Like many of you, I enjoy a good book. Apart from occasional espionage novels, nearly all of my reading is Christian literature, theology, history, and science. Yet now and again, I read a work that challenges me to the core. I want to tell you about one such book.
At a special conference on race at Pepperdine attendees were given a reading suggestion: the book White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018). So I went to Amazon and ordered it. After all, when someone points out a blind spot, or insists that we don't "get it," the proper response is openness—not anger or apathy. And this is definitely a blind spot for me.
DiAngelo's book hit me hard—bringing back the feeling I had after my friend Mike Burns suggested an online test measuring prejudice. (I didn't score so well.) After I told an African-American friend that the book was "stunning," he aptly commented, "For you, yes—yet not for us." And he's right.
For those of us who are truly trying to be like Jesus, it's incumbent on us that we understand and empathize with our non-white brothers and sisters worldwide. It is not Christ-like to remain blissfully unaware of their experiences or treatment (present or historical).
Am I open, or offended?
After all, the book of James warns us about sins of favoritism (James 2:1-4; 3:17), and especially of the sort of discrimination institutionalized in our society (James 5:1-5). In nearly every place there is injustice. Many benefit greatly from the labor of others, typically an "underclass" for have less access to goods, services, privilege, and power. Am I open to the possibility that I have shown favoritism, or am prejudiced, or might even be supporting racism, consciously or unconsciously?
Rather than be offended, shouldn't I as a disciple of Christ be open to the possibility that I am not necessarily the person I proclaim myself to be? Hardly any of us would admit to being racist—but that doesn't mean we aren't members of an "overclass" that routinely benefits at the expense of others. We are rarely discriminated against. We simply don't understand what most non-whites members experience on a daily basis.
Of course the book is not perfect. I disagreed with a couple of the points the author made—you may, too—yet found the overall line of reasoning to be sound. Please don't close your heart to the message of the book without giving it an honest hearing. (That means reading the work, not just reading third-party reviews.)
White Fragility is directed to an American readership—though non-Americans will appreciate it, too. It is particularly addressed to white people, since they are the ones who reap the benefits from institutional, endemic racism—even if they are unaware of their privileged status.
As one reviewer notes, "White Fragility is a rare and incisive examination of white-body supremacy, which binds us all as Americans. Robin DiAngelo explicates the underlying Western ideologies of individualism and presumed objectivity that tighten those bonds... She provides the antidote to white fragility and a road map for developing white racial stamina and humility. White Fragility loosens the bonds of white supremacy and binds us back together as human beings" (Resmaa Menakem, author of My Grandmother's Hands and Rock the Boat).
So if you're a white American, let me encourage you to order White Fragility. For more reading ideas, by category, check out the Helpful Books document.
For an important caution about the broader postmodern agenda of intellectuals like DiAngelo, listen to the podcast “Unbelievable—with Justin Brierley.” The episode “Is Identity Politics the New Religion?” and can be found here. (At the top of the congested page is a play button. Start listening at timestamp 5:38, and go to 1:30:04. They address, head on, why messages like Robin DiAngelo’s are part of a graceless new pseudo-religion, aligned with postmodernism.
This podcast (there are four speakers, Brierley plus three guests) helps me to see the issue in context. I still find DiAngelo to have much of value—including several painful points about which I need to be humble—yet I am not required to accept all her conclusions. Another poignant critic of "identity politics" is Univ. of Toronto Professor of Psychology Jordan Peterson.