I read “White Fragility” so you don’t have to (but maybe you should)

by David_Gross10 min read6th Sep 2021105 comments

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Book ReviewsSocial & Cultural DynamicsSocial RealityPoliticsWorld Modeling
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[I use “we”/“us”/“our”/etc. to refer to white people throughout this review because I am white and because this book is deliberately targeted toward and attempts to describe a white readership.]

In White Fragility (2018), Robin DiAngelo asks white people to reconsider what racism is, and how we help to perpetuate it in spite of our good intentions. 

Racism, as DiAngelo uses the word, does not mean the explicit pro­fes­sion that there are es­sen­tial­ly dif­fer­ent human races and that some are better than others. That, she says, is an un­so­phis­ti­ca­ted folk de­fi­ni­tion of racism (I’ll call that “racismF”).

The de­fi­ni­tion she prefers (what I’ll call “racismS”) is that racismS is a sys­tem­ic, usual­ly (now­a­days) non-ex­pli­cit or eu­phem­is­tic, often sub­con­scious, in­ter­lock­ing and per­va­sive set of social, cultural, and political devices that reinforce white supremacy. RacismS is impossible to avoid. It’s everywhere, and is drilled into everyone in a multitude of ways, day in and day out.

“White fragility” is one of the devices that reinforce white supremacy. White fragility is a sort of defensiveness that takes the form of a variety of strategies that white people deploy when we are confronted with how we participate in and perpetuate racismS. Whites use these strategies to deflect or avoid such a confrontation and to defend a comfortable, privileged vantage point from which race is “not an issue” (at least to us who benefit from it).

The folk definition, racismF, is in fact one of the pillars of white fragility. Because, according to this definition, racismF is the conscious, explicit endorsement of an unconscionable belief system — all we white people have to do to stop participating in racismF is to disavow racial bigotry and then congratulate ourselves for our good sense. But this leaves racismS fully intact.

If you tell a white person like me that he is participating in and perpetuating racismS, he’ll typically respond by denying he has anything to do with racismF: e.g. “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.” White people interpret criticism about our patterns of behavior that perpetuate racismS as though we had been accused of adhering to racismF — of being crude bigots — and we respond defensively to what we perceive as an insult against our characters. In this way we give ourselves a pass on having to think about our inevitable participation in racismS, and so this helps to cement racismS and our own privileged position in it, which is… mighty convenient for us.

White progressives in particular, because disavowing racismF is such an important part of their identity, are wedded to this gambit. So much so that, according to DiAngelo, it is “white progressives [who] cause the most daily damage to people of color.”

So DiAngelo wants to take an axe to white fragility as a prerequisite for getting white people to stop propping up racismS. She’s devoted her career to this: she works as an “racial equity consultant” — someone who gets called in to companies and other institutions with racial insensitivity issues to try to help them fix their corporate culture. In the course of this, she’s seen all manner of examples of white people not getting with the program, and has collected a catalog of ways that white fragility manifests itself — denial, withdrawal, deflection, conspicuous wokeness, emotional outbursts, and so forth — always in ways that function to avoid confronting and dismantling white supremacy.

Much of her book (too much, in my opinion) is devoted to describing this variety of methods. In some of the remainder she gives her program for defusing white fragility so that white people can confront and diminish racismS. The first step is for whites to become more aware of their whiteness — to acknowledge that we see the world through white eyes and that our experience is a white experience, that we are not racially neutral or non-racial. We must abandon our pretensions to “individualism” and “objectivity” (two other ostensible pillars of whiteness) and acknowledge instead that we are who we are because we are white, and that what we take to be objective knowledge is actually a peculiarly white perspective.

Since, as DiAngelo explains soon after, race is not a biological fact, but a myth that was invented by white people to help them to justify their exploitation of other people — and since historically those whites who have been most explicitly invested in their whiteness have been so in the avowed cause of white supremacy — it may seem strange that DiAngelo suggests that white people become more race conscious, more invested in the reality of racial differences, and so forth. It seemed so to me. When DiAngelo wrote

Being seen racially is a common trigger of white fragility, and thus, to build our stamina, white people must face the first challenge: naming our race.

I was reminded of things I’d seen in the seedier corners of the internet from “race realists” and other such proponents of racismF. Take this, for example, from American Renaissance, an explicitly racistF group:

Race is an important aspect of individual and group identity. Of all the fault lines that divide society — language, religion, class, ideology — it is the most prominent and divisive. Race and racial conflict are at the heart of some of the most serious challenges the Western World faces in the 21st century.

The problems of race cannot be solved without adequate understanding. Attempts to gloss over the significance of race or even to deny its reality only make problems worse. Progress requires the study of all aspects of race, whether historical, cultural, or biological. This approach is known as race realism.

Until the very last sentence, that excerpt would not have seemed at all out-of-place if I had run across it in White Fragility. And that gives me pause. If white racial salience was invented to serve racismS, and has long been (and continues to be) a pillar of racismF, can it really be the key to getting us out of this mess?

DiAngelo believes that my concern — which she paraphrases as “focusing on race is what divides us” — is just one more device white people like me use to avoid confronting racismS. While race was invented, not discovered, and does not have the basis in real biological facts its inventors liked to think it does, once it was invented and deployed it became real through the real-world effects it has and the system of white supremacy it undergirds. To deny the reality of race may on some level be progressive and admirable, but the way that denial functions in the real world is to dismiss racismS as obsolete or irrelevant, and thereby to ensure that it continues unchallenged. White people who say they’re beyond race, don’t think of themselves in racial terms, are “color blind”, and so forth, are, when they do so, exercising white privilege, because those ostensibly race-neutral vantages are off-limits to non-white people.

So if a white person should not pretend to be racially blank, and yet as DiAngelo reminds us “white identity is inherently racist,” what is a white person to do? DiAngelo’s way to thread the needle is this: “I strive to be ‘less white.’ ”

To do this, acknowledge first that you are white, and that your whiteness is part of a package that includes the privileges enforced by racismS. Note that you have been socialized from day one to participate in and reinforce racismS, and that because this system is designed with your comfort in mind, you probably haven’t been all that motivated to examine this very closely. As a result, your default behavior, and that which will be reinforced by your white peers and by the racistS system, is behavior that will strengthen and perpetuate racismS. If you want to swim against that tide, you have to leave your comfort zone and put in some extra work. You should not feel guilty for having been socialized into racismS. That’s just the way it is for all of us. Leave the sackcloth and ashes aside. When you find out you’ve been doing something that perpetuates racismS, the best response is to say “of course I was; I’m glad I finally found out about it so I can change.” By adopting that attitude, you will be less defensive, less “fragile”, and more open to learning and improvement.

It felt useful to me to try on DiAngelo’s perspective about race and to interpret my outlook, experience, and actions through its framework. But there was a lot I didn’t care for about the book. DiAngelo would probably interpret that as my defensiveness; maybe she’s right.

For one thing, I was put off by the tone of woke intellectual arrogance and rhetorical aggression throughout: I must either accept DiAngelo’s assertions or I demonstrate, by not accepting them, that I am an unrepentant collaborator. She does not pause to engage with alternative theories and frameworks, but simply pushes hers as though it were an unquestionable fact and the only alternative to racismS. For example, she does not really acknowledge that her racismS and the vulgate’s racismF are two valid and useful concepts in their own contexts, one being the academic/professional use of the term and the other being the common/folk use of the term. To her, there is just the correct use of the term (hers) and the ignorant/complicit use of the term (most people’s).

For another, when she tried to support her theories by reference to real-world examples, I sometimes found her to be unreliable when I looked for independent evidence of those examples. To prop up her arguments, she sometimes resorts to deceptive oversimplification and caricature. At other times, her theories become so absorptive that they can explain any fact at all. For example, if whites leave a neighborhood and blacks move in, that’s “white flight;” if the reverse happens, it’s “gentrification;” either one is evidence of “disdain of whites for African Americans.” But if all possible evidence is evidence for your theory, your theory has ascended to some realm beyond evidence, and I’m not inclined to follow you there.

