciously make an effort to give everyone a fair chance.
I will always have a racist worldview and biases. The way I look at it is I’m really clear that I do less harm than I used to. I perpetrate that racism less often. I’m not defensive at all when I realize—whether myself or it’s been brought to my attention—that I’ve just perpetrated a piece of it. I have really good repair skills. None of those are small things because they mean I do less harm. I have many more authentic, sustained cross-racial relationships than I ever had before. I can, with confidence, say there are people of color in my life who see me as a supportive and trustworthy person. I had none of that before.
I feel sorry for anyone who has to constantly think about race. Can you not imagine that someone could be raised in a way that they didn’t hold biases against other races? Must you project your own worldview onto others?
After 20 years of talking day in and day out to overwhelmingly white groups of people, I’m really clear that there is a profound anti-blackness in this culture. In the white mind, black people are the ultimate racial other. I used to shy away from “Oh, don’t make it a black-white dichotomy,” but I feel really clear. There are bookends. White is on one end, and black is on the other. Your relationship, where you are positioned between those two bookends is going to shape how you experience your life. Right? The closer you are to whiteness—the term often used is white-adjacent—you’re still going to experience racism, but there are going to be some benefits due to your perceived proximity to whiteness. The further away you are, the more intense the oppression’s going to be.
In Canada, the race that lies farthest from the majority is the native population. When Europeans arrived on the continent, they found a stone age culture that was undeniably primitive. Somehow, in my family, we manage to accept that I am the only one with no native heritage. It has never been an issue. The native culture has been largely destroyed by contact with the Europeans. Do we therefore blame each other for what happened in the past? My ancestors never set foot in the Americas until my parents emigrated here. Why then should I feel responsible for things done in the past?
Skin color’s really interesting because I was just going to move to that. Even within a group of what we call black, there is colorism. Anti-blackness goes across that entire spectrum. Within all groups of color, the closer you are to white, the more benefit and the closer you are to black, the least benefit, right? I think that white-adjacent groups have to ask themselves a really hard question, which is “Who have I aligned with? Have I aligned with whiteness, or have I taken up and aligned with black people in this struggle against racism?” Most of those white-adjacent groups have not challenged anti-blackness within their own communities.
This is such a simplistic view. Believing that minor differences in skin tone are somehow more significant than social status is deluded.
A friend of mine who’s African-American or black traveling somewhere else in the world is going to have what we might call that kind of … what Peggy McIntosh called the “invisible knapsack,” right? They’re going to have the status of that American citizenship and, likely, depending on the context they’re in, they may also be dealing with anti-blackness that’s been exported worldwide. In some ways, it’s kind of what are they leading with first? What’s the first thing somebody’s responding to? Those are questions I never have to ask myself.
They are probably likely to face larger prejudice in many places (for example, in the UK) because they are American. I agree that they will likely face more prejudice in Europe than I would. How am I responsible for that?
I think it’s like saliency. I mean, that’s the way I think about the multiple identities that I carry—that, in some context, one or the other of those identities is more or less salient. I’m a white woman. I’m a cisgender woman. I’m an angry feminist and I have been for a long time, but that does not mean that I don’t perpetrate racism towards women of color. And that I can experience sexism and patriarchy and misogyny, and I do and still perpetrate very similar dynamics onto somebody else. Right? That’s where saliency comes in.
Being aware of your subconscious biases is admirable. Obsessing over them and projecting them onto an entire race is not.
White men are approximately 34 percent of the population in the U.S. and control virtually all institutions. Women are the majority of not just the country but the world, and the poor are the majority of the world. It’s about institutional power. That’s why with the so-called browning of America, there will be adaptations, but the institutions will continue to be controlled by those who currently control it.
What is the evidence for this? Even America has had a black president. The UK has a female prime minister, and she is not the first. Aren’t these signs of change? As to the poor being the majority, if you understand the Pareto principle, which says that the square root of the number of individuals in any population will have roughly half of the resources, of course the majority is poor. The question is, how do we prevent income inequality from getting too far out of whack without falling into the Socialist abyss that Venezuela is the latest example of.
On one hand, [there is] way more permission for explicit racism, right? But also a kind of urgency from more moderate people to engage and to understand what is happening. I think that the outcome of that election just shocked a lot of white people. I find that my work is actually easier. While I get more hate mail and I get more threatened and I feel like my life is at risk in a way it wasn’t before, I also find generally white people much more receptive because I think we’re scared. It’s like that election freaked us out and we definitely want to understand what is happening and what do I do.
And yet by doubling down on identity politics, you show that you have no idea why your election (and Britains referendum, and Italy’s election, and Ontario’s) had the outcome it did. A big part of the success of all of these populist movements was in reaction to identity politics. When you call half of the voters “deplorable”, you are giving them the message that you don’t care about them. They will then turn elsewhere.