Robin DiAngelo And The Two Schools Of Anti-Racism
On page one of Robin DiAnglo’s book Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm, the author tells us about an encounter she had with a couple of Black people. DiAnglo and her partner were having a meal with a couple of Black people her partner knew and DiAnglo did not. This is how DiAnglo goes on to tell the story:
I was excited and felt an immediate need to let them know I was not racist. To that end, I proceeded to spend the evening telling them how racist my family was. I shared every racist joke, story, and comment I could remember my family ever making. And yes, I shared these in full, uncensored. “Can you believe they said that?” I would ask. I wanted to establish that I would never say those ridiculous and ignorant things because I knew how racist they were and I was not like the rest of my family.
In fairness to DiAnglo, she then goes on to condemn this behavior and makes it clear this was highly inappropriate of her. However, what baffles me — and what will likely baffle readers of DiAngelo’s work — is that, at the end of the day, both of her books do exactly what she did above. Sure, she’s more acidemic now than she was before, she likely has a greater understanding of policy than she did at the time, and she’s not just going up to people of color and giving them anecdotes of white people being racist, but what truly separates her actions back then from her actions now?
I’ve always considered there to be two schools of anti-racism. The first one is dedicated to building up people of color and members of marginalized communities, the other is dedicated to tearing down white people and other privileged groups. (The first group has more in common with Martin Luther King Jr., who fought for the rights of all people regardless of their skin color, while the second group has more in common with Malcolm X. To give a more modern example, the first group fights the same fight as Jesse Jackson while the second group fights alongside Louis Farrakhan.)
The second group is relatively small, usually made up of teenagers and young adults who are just discovering the harsh truths regarding racial policy in the United States. Although there’s also a handful of disillusioned people of color who have lost any faith in the system and are now dedicated to tearing it down (this is where the aforementioned Malcolm X fell). The only reason anyone even knows about them is because their tweets and TikTok videos are posted all around the right-wing noise machine with the specific purpose of making the first group look bad.
Truth be told, I don’t particularly mind the second group most of the time. If some Black teenager wants to vent on Twitter about how all white people are bad — well I don’t like that, but it’s not exactly my place to stop them.
DiAngelo is different, however. She’s an academic with two best-selling books to her name — she’s also a White woman whose over sixty years old.
Earlier this year, DiAngelo got into some controversy regarding her involvement with racial sensitivity videos Coca-Cola used, which encouraged people to “be less white” (whatever that means).
Some have defended the above by pointing out the academic term “whiteness” does not just mean “being white” but references specific characteristics related to white supremacy. However, if that’s the case (and I won’t deny it is), that still does not debunk my overall point. The fact is, DiAnglo remains more interested in telling people to “be less white” than she is in solving the systemic issues that face marginalized groups. (Also, if a worker is a white supremacist, it’s very unlikely their mind is going to be changed with a slide show created by a well-known anti-racist.)
In a vacuum, there’s nothing wrong with being white. The issue comes from the fact that society gives white people more advantages than they do people with other skin colors. I’m not interested in telling white people to “be less white,” because it simply does not do anything. Systemic racism is not going to be solved through Robin DiAngelo’s books, it’s going to be solved through serious policy created by people who ignore her.