I also noticed an assumption that People of Color are preternaturally clear-sighted and of one mind on racial issues, so that a white person can just listen to one carefully and without defensiveness to obtain all the relevant information about a potentially racist scenario they are involved in. Are there People of Color who are ill-informed or unwise? might they disagree with each other? might they have a complex variety of motives for what they say and do? You wouldn’t know it from how they are typically portrayed in White Fragility.

DiAngelo is also weirdly oblivious about the actual power dynamics in many of the scenarios in which she describes encountering white fragility: the corporate training seminars she helps to put on. If Human Resources sends out a memo telling all employees to come to a racial bias seminar led by outside equity consultants, of course that’s going to put white employees on edge. They know who the bad guy is going to be in this movie, they’ve heard what happens to white people who screw up and say the wrong words to the wrong people at the wrong time, and they’re not entirely confident they know which words are the wrong ones this week. It shouldn’t be surprising that the smart ones adopt the strategy of keeping their heads down and their mouths shut. But when DiAngelo sees white people at such meetings clamming up, or talking in meandering ways, with “long pauses” and “self-corrections”, she just chalks this up as white people deploying their favorite strategies for perpetuating white privilege. In one example, she describes a white woman who became so upset at feeling falsely accused of racism? at one of these “workplace anti-racism training” seminars that her co-workers became concerned for her health; to DiAngelo this was obviously just self-serving histrionics and her co-workers were just enabling it as their own ways of reinforcing useful white fragility. She can’t imagine that such a person’s fears for her job or her reputation can have any validity.

But all this criticism adds up to me wishing it were a better book. It was worth reading and wrestling with. I think there is a lot of validity to its key points, and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it. If white people are to finally overcome racismS and stand on our own two feet, it will require that we talk more frankly about race and be willing to make uncomfortable, difficult changes. This book might be a good place to start for a lot of us.

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(edited to tone down a little)

This was quite painful to read, and I see the dynamic of these ideas as problematic.

First, possibly the most painful idea for any human to entertain: "A large part of your core identity is inherently very bad in ways you can't see"

and then second: "The pain and fear you feel in response to this news is a sign of inherent weakness (fragility) and further proves your guilt"

and lastly: "I'm not *trying* to make you feel bad, suppress that pain and take off your silly sack cloth and ashes"

"You are inherently bad" -> "Your pain on hearing that is weakness and proof of guilt" -> "This dynamic is not problematic you're being weird for over-reacting"

That's very harsh thing to say to someone and then act like they are weird for having an adverse reaction.

I share your frustration at the book because I'm really sympathetic to the ideas that:

But I feel such sorrow at the idea that th... (read more)

4David_Gross17dI think you may be reading more (and more sinister things) into this than were originally there. I don't think DiAngelo starts with "a large part of your core identity is inherently very bad" at all. The progression she has in mind is more like this: 1. You were raised in a culture that has a lot of baggage from its explicitly white supremacist origins, and as part of learning to adopt to that culture you learned ways of getting along with it that have the effect of reinforcing its racism. In part this is because as a white person those things were designed with your benefit in mind and so you didn't have much reason to look the gift horse in the mouth. You did this even if you didn't have any bigoted intentions or desire to be awful to non-white people. 2. If you would rather work to repair the racist system rather than coast along continuing to take advantage of it, you'll have to work on that. But if you respond defensively whenever such opportunities are pointed out to you, you probably won't succeed. 3. So try to drop your defensiveness and don't take it so personally when someone points out ways in which you have picked up patterns of behavior that help to reinforce a racist system you aren't even very sympathetic with.

I'm very open to the idea that I've seen something that wasn't there and or wasn't intended 😄, let me see if I can spesifically find what made me feel that way.

Okay, so I have that reaction to paragraphs like this:

White fragility is a sort of defensiveness that takes the form of a variety of strategies that white people deploy when we are confronted with how we participate in and perpetuate racismS. Whites use these strategies to deflect or avoid such a confrontation and to defend a comfortable, privileged vantage point from which race is “not an issue” (at least to us who benefit from it).

and

So if a white person should not pretend to be racially blank, and yet as DiAngelo reminds us “white identity is inherently racist,” what is a white person to do? DiAngelo’s way to thread the needle is this: “I strive to be ‘less white.’ ”

What I hear when I read this is "you are inherently white, and to be white is inheriently bad" thought it's possible I'm pattern matching this to ideas of being and judgement that I grew up with in Church i.e "you are inherently a sinner". Do you think this reading is totally unmerited?

And those first two points I'm on board with, but it's the flavour of... (read more)

When you find out you’ve been doing something that perpetuates racismS, the best response is to say “of course I was; I’m glad I finally found out about it so I can change.”

It seems to me this book is largely a manual for obedience to a political faction; a long list of the details of how one ought to act in different scenarios in order to signal obeisance.

Edit: I previously started with the the line "To comply, I have no choice but to immediately agree on the object level and submit." But this is an exaggeration of what is written in the quote, so I'm removing it / adding this edit note.

It didn't say, "when someone else tells you...". DiAngelo is talking about the behavior pattern of rejecting object level information about racism out of hand, becoming defensive without looking at what was going on with your behavior.

If you reject out-of-hand hypotheses that say your cognition is adversarially adapting to avoid shedding light on blindspots, you're gambling that you have no fatal blindspots.

To make your point more stark, if one were to modify the quote to say

When you find out you’ve been doing something that is neither epistemically nor instrumentally rational, the best response is to say “of course I was; I’m glad I finally found out about it so I can change.” 

then it would presumably be better received on LW, even though both are expressing a similar point: if you realize you've been mistaking a mistake, the most effective course of action is not to spend time beating yourself up, but to say "oops", update, and be happy that you noticed in the first place.

From the OP it doesn’t seem to me like the author is saying that. It's not all there in that quote, but put it in the context of this part:

when DiAngelo sees white people at such meetings clamming up, or talking in meandering ways, with “long pauses” and “self-corrections”, she just chalks this up as white people deploying their favorite strategies for perpetuating white privilege.

I suspect the rule here being taught is: do not reflect, do not think, do not qualify. These are all ways that you are politically opposing us. As before, “the best response is to say “of course I was; I’m glad I finally found out about it so I can change.””

Naturally, it’s not v LW to tell people not to think in conversations or correct previous inaccurate statements, and to tell them instead what to say and that the most acceptable outcome is to just agree on the object level.

In rationalist circles, you might find out that you're being instrumentally or epistemically irrational in the course of a debate -- the norms of such a debate encourage you to rebut your opponent's points if you think they are being unfair. In contrast, the central thesis of this book is that white people disputing their racism is a mechanism for protecting white supremacy and needs to be unlearned, along with other cornerstones of collective epistemology such as the notion of objective knowledge. So under the epistemic conditions promoted by this book, I expect "found about being racist" to roughly translate to "was told you were racist".

This analogy assumes that the person already agrees that X is irrational.

If someone told you "Kaj, your lack of faith in Jesus is epistemically and instrumentally irrational" without any evidence, would you agree and be happy that you can finally fix this mistake? Or would you say "I don't think so"?

Similarly, if someone says "Viliam, you are a racist, because you were born with a racist color of skin", my response would be "I don't think you really understand what that word means".

The problem is this combines with DiAngelo's other constant assertion that the best way for white people to understand their racism is to listen to black people who are preternaturally gifted at understanding racism. The end result being even worse than what Ben said originally: when a black person tells you you're racist your best response is "of course I was..."

6TekhneMakre17dIf you're dealing with a blindspot that's distributed across a group of people, then yes, it's more effective to talk with people outside that group who don't share the blindspot, because they're less likely to collaborate with you to keep the spot blind. Obviously it's not helpful, or even very possible, to just believe whatever other people tell you (it's not possible to meaningfully believe something you don't understand). Does DiAngelo actually say to do that? My impression is no, what she says is about what to do if you're in a group blindspot.
2[comment deleted]17d
7Kaj_Sotala17dI read the sentences just before the one you quoted as explicitly de-emphasizing signaling obeisance: If I was writing something that was trying to get its readers to signal obeisance, I'm not sure what exactly I would say to get that outcome, but I think that my message would be closer to "you are bad and should feel bad" than "this is the way it is for all of us, so don't feel guilty or make too big of a deal out of it".

