Columbia Professor Calls White Fragility ‘Condescending’ to Black People

John H. McWhorter

by Christopher Paslay

John McWhorter, a Columbia professor and native of Philadelphia, says Robin DiAngelo’s book is “dehumanizing” and “deeply condescending to all proud Black people.”

Dr. John H. McWhorter is an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, and a native of Philadelphia.  A product of Friends Select School, his resume is quite impressive: he’s taught at Cornell University, the University of California, Berkeley, and has written for numerous publications, including TimeThe Wall Street JournalThe New York Times, and The Washington Post, among others.

Recently, he published an article in The Atlantic titled, “The Dehumanizing Condescension of White Fragility.”  He writes:

. . . DiAngelo has convinced university administrators, corporate human-resources offices, and no small part of the reading public that white Americans must embark on a self-critical project of looking inward to examine and work against racist biases that many have barely known they had.

I am not convinced. Rather, I have learned that one of America’s favorite advice books of the moment is actually a racist tract. Despite the sincere intentions of its author, the book diminishes Black people in the name of dignifying us. This is unintentional, of course, like the racism DiAngelo sees in all whites. Still, the book is pernicious because of the authority that its author has been granted over the way innocent readers think.

Reading white fragility is rather like attending a diversity seminar. DiAngelo patiently lays out a rationale for white readers to engage in a self-examination that, she notes, will be awkward and painful. Her chapters are shortish, as if each were a 45-minute session. DiAngelo seeks to instruct.

She operates from the now-familiar concern with white privilege, aware of the unintentional racism ever lurking inside of her that was inculcated from birth by the white supremacy on which America was founded. To atone for this original sin, she is devoted to endlessly exploring, acknowledging, and seeking to undo whites’ “complicity with and investment in” racism. To DiAngelo, any failure to do this “work,” as adherents of this paradigm often put it, renders one racist.

As such, a major bugbear for DiAngelo is the white American, often of modest education, who makes statements like I don’t see color or asks questions like How dare you call me “racist”? Her assumption that all people have a racist bias is reasonable—science has demonstrated it. The problem is what DiAngelo thinks must follow as the result of it.

DiAngelo has spent a very long time conducting diversity seminars in which whites, exposed to her catechism, regularly tell her—many while crying, yelling, or storming toward the exit—that she’s insulting them and being reductionist. Yet none