One can challenge racism but one can never really be rid of it, much less saved from it. There can be no repentance from this particular evil. As long as you are white, you will be a racist. There is nothing to be done about it.
Earlier this week, I finished Robin Diangelo’s New York Times #1 Bestselling book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People To Talk about Racism (Beacon, 2018). A lot of ink has already been spilled over this book, and I suppose that I have little more to add. I won’t write a full review here. If you want that, I recommend Tim Challies’ three–part series. Nevertheless, I do have some observations that I would like to add to the conversation.
The basic gist of the book is this. White people participate in a complex system of privilege and white supremacy. Whether they mean to or not, they are therefore racists. If you try to reveal to a white person how their racial superiority manifests itself in social interactions, white people become defensive and obtuse—a phenomenon Diangelo labels “white fragility.” White people are so committed to the idea that they aren’t racists, that they can barely tolerate any suggestion that they are. Their “white fragility” makes them militantly self-unaware and resistant to critique.
As others have already noted, the book is bad. Not just a little bad. A lot bad. Why? Because it puts hands and feet to a noxious ideology called Critical Race Theory (CRT). In fact, you might say that White Fragility is a project in applied CRT. As such, it is a toxic stew of racial animus masquerading as erudite theory. Its prescriptions are pedantic, infantilizing, and guaranteed to increase racial conflict rather than easing it.
I read this book not merely because I was curious about social theory. I read it because the categories of White Fragility are fast becoming the dominant way that people think about race-relations. So I read this book as a Christian who is trying to understand the claims of applied CRT. While reading, it became very clear that the problems with this project aren’t merely academic. The errors of this work are deeply antithetical to Christianity itself. Why? Because White Fragility sets forth an alternate worldview—one that redefines human personhood, what has gone wrong with the world, and what it will take to set things right.
The casual Christian reader may very well miss some of the things I’m talking about simply because the book is so subversive. It uses words and categories that we are all familiar with, but it redefines them in a way consonant with CRT. For example, the idea of racism has been around a long time. But Diangelo (in keeping with the wider claims of CRT) redefines racism so that it refers not to racial animus or partiality but to “a far-reaching system that functions independently from the intentions or self-images of individual actors” (20). In short, systemic racism is racism.