I think the quoted passage does exactly that, i.e. get its readers to signal obeisance. Notice the presupposition worked in at the start: "you have been socialised into racism." Therefore your opinions are invalid. Your thoughts are invalid. Your reaction to being told this is invalid. Every objection is invalid. You are invalid. Anything but immediate subservience is invalid. You must say “of course I was; I’m glad I finally found out about it so I can change.” No other response is valid.

That response does not get you off any hooks; on the contrary, it sticks you more firmly onto them. After confessing the original sin of "being socialised into racism", which you were not responsible for but must take responsibility for, you must now change in the ways prescribed. You are not the judge of whether you have changed enough. You will never have changed enough. You must change. You can never change. You must absolve your guilt. You can never absolve your guilt. Must! Can never! Must! Can never!

This is the Gospel According to Insanity Wolf, who beats you with a club in one hand screaming "Must!" and a club in the other hand screaming "Can Never!", and I have been furnished with rich pickings for the next time I update that page.

Are claims like "you have been socialised into racism" all that different from claims such as "you are running on corrupted hardware", though?

It's true that such claims can be used in insidious ways, but at the same time some such claims are also going to be true. If you automatically assume that all such claims are to just to get the readers to signal obeisance and discard them just because of that, then you are also going to discard quite a few claims that you shouldn't have.

The claims? No. The truth of those claims, their intended implications, whatever motte-and-baileying there may be around them, and so on — the things that actually matter, that is? Look and decide. There's outside view, and there's refusal to look at the inside.

If you automatically assume

That is an accusation of bad faith. I have not read the book but I have read the article and have said what I see.

5CraigMichael17dThis is a very shrewd point. Where I see the distinction here is there is a conflation with ideas/beliefs /culture and (I hate to use the term) immutable characteristics. If I have a bad idea, or set of ideas, I can change them. If I have a bad immutable characteristic, X, I can try to be "less X..." according to Robin. Which just doesn't make sense to me in terms of race, and barely in terms of culture. Suppose "white culture" is codified and exists, I should try to be less that? Is it not possible that if white culture exists it's a mix of good and bad traits that we should evaluate independently? We're also dealing with poorly defined (or perhaps undefinable) concepts. Are Jews white? Is Jewish culture white? What about Irish? What about Italians? They weren't always considered as such by everyone. There are probably people who could lecture me on their operational definitions of 'white' and 'whiteness.' But at that point it sounds like you're just redefining "right" and "wrong" to whatever you define as "non-white" and "white" respectively. Any idea or belief is on the table and open to debate. Me being automatically bad by the nature of my ancestry just sounds like a caste system. Ultimately, I think the way to interpret White Fragility is "conflict theory" and we're treating it like "mistake theory" and making a mistake in doing so [https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/01/24/conflict-vs-mistake/]. EDITS: Links

This is the Gospel According to Insanity Wolf,

If you encounter an idea for which,
however watertight the argument leading to it,
you hear it in the voice of Insanity Wolf,
screaming at you,
a voice that absolutely will not stop, ever,
until you are dead,
then maybe you should reject that idea,
even if you do not have a refutation of it.

Anyone speaking in that voice,
even if outwardly quiet and reasonable,
wants something
that you should not give.

 

There's definitely a real point in there, in that suspicion is warranted and "little red riding hood" is a cautionary tale. "Roll over and believe whenever asked to" is not the right play.

At the same time, that "maybe" is critically important. Without it, you end up becoming insanity wolf yourself, snapping at your actual grandma and any vaguely-wolf-shaped clouds. Baring teeth is a display of weakness, and should be avoided as long as possible in favor of something closer to "No Chad" so that it's easier to separate the truth from the power plays.

Notice the presupposition worked in at the start: "you have been socialised into racism." Therefore your opinions are invalid. Your thoughts are invalid. Your reaction to being told this is invalid. E

... (read more)

According to the OP, DiAngelo says the responses of "denial, withdrawal, deflection, conspicuous wokeness, emotional outbursts, and so forth" are "examples of white people not getting with the program" and "function to avoid confronting and dismantling white supremacy". I think that's enough to call Insanity Wolf on it.

DISAGREEMENT? GUILTY!

SILENCE? GUILTY!

WALK AWAY? GUILTY!

AGREEMENT? GUILTY!

TEARS? HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! GUILTY!

I doubt if a conversation with DiAngelo would get very far. There is nothing that a white person can say, including what I've said here, that her scheme cannot classify as "White Fragility" and therefore deem invalid. There's probably someone right now reading this whole discussion and mocking the White Fragility on display. (ETA: Hey there! SMUGLY MOCKING ALL THIS WHITE FRAGILITY? GUILTY!)

(Disclaimer: I haven't read DiAngelo's book, and I know very little about her as a person. I'm curious about the question 'what's the nearest reasonable version of this strategy, and what would a conversation look like with a reasonable proponent of that strategy?'.

I can't speak to whether any of that resembles how an actual conversation with DiAngelo would go, and I don't mean to vouch for DiAngelo's overall epistemics in any of the following. I expect the epistemics are pretty bad. But my experience has been that the flip side of 'motte and bailey is popular' and 'pop culture makes good ideas memetically evolve into terrible ideas' is 'there's often a much more reasonable version of a thought pattern that's conceptually close to the unreasonable version'.)

 

The 'everything you do except agree with me shows how wrong you are' thing is really scary, because it can create a situation where confirmation bias has complete dominion and ~no evidence can allow you to update away from your original assumption (it reminds me of outgroup-Bingo).

But it also reminds me a bit of New Atheists' frustrations with arguing with religious people. New Atheists ended up generating long lists of na... (read more)

4Richard_Kennaway16dAt the opposite extreme, it might be like trying to demonstrate to an anosognosic — or to be more even-handed, two anosognosics trying to demonstrate to each other their major impairments.
2jimmy6dTo reiterate my point, it's entirely fair to notice that this "grandma" has an awfully long snout and to distrust her. I'm with you on that. I pick up on the same patterns as you. It's a real problem. And still, big leap between there and an unqualified "This is insanity wolf". It's not "a" conversation, as if "conversation" were one thing and the way you go about it doesn't matter. If you were to go about it the way you're going about it here, with presumption of guilt, it wouldn't go far and it wouldn't be her fault. If you were to go about it in a way optimized for success, actually giving her the largest possible opening to see anything she might be doing wrong and to persuade you of good will, then it's not so clear. There's nothing that can't be classified that way by the scheme which you assert to be hers. It's possible, if she really is nothing but 100% this scheme, that nothing a white person can say would get through. However it's also possible that your bald presupposition that there's nothing else to her could be wrong, and that if you were careful enough in picking what you said, you could find something to say that gets her to deviate from this scheme. As a general rule, asserting "Nothing can be done" suspicious -- especially when nothing has been tried. It's suspiciously convenient, and too absolute to be likely literally true. The times when a belief would be convenient for you are the last times you should be playing loose with the truth and dismissing known-falsehoods as "rounding errors", since that's when your motivated thinking can slip in and pull you away from the truth. Sure, that kind of thing definitely exists and is bad. It's also not the only thing that exists.
1mukashi12dI wonder, is there a name for that ...fallacy/strategy (I don't really know what else I could call it) It looks a lot like judging witches. If they deny they are witches, they clearly are, because that's what a witch would do. If they don't deny it, well, they are just telling you the truth.
2Richard_Kennaway12dThere's an article from the Sequences [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/mnS2WYLCGJP2kQkRn/absence-of-evidence-is-evidence-of-absence] on the subject.
1mukashi12dIs it really the same?
2Richard_Kennaway12dThe example it opens with is the absence of sabotage “proving” the existence of saboteurs, and the Salem witch trials are mentioned in the comments. It could be called “witch-finding”.
6ChristianKl15dThere's frequently the sentiment that it's not on other people to do the work of explaining to white people that they are racist but that it's the obligation for white people to figure that out themselves.
9Viliam15dI understand why a black person might feel tired explaining to all the white people around them what exactly they did wrong. The situation is quite different if instead this is a woke white person, acting angry of behalf of the hypothetical offended black people, and refusing to explain why. That is simply an attempt to take credit for fighting against racism, without actually spending any energy doing so (other than yelling).
4jimmy6d"Isn't that what you're being paid to do, Miss DiAngelo?"
3Richard_Kennaway15dThere is, but it sounds like something out of R.D. Laing's “Knots” (which I would recommend to everyone).
7CraigMichael17dReminds me of the how Christopher Hitchens used to describe Christianity, "created sick, then commanded to be well."

Racism, as DiAngelo uses the word, does not mean the explicit pro­fes­sion that there are es­sen­tial­ly dif­fer­ent human races and that some are better than others. That, she says, is an un­so­phis­ti­ca­ted folk de­fi­ni­tion of racism (I’ll call that “racismF”).

The de­fi­ni­tion she prefers (what I’ll call “racismS”) is that racismS is a sys­tem­ic, usual­ly (now­a­days) non-ex­pli­cit or eu­phem­is­tic, often sub­con­scious, in­ter­lock­ing and per­va­sive set of social, cultural, and political devices that reinforce white supremacy. [...]

The folk definition, racismF, is in fact one of the pillars of white fragility. Because, according to this definition, racismF is the conscious, explicit endorsement of an unconscionable belief system — all we white people have to do to stop participating in racismF is to disavow racial bigotry and then congratulate ourselves for our good sense.

I would maintain the opposite: that racismF is the original definition of racism, which deservedly acquired its strong negative connotations (think of the image of a good, virtuous, even altruistic minority member, consistently better behaved than most white people, and a white person saying "Yeah, wel... (read more)

2David_Gross17dI see where you're coming from, and I also wish I didn't have to do the extra work to remember the correct technical definition of racism when I read White Fragility. That said, I expect that when I read a book in a particular discipline that I will need to be more attentive to the terms of art in that discipline. For instance, when I read a book of physics, I don't expect the author to cater to my folk definitions of "work", "energy", "power", "momentum", and so forth: instead, I expect that I will need to learn how to use the terminology of the field precisely as its practitioners do if I am to follow its arguments and learn what they have to teach.

For instance, when I read a book of physics, I don't expect the author to cater to my folk definitions of "work", "energy", "power", "momentum"

Since you assume that physics book authors won't cater to the laymen's ordinary definition of the physics terms of art you may be surprised then reading most books on classical physics. The authors go to painstaking effort to make their content accessible to laypersons. I have not yet read a textbook on classical physics that didn't take the time to explain that "work" in a physics context means Force x Distance and only refers to what you do at your day job if you're pushing a cart around or lifting a tray of food. I know this because I was a computer science undergrad who took a few physics courses as electives and was surprised at how accessible the textbooks were given that they were of course designed for physics undergrads.

Also no physicist claims that their definitions are the "correct technical" ones or are somehow better or more useful than the ordinary definitions. Many physicists I know feel that physics terms which share a spelling with colloquial terms should be changed on the physics side of things to prevent confusion. Or at the very minimum the distinction should be kept clear.

I see where you're coming from, and I also wish I didn't have to do the extra work to remember the correct technical definition of racism when I read White Fragility. 

There's nothing technical about the definition of racism that gets used by people like DeAngelo. In physics a definition becomes technical when it's well defined enough to objectively measure the resulting effect. There's nothing that makes their definition more inherently correct either. 

In the civil rights area a lot of laws were passed to combat racism and I would say that the resulting legal concepts of racism are the nearest we have to a technical definition of racism and that definition is about discriminating for people based on the their race (perceived race). 

I think it's important to keep in mind the reasons why Robin DiAngelo became a multimillionare. The value of her seminars is that they shift the burden of responsibility for "systemic" racism away from employers and onto employees as individuals. That is, diversity seminars are seen as an effective defense against discrimination lawsuits. But in exchange for protection against legal accountability for patterns of discrimination, an environment of paranoia and scapegoating is fostered, where individual employees are singled out for discipline or firing for perpetuating systemic racism through their personal interactions.

2Ben Pace8d(This is a pretty interesting incentives angle I hadn't heard before.)

Maybe this is common knoweledge that I'm missing, but I find this review glossing over central points. How is "white supremacy" defined? How about "whiteness"? I cannot imagine the book didn't spend some chapters defining those phenomena and, more importantly, proving their existence and exemplifying them.

We must abandon our pretensions to “individualism” and “objectivity” (two other ostensible pillars of whiteness) and acknowledge instead that we are who we are because we are white, and that what we take to be objective knowledge is actually a peculiarly white perspective.

Pet theory demands we radically change the way we see the world. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Where is it?

Power structures are important and not abusing power is ethically important. The central problem with approaches like the of DiAngelo is that they try to impose a general idea about which power structures exist and how power should be redistributed to every particular interaction instead of looking at the power structures of the particular interaction.

People who are socially powerless generally have little power to appeal to general ideas about how power should be redistributed. Those who do have a degree of social power can appeal to general ideas to get more power for themselves and use it to obscure their power in the interaction. 

Consultants like DiAngelo can use those ideas to have power to blackmail companies into paying them a lot to do corporate trainings. It allows upper-class black people to demand that lower class white people with less actual power bend towards their will. 

One of the things DiAngelo recommends is that white people shouldn't cry in front of black people because the act of crying has inherent power. The problem with such advice is that it prevents interracial relationships of vulnerability and encourages people to only share vulnerability within... (read more)

Started reading the book...

In the early days of my work as what was then termed a diversity trainer, I was taken aback by how angry and defensive so many white people became at the suggestion that they were connected to racism in any way. The very idea that they would be required to attend a workshop on racism outraged them. They entered the room angry and made that feeling clear to us throughout the day as they slammed their notebooks down on the table, refused to participate in exercises, and argued against any and all points. I couldn’t understand their resentment or disinterest in learning more about such a complex social dynamic as racism...

What a mystery, indeed. I don't have more context, but guessing by the described behavior, those people probably were not participating voluntarily. Is it possible that they were angry about being forced by their employers to attend a political training? How would DiAngelo feel about having to attend a political training organized by her outgroup?

I am a white American raised in the United States. I have a white frame of reference and a white worldview, and I move through the world with a white experience. My experience is not a universal hu

... (read more)

First let me hedge that I have not read this book.  The exposures I've had to this kind of literature drove me to stay far away.  The following critiques may not be about this specific book nor author, DiAngelo.  Perhaps DiAngelo-adjacent, though I suspect also directly DiAngelo for some points.

1) This kind of literature has serious problems with semantic ambiguity.  You can make anything meaningless by saying it's everything, and "racism" is no exception.  I imagine myself trying to predict the degree of "fragility" or "racism" in members of the population, or changes in "fragility" or "racism" over time, as the author uses these terms.  It seems thoroughly unresolvable and nebulous.  I don't know how you would make these forecasting questions without them resolving ambiguously all the time.  That is a very negative fact about how informative the content is.

2) What appears to be an abysmal performance at predicting changes in actual harm or wellbeing, in blacks or other groups.  I don't know of explicit proper predictions, so this is hard to grade.  But what I remember seeing doesn't look good.  Again I don't know what DiAngel... (read more)

Or the prediction that training cops to avoid shooting blacks could make a difference to the average lifespan of blacks.  This is impossible -- out of 42 million blacks in the U.S., a little over 200 per year are shot to death by cops.  For context that's more than the number that die from lightning strikes, but less than the number that die from drowning.

Concretely:

200 deaths/year*(75 years/lifetime)/42 million lifetimes)*40 years lost *(365 days/years) ~= 5.2 days/lifetime, so 5 days is the average lifetime lost for black people compared to if you get rid of all police shootings and there are no other secondary effects.

Realistically getting rid of 100% of police shootings is unrealistic, but 20%-50% (or extending average black lifetimes by 1-3 days) doesn't seem crazy to me.

I multiplied these numbers out because the dimensional analysis for yearly death rate and number of total people alive is pretty confusing unless you have an intuition for this stuff (which I at least don't have enough of), can imagine people walking away from just the raw numbers thinking the expected per capita loss is closer to hours or closer to weeks. 

I have lived in dominantly non-white neighborhoods for the last 7 years. I pay attention to the nationalities of the people around me. Lumping the African Americans whose families have lived here for centuries in the same bucket as the Somali refugees would be absurd. Not for genetic reasons (though there could be greater genetic variance between east and west Africans than between Europeans and Asians) but because they have different cultures.

But, while nationality matters, it would be impractical to ignore skin color entirely. When I moved into my current home, a neighbor asked me what my favorite Black jokes are. It matters whether he is Black. It matters whether I am Black.

I think race should be viewed as one dimension of ethnicity. It is perfectly acceptable to speak Vietnamese to someone who understands Vietnamese. It is rude (if you are not in Vietnam) to speak Vietnamese to someone who doesn't understand Vietnamese. In theory one could ask but that is even ruder. (It's impractically time-consuming too.) If you don't want to whitewash everyone then you have to guess. The color of one's skin contains information about whether someone speaks Vietnamese. Thus, skin color is a useful signal.

When I hear "I don't see people in terms of race", I translate it into "I am willfully ignorant of the ethnic dynamics (including power dynamics) around me". Your description of the racial bias seminar describes someone doing the exact same thing.

When I hear "I don't see people in terms of race", I translate it into "I am willfully ignorant of the ethnic dynamics (including power dynamics) around me".

Stated without any qualifiers, this seems to be the type of reaction that leads people to treat the autistic, naive, or otherwise socially impaired as malicious, and then possibly to punish them for something they don't understand, which may bewilder them and further impair their social development.  I hope you successfully avoid doing this.

4ChristianKl15dAutists are not willfully ignorant. Most autists are aware that there are social dynamics that they don't understand and won't say things like "I don't see people in terms of race".

The "racismS" is a useful concept, but should use a new word instead of hijacking an existing one, because "racismF" is a useful concept, too.

The obvious reason why people are sensitive about being accused of "racismS" and refuse to admit it publicly, is that they know someone else will interpret their words as a public admission of "racismF". (Especially when both words are pronounced the same.)

If "racismS" is de facto a synonym for "being white", why is it not enough if white people simply confess to being white? What additional information is provided by confessing to also being "racistS"?

2David_Gross17dThis isn't my area of expertise, but as best as I understand it, one reason why racismS is not de facto a synonym for "being white" because racismS is not primarily a description of individual people, the way racismF can be. That is to say, you can call someone a racistF, which is de facto a synonym for calling them a bigot or intolerant or a "race realist" or something like that, because a racistF is someone who believes in or professes racismF or acts like they do. But racismS doesn't work like that. It isn't an explicit belief system, but "a sys­tem­ic, usual­ly (now­a­days) non-ex­pli­cit or eu­phem­is­tic, often sub­con­scious, in­ter­lock­ing and per­va­sive set of social, cultural, and political devices that reinforce white supremacy." So you wouldn't tell someone "you're racistS" but you might tell someone "you might want to be aware that the decision X that you made, or the thing Y that you said, had the effect of strengthening or perpetuating racismS."

It's somewhat ironic how she defends her actions as not racist because her definition of racism requires institutional power, yet the actual power dynamics of her position as an outside consultant often grant her massive institutional power which she then abuses. Folks deride DiAngelo's arguments on white fragility and racism rightfully so because she takes every attempt to force her opinion upon others using her role as "racial equity consultant" rather than actually debate the issue. Her methods are: get white people working at this company to understand and agree with my position by force and the implicit threats that they will be fired, transferred, or reprimanded if they don't comply. Yet somehow she gets away with the lie that she's not racist because she's not abusing institutional power.

Additionally, systemic racism as you call it is still factually invalid. Hiring trends show that white people have the least in group bias out of all hiring groups. The assumption is that systemic racism exists and that it's perpetuated by white people and that it benefits white people but that assumption is just the map and you should have a good reason to believe that the map is accurate before acting on it. The majority of race-based academic literature puts the cart before the horse. It's focused entirely on how to solve structural racism, with little to no research demonstrating that structural racism actually exists in the first place.

Thank you for the write-up. However, I profoundly disagree with the premises of White Fragility. Why? Because DiAngelo's starting premise is that race is and always must be really important. And I object to that. In fact, I think that 'believing race is something real and important' is a necessary precursor to racism. 

(And yes, I believe her book to be racist against white people and yes, anti-white racism is a thing. It's true that in the US context white racism against non-white people is more frequent and often more harmful, but that doesn't make anti-white racism OK. It's like saying that men often sexually assault women, so if a woman sexually assaults a man that's totally fine because women are an oppressed demographic. Nope, that is not how ethics works.)

So what do I believe? I think that a person's skin colour should be seen as a minor physical detail of no importance. I believe in Martin Luther King's dream: 

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and ... (read more)

This is... complicated.

I agree about the desired end state (race becoming irrelevant). That doesn't mean that pretending that we are already there is an efficient way to actually get there. Perhaps it could, if all people agreed to do that, starting now. But that is not going to happen.

To put it bluntly, imagine being a black guy, and whenever you meet a white guy, there is a 1/3 chance he will call his friends to beat you up, and a 2/3 chance he will smile at you and say "race is completely irrelevant in real life, right?" Speaking for myself, this (including those friendly whites) would drive me crazy.

On the other hand... be the change you want to see in the world, right? How can we get the society of racial irrelevance, if we are not allowed to create even tiny spaces of racial irrelevance without being rebuked for somehow supporting white supremacy by doing so? Is it even possible to be a friend with someone, if you are never allowed to disagree? (Wouldn't black people benefit from having networks of white friends, instead of mere "allies"? Friends = near mode; allies = far mode. Allies support you verbally if your situation pattern-matches their political beliefs; friends actu... (read more)

8Dumbledore's Army17dThank you for a thoughtful response. I agree that the current situation in the US is very far from the desired end state and I don’t want to deny the real problems that exist. I’m just deeply concerned that the proposed ‘cure’ is a new permutation of the same disease. Edited to add: I would also argue that proposing a direction of travel toward the ideal world is not the same as pretending we’re already there.
8Dumbledore's Army17dI also think that moving the lens of public attention away from racism would make it easier to try solutions to other problems that disproportionately affect black people. As just one example, the system of funding schools from local property taxes means that affluent areas have nice well-funded schools and impoverished areas generally don’t. Systemic reform of school funding to be more equal per child would improve the education available to disadvantaged children (who are disproportionately black). It’s an example of a race-blind policy change that would improve racial justice, and it won’t get attention while everyone is yelling about racism. And yet, even in a world with zero racism (which is not our world), kids born in a poverty trap will have difficulty getting out of the trap and if those kids start off disproportionately black then you will get a situation of ongoing racial disparity in outcomes. Tl;dr if we spent less time thinking about racism and more time on effective ways to alleviate disadvantage you would get a better and fairer world and also one with less racial disparity.
6korin4316dState and federal funding actually make up for the difference these days: https://apps.urban.org/features/school-funding-do-poor-kids-get-fair-share/ [https://apps.urban.org/features/school-funding-do-poor-kids-get-fair-share/] Note: There are a variety of reasons we might want school with poor students to get more funding, but that's a different question than whether they get less funding right now.
2Dumbledore's Army16dOk thanks for the correction. I’ll pick a different example next time.
4TekhneMakre17dThe issue is when the right hand beats down the black man while the left hand proclaims that it doesn't see color. The aspiration is good, but it's still correct to see color if other people are already aggressively seeing color.
6Dumbledore's Army17dI think your comment assumes bad faith. You assume that the right hand will beat down the black man. That is wrong and discourteous. You also ignore the point about the direction of travel: we should move toward a world where race is less important, not toward a world where race is more important. We already know what happens if you go the other way. There are places which have entrenched politics based on each racial group getting an entitlement, like Malaysia and Lebanon (the Lebanese system has religious groups instead). It's a stable equilibrium and it's a bad equilibrium. Those are not happy countries. The USA doesn't want to end up like them.
4TekhneMakre17d>You also ignore the point about the direction of travel I wrote: > The aspiration is good, but it's still correct to see color if other people are already aggressively seeing color. That is me agreeing about the direction of travel, and making the point that it's a mistake to unilaterally "go all the way" while a bunch of other people haven't gotten on the way. Does this make sense? I don't see anything in your comment responding to what I said, other than you saying my comment assumes bad faith. Which is true, except I'm not "assuming" bad faith, I'm trying to further explain the hypothesis that's being presented, namely that you / the context you're embedded in contains a substrate of bad faith.
3Ericf17dAs of August 2021 in the USA, "the right hand is beating down the black man" is an accurate (if metaphorical) statement about the territory. What White Fragility (and many other sources) are saying is that the people who have power need to first use that power to stop the beatings. And it helps to note who the victims are, because it is ~5x more efficient to focus on the ~20% of the population that is being "beaten down" than to make race-neutral changes.
4CraigMichael17dThis strikes me as omitting relevant variables. Is it not true that the right hand is also beating the poor, for example? Is the right hand beating orphans? Is the right hand beating the mentally ill? Why are we treating race as the ur-conflict. I believe it's one of many.

Thanks for writing this up. I was a bit nervous when reading the title because I was expecting that this would have been an "edgy takedown", but it wasn't.

I haven't read the book, but I seen a few talks by Robin DiAngelo, and found them generally reasonable. They at least brought up several points I thought were interesting and provocative, which is a high bar for public presentations.

I then saw numerous reviews from sources I previously deemed decent that treated the book with extreme vitriol. 

I found the hate leveled at this book to be frightening. There are a lot of "mediocre popular science books", but this one was truly disdained by large communities. (Right wing ones, of course, but also some somewhat politically neutral or left crowds). 

The basic ideas of "racism" being systemic in our culture, but occasionally very difficult to directly notice (especially for those in power), strike me as very similar to ones of implicit biases and similar. The Elephant in the Brain comes to mind. I think the Rationality community and similar should be well equipped to be able to discuss some of these issues.

My impression is that this book isn't rigorous in the ways that most of u... (read more)

I then saw numerous reviews from sources I previously deemed decent that treated the book with extreme vitriol.

It might be relevant to bring up near mode and far mode. In near mode, people are thinking about the prospect of being forced to attend one of her seminars and being unable to disagree at risk of losing their jobs, in far mode it is "interesting and provocative".

6ozziegooen17dI'm really not sure what you're trying to do here, but I feel like your phrasing could be interpreted like creating a dichotomy between: 1. People who this impacts (in near mode), who will be very much hurt by this work. 2. Armchair, ivory-tower intellectuals who smirk and find the same sorts of interest in this book that they would get from the next "provocative" Game of Thrones book. As such, the clear implication (that some readers) might take away is that I sit very much in the camp of (2), that just finds it interesting because the issues don't actually matter much to me. So my opinion probably shouldn't matter as much as those in (1). It's possible that such a criticism, if it were meant, might be justified! I've been wrong before, many times. But I wanted to be more clear if this is what you were intending before responding. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I'd note that far-mode being-interesting-and-provocative, as I used it, often means that for some people it will be difficult. Previous discussions introducing athiesm/veganism/altruism also really upset a lot of people. They clearly led to a whole lot of change that was incredibly challenging or devastating to different people. Often interesting-and-provocative could be very bad, like both extreme left-wing and extreme right-wing literature.

I think it means the reaction to the book is not really the reaction to the book itself, but rather to the political powers this book represents.

I can imagine having a talk with DiAngelo about the book; maybe it would be interesting and we would agree about many things, or maybe we would just scream at each other, dunno. But that is unlikely to happen. What is more likely to happen, is someone reading the book, and then yelling at me for not agreeing with some idea in the book. Possibly in a situation where this might get me in trouble.

5ozziegooen17dI think it's very likely that you're right here. I do wish this could be said more. It's totally fine to argue against political powers and against potential situations. Ideally this argument would be differentiated around discussion on this particular book/author. I agree that there are lots of ideas in the book that are probably wrong. To be clear, I could also easily imagine many situations where unreasonable people would take either the wrong ideas too far, or take their own spin on this and take those ideas far too far. I imagine that in either case, the results can be highly destructive. I hope that these sorts of fears don't prevent us from understanding or understanding interesting/useful ideas from such material. I think they make this massively harder, but there might be some decent strategies. I would be curious if people here have recommendations on how they would like to see these ideas getting discussed in ways that minimize the potential hazards of getting people into trouble for unreasonable reasons or creating tons of anxiety. I think that this book has generated a lot of high-anxiety discussion that's clearly not very effective at delivering better understanding.
8Viliam17dI was never good at convincing other people, so I am not qualified to give advice about how to talk to other people. Speaking for myself, if I am told something with a friendly voice, I am more likely to consider it seriously than if someone screams at me. Even better, if I can voice my objections or ask additional questions, and receive a reasonable response. (Reasonable doesn't mean "totally destroyed by a clever verbal argument". Saying "yeah, that's complicated, and I don't actually have all the answers, but nevertheless here are a few things I want you to consider" works fine with me.) Sometimes it takes time to process. Problem is, I don't know how much this advice can be generalized. I don't consider myself to be a typical person. I am already a nice guy who doesn't want to hurt anyone, so if you show me how to make the world a better place, I am happy for the info. I also care about truth, so I will reject ideas that seem wrong to me. As far as I know (I am never sure about modeling other people), not all people are like this... and I don't know what approach would work with them. What convices those who want to hurt others, or who don't care about reality? Sorry, I have no idea. And if you want to solve racism, I am afraid that those are the people you need to convert, somehow. Perhaps some of them respond well to threats by force; but if you use such threats indiscriminately, then you risk accidentally making enemies of people like me. I suppose a reasonable debate requires some filtering of participants for some baseline goodness and sanity. Then, I guess, provide lots of data, both in near mode (someone's personal experience) and in far mode (statistics). Then, allow discussion. This, unless it somehow obviously backfires, I would already consider a small victory. People will remember something, which is better than most online interactions. (Of course, this involves the risk that you were wrong about something, and people will point it out in the d
4Chris_Leong17dI wasn't intending this as a criticism. I was merely trying to identify the difference in perspective. I think the quote might make it seem that way - people often quote when they are rejecting a framing - to say that's what they say, not me. However, I was just trying to indicate that I hadn't come up with the phrase myself.
1ozziegooen15dThanks so much for clarifying! Sorry to have misinterpreted that. I think this topic is particularly toxic for online writing. People can be intensely attacked for either side here. This means that people of positions feel more inclined to hint at their positions rather than directly saying them. Which correspondingly means that I'm more inclined to think that text is meant as being hints. If you or others want to have a private video call about these topics I'd be happy to do so (send me a PM), I just hate public online discussion for topics like these.

I think from reading some of the other comments here on the LessWrong post, I'm a bit worried that this might be turning into some flame wars.

I'd note that this particular book is probably not the best one to have debates around this issue for. The book seems to be quite a bit more sensationalist, moralistic, and less scientific than I'd really like, which I think makes it very difficult to discuss. This seems like a subject that would attract lots of motte-and-bailey thinking on both sides. (the connection between more reasonable vs. outlandish claims representing the motte-and-bailey, but switched on each side). 

This is clearly a highly sensitive issue. No one wants to be (publicly especially!) associated with either racism or cancel culture. 

Publicly discussion is far more challenging than private discussions. For example, we simply don't know who is watching these discussions or who might be trying to use anything posted here for antagonistic purposes. (They copy several comments from someone and post them without much context, accusing them of either racism or cancel culture). 

Very sadly, public discussion of topics like these right now is thoroughly challenging for many reasons. My guess is that it's often just not worth it. 

9Viliam17dIs there another book you have in mind that you could recommend instead?
9ozziegooen15dGreat question! I have some books I personally enjoyed, and also would like to encourage others to recommend texts. I'm sure that my understanding is vastly less than what I'd really want. However, there are a few books that come to mind. I think the big challenge, for me, is "attempting to empathize and understand African Americans". This is incredibly, ridiculously difficult! Cultures are very different from one another. I grew up in an area with a large mix of ethnic groups, and I think that was useful, but the challenge is far greater. I really liked "So You Want to Talk about Race", a few years ago. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35099718-so-you-want-to-talk-about-race?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=Q2Zay18Jca&rank=1 [https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35099718-so-you-want-to-talk-about-race?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=Q2Zay18Jca&rank=1] I thought Black Like Me was great, though it's by a white author, and he doesn't have as good an understanding (though he comes from a similar place to many white readers) https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42603.Black_Like_Me?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=qI4fgVu3E5&rank=1 [https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42603.Black_Like_Me?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=qI4fgVu3E5&rank=1] In pop culture, I found "Dear White People", both the movie, and the TV show (mostly the first 2 seasons), to be pretty interesting. I really like James Baldwin, though enjoyed his speeches more than his books, so far. Honestly, African American Studies is just a gigantic field with lots of great work. This can be looked at as interesting to better understand African Americans, but there's also a lot of other take-aways, like understanding severe cognitive biases and motivated reasoning and from a very different angle. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_American_studies [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_American_studies] Of course, many of these resources are somewhat specific to American problems.

Fans of the TV show The Wire might want to check out David Simon's earlier work The Corner. It's not as artfully done as The Wire, but it is a direct retelling of a real family's story from Simon's days reporting for the Baltimore Sun, so it is as close to being a documentary as you can get without it actually being a documentary. I found both The Wire and The Corner to be quite useful for getting a visceral sense of what it's like to grow up poor and Black in America's inner cities.

I've also learned a lot about America's racial history from reading Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson, particularly the volume Master of the Senate. A brief history of the Senate itself is included in the book, and it's striking to read about the details of how our country's official instruments of power were used to undercut opportunities for Black people well into the 20th century. For example, I had assumed that "white supremacy" was just an academic neologism, but it turns out that Southern whites actually used this term unironically and as a call to action, including in speeches on the Senate floor. That blew my mind.

6Viliam12dLooked briefly at "So You Want to Talk about Race" and yes, it is much better than "White Fragility". There are specific things mentioned already at the beginning of the first chapter, which distinguish between racism and classism -- both real problems with some overlap, but it's driving me crazy how the woke left conflates them... as if the only problem with CEOs exploiting workers is that the CEOs are white males; as long as we make sure there are enough black, female, and nonbinary CEOs, the exploitation of workers will cease to be a moral problem; maybe white male workers unionizing against a black female CEO will be considered sexist and racist... oops, sorry I'm ranting... My point is, the epistemic level of the first chapter (I haven't read more yet) is way higher that the "I make money by telling people they are racist, and I have no clue why they feel so defensive" DiAngelo. Perhaps it helps that it is written by an actual black person who can provide specific examples, as opposed to a woke white activist offering platitudes.
3Chris_Leong15dI read Between the World and Me - and even though I have significiant disagreement with the author - I really did think it was a work of art.
4CraigMichael17dI'm happy that you mentioned this, because I think I agree now that you've pointed it out. Re-thinking some of my comments now. I won't delete them but... I like LessWrong because there's usually not a lot of culture war stuff.
5passinglunatic17dSpeaking personally, I think something like #1 is true on the grounds that I have seen many cases of white Australian people, often with considerable power, acting in excessively patronising and authoritarian ways towards Aboriginal people and I have no difficulty believing that similar things happen in the US. However, I also do not think that racial disparities in outcomes are almost all caused by #1; in fact I think that probably less than 50% of almost any particular disparity is caused by #1. Thus, I think that outcome disparities are at best weak evidence for #1. Many people (notably Ibram X Kendi) say that in fact they are. I actually believe that the theory underlying this claim causes some of the authoritarian behaviour I observe. I think people reason something like this: - We don't want to be racist - Differences in outcome indicate racism - We must eliminate differences in outcome - Eliminating differences in outcome requires substantial behavioural changes on the part of Aboriginal people - Authoritarian strategies are the most reliable way we have to induce substantial behavioural changes I think that overly authoritarian policy is often harmful. I don't know if DiAngelo endorses this claim - that outcome disparities are almost all caused by #1 - but claims like "being white is to know privilege" make me suspect that to some extent she is also reasoning backwards from outcome disparities to the existence of racismS. I think this is a big mistake! I also think, with less confidence, that DiAngelo is not really popularising this theory but is rather explaining a theory that is already popular. Perhaps many people, like myself, think that this theory is flawed and that it is unfortunate that it is so popular. However, I suspect that they are making a mistake blaming DiAngelo for this. Criticism of her book could be a stand-in for criticism of this theory in general. Maybe taking it further, I think that it's possible that reasoning backwards from ou
2ChristianKl13dIs there any culture in which power structures aren't systemic and deeply ingrained into our culture? Even a tribe of hunter gather has it's cultural norms that regulate the power between the individuals. You don't learn anything about a culture by assuming that's true for a culture. I would expect that most people at LessWrong don't have a problem with power structures provided they fulfill critieria like being meriocratic and a few other criteria.
2ozziegooen13dI agree. I think there's a whole lot of stuff deeply ingrained in the culture of every group. It's hard for me to understand your argument here, I expect that this would have to be a much longer discussion. I'm not saying that there aren't some cases where power structures aren't justified. But I think there are pretty clearly some that almost all of us would agree were unjustified, and I think that a lot of racial/historical cases work like that.
3ChristianKl13dThe point is that if you want to speak about power structures, discussing whether or not power structures exists is pointless. What matter is discussing how people should be justified and the benefits and drawbacks of different ways of allocating power. Using SAT scores for college admissions is for example a way to distribute power. Decades ago people didn't want as many Jewish people at universities and thus introduced character assessments into the mix of what matters. Today, the group of people that is argued to be overrepresented was extended and many colleges dropped SAT scores altogether. Back then the argument was that Jewish people had too much power and power structures should be changed so that they have less. Now, the argument is that White people have to much power and power structures should be changed so that they have less. If you just focus on the fact that there are power structures and not the benefits of for example distributed power to intelligent people who score highly on SAT scores, you won't get a good view of the issue to think about good policy and do things like discriminating against Jewish people.
0frontier6417dDefending a position by pointing out that a portion (however big or small) of the critics of the position are 'vitriolic' isn't actually a valid argument. If people really hate something so much so that they get emotional about it that's still pretty good evidence that the something is bad.
4ozziegooen17dPosition noted, but I don't feel like more back-and-forth here will be productive
-2frontier6417dI find non-responsive responses to be entirely lacking any sort of good faith and they come across as quite rude. It's an attempt to signal you hold some sort of moral high ground, that you think you're literally too good to even have a discussion with someone else. It's insulting. If I don't want to respond to a particular comment I don't respond. I don't say "I don't think talking with you will be productive."

FWIW, I generally prefer it if people give a "I am tapping out of this" comment, instead of leaving the discussion hanging. I think it helps create closure and reduces the need for people to recheck the thread on whether anything new was posted. I also generally think people should feel pretty free to tap out of discussions.

6frontier6416dI agreed that an "I am tapping out of this" comment is helpful until I experienced it and realized that the experience is quite unpleasant. There's something particularly stinging about being told that a discussion with you can't be productive. I think I wouldn't be effected at all if the non-response was "I am tapping out of this." without any particular reason being given. I think it has to do with Jordan Peterson's 9th rule for life, "Assume the person you're listening to might know something that you don't". That just just makes sense to me. I don't quite understand why some people care about vitriolic comments on the internet. To me, vitriolic comments are par for the course and bringing it up is an obvious attempt to play the victim card for sympathy. But hey ozziegooen seems like a well-written dude so maybe he has a good explanation for why I should care about whether or not people have written scathing online reviews of DiAngelo's book. Or maybe he has another insight into the topic that I couldn't predict. Definitely his last response to me gave me a lot of information I didn't already know so for me the interaction was a net positive. Saying "we can't have a productive discussion" in response to a two sentence reply completely goes against that 9th rule. It's an acknowledgement that the responder is listening to me, because he responded to my comment. But he's also stating that he thinks I have literally nothing to offer him by way of new information and vice-versa. That's pretty low! I am certainly more sensitive on this issue than most people here. If ozziegooen's comment wouldn't seem insulting to others then really the issue lies entirely with me and I'll adapt to the style of decorum that fits most people. I don't want to jump at conduct that the LW community thinks is fine. On a different note, I agree with you that people should feel free to tap out of discussions. I don't mind if someone doesn't wish to discuss further. I've tapped out of many

There are >7 billion people on the planet, and likely >100 active threads on LessWrong. Your prior should strongly be against interaction with any specific person on any specific topic being the best use of your time, not for it. 

4ChristianKl13dI believe that operating from tell culture when interacting on LessWrong is fine. Yes, that will mean that people who are socialized in guess culture will find some things rude or unpleasant but that doesn't justify LessWrong switching to ask culture norms. Jordan Peterson's rules for life are about taking responsibility for your own life. It seems like you advocate here that other people are supposed to take responsibilty for you feeling offended. I seems to me like you are violating the rule you appear when you advocate here if you state that ozziegooen should have self censored themselves instead of truthfully expressing what he believed to be true.
-3frontier6413dMy response is fine in tell culture too no? I'm stating what I believe to be true of their comment. Why is it ok for ozziegooen to speak truthfully in his comment but it's not ok for me to reply truthfully wrt to my impression of his comment?
8ChristianKl13dMind reading ("It's an attempt to signal you hold some sort of moral high ground") isn't what you do in tell culture. The idea that you are "telling the truth" when you are mind reading seems strange to me. In contrast when ozziegooen says I do X because I expect Y then it makes sense to assume that his explanation of his own motivation is correct. Unless of course, you think he's lying about his motivation (maybe because he would actually believe ¬Y, and has another reason).
-7frontier6413d
2ozziegooen15dThanks for the longer comments here! Quick thoughts, on my end: This is definitely not how I saw it. I'm sure everyone has a lot to learn from everyone else. The big challenge is that this learning is costly and we have extremely limited resources. There's an endless number of discussions we could be part of, and we all have very limited time left in total (for discussions and other things). So if I try to gently leave a conversation, it's mainly a signal of "I don't think that this is the absolutely most high-value thing for me to be doing now", which is a high bar! Second, I think you might have been taking this a bit personally, like me trying to hold off conversation was a personal evaluation as you as a person. Again, I know very little about you, and I used to know even less (when you made the original comment). This is the comment in question: This really doesn't give me much insight into your position or background. Basically all I know about you is that you wrote these two sentences here, and have written a few comments on LessWrong in the past. My prior for "person with an anonymous name on LessWrong, a few previous comments there, and so on", doesn't make me incredibly excited to spend a lot of time going back and forth with. I've been burned in the past, a few times, with people who match similar characteristics. Often people who use anonymous accounts wind up being terrific, it's just hard to discern which are which, early on. About that last line; I'm fine with you replying or not replying. I wish you the best in the continuation of your intellectual journey. Lastly, I'll note that this "White Fragility" is a very sensitive topic that I'm not excited to chat about publicly on forums like this. (In part because my comments on this get downvoted a lot, in part because this sort of discussion can easily be used as ammunition later on by anyone interested (against either myself or any of the other commenters who responds)). My identity is clearly

I'm really sorry if I hurt or offended you. I assumed that a brief description of where I was at would be preferred to not replying at all. I clearly was incorrect about that.

I disagree with some of your specific implications. I'm fairly sure though that you'd disagree with my responses. I could easily imagine that you've already predicted them, well enough, and wouldn't find them very informative, particularly for what I could write in a few sentences. 

This isn't unusual for me. I try to stay out of almost all online discussion. I have things to do, I'm sure you have things to do as well. Online discussion is costly, and it's especially costly when people know very little about each other[1], and the conversation topic (White Fragility) is as controversial as this one is.

[1]:  I know almost nothing about you. I feel like I'd have a very difficult time feeling comfortable saying things in ways I can predict you'd be receptive to, or things that you wouldn't actively attack me for. I find that I've had a difficult time modeling people online; particularly people who I barely know. This could easily lead to problems of several different kinds. It's very, very possible that none of this applies to you, but it would take a fair amount of discussion for me to find that out and feel safe with my impressions of you. This also applies for all the other people I don't know, but who might be watching this conversation or jump in at any point.

3Jotto99914dThat seems like weak evidence. People frequently hate things that don't really warrant it. For example, lenders provide a service to society, and the use of their service is voluntary. Their rates and terms are constrained by facts of money and risk management that are mostly out of their control. Yet they are still widely despised and have been for a long time.
5frontier6413dI agree that it isn't strong evidence. I should have made my point more explicit. My point is that Ooziegooen mentions the vitriol as if it is evidence that DiAngelo's argument has value and should be discussed. If anything it's evidence against that notion (however weak it may be).

This tactic is called Kafkatrapping:

"A sophistical rhetorical device in which any denial by an accused person serves as evidence of guilt."

Its also an idea I consider far more absurd than creationism, and to be frank I am shocked to see it taken seriously here. 

1) If race is a social construct, then if we abandon this social construct, will a person who previously would have been conceptualised as Asian suddenly grow a few inches? If not, then this is an example of race having a physical meaning independent of mental states.

2) If differing outcomes are a matter of oppression, then shouldn't Holocaust survivors, the city of Hiroshima, the whole of China etc all be doing really badly? Shouldn't African Americans be doing worse than African Africans, as African Africans are distanced from White oppression? 

3) Since Jewish people have more power than non-Jews on average, any logically consistent claim of the need to fight Whiteness also justifies anti-Semitism (to make it abundantly clear, I am attempting a reducto ad Hiterium argument, I am not trying to justify anti-Semitism)

I am quite curious as to whether anything like this (a group of people deciding to hate themselves) ... (read more)

7ChristianKl15dSartre's Reflections on the Jewish Question is well worth reading in this regard. I picked it up after Michael Vassar recommended it. For Sartre (who was Jewish) a lot of what anti-semitism was inherently about is anti-intellecutalism. Given how people conceptualize Whiteness as being about the various intellectual features like valuing objective truth and high IQ, the content of both fights seems very similar.
6Vanilla_cabs15dMy grand theory on this is that the various phases we've been going through the last century at least are decided by the power relationship between an elite (political, industrial or both) and the masses. During the cold war, the western elite had to make large concessions to the masses in order to stave off communism. In other words, the competition between capitalism and communism benefitted the arbiter, the masses: wage raises, (un)employment rights, strong unions, positive media representation of the middle class, cultural power, individual rights, etc. Now that the alternative has disappeared, the elites strike back. For that, keeping the masses divided proves extremely efficient. It's striking that most problems that occupy the stage nowadays are divisive, while 40 years ago they were unifying. Demands for global, universal progress have been replaced with inter-sectoral complaints. TL,DR: Pet theory: this self-hate is fostered by the elite. It's excellent at dividing the general population, and therefore neutralizing any actually relevant political demand/alternative. 1 discussion about UBI is drowned in the middle of 100 discussions about white privilege.
2ChristianKl15dUnder occupation German culture developed a self-hatred in the 60ies. I would expect that to the extend that there's self hatred in other ethnic group it's likely not a ethnic group that has the power in their territory.

Thanks for the review - I appreciate that you spent the time to sift through these ideas.

When you say that we need to "be willing to make uncomfortable, difficult changes," do you have some specific changes in mind?

I think most people, including people in this thread are vicious racists and do not know it, and that their vicious racism stems from their rationalism.

Here is a simple question to determine whether you practice racism:

"Do you believe that test scores and academic achievements prior to academic or professional training are indicative of increased competence, or are all graduates of a professional program identically competent on graduation day?"

If you believe the latter (all graduates of medical school X are uniformly competent doctors), you are not a folk... (read more)

3skeptical_lurker16dI can understand why a race realist would argue that beleiving the truth makes you racist, but why a vicious racist?
0RedMan16dYou're absolutely right, the word vicious is redundant. Colloquially, the word racist is understood to include any negative attribute (such as viciousness) that could be ascribed to a person.

I would argue that DiAngelo's and the progressive left definition of racism is not congruent and contradictory. On the one hand, it is defined by consequences alone : "Beliefs and actions are racist if they lead to minorities continued  disadvantage compared to Whites." Regardless of the connotation and baggage of the word, this is a useful concept.

 However, this also means that pretty much everything you do is racist if you actually follow the definition: You do not want to attend a diversity seminar, forget about race and just do your work? By ... (read more)

1Vanilla_cabs14dBut how do you delineate disadvantage? If white parents support their kids so that they succeed at school, are they putting their black classmates at a disadvantage and therefore being racist? It seems consistent with the consequentialist definition you give.
1MichaelLowe14dYes, absolutely. But that is not my definition, just the one that (as I understand it) DiAngelo gives.

DiAngelo grew up Catholic and poor. It's like she's a saint of antiracism - she didn't have the luxury of coming from a comfortable economic class, but still learned to do penitence for her original sin of white privilege. 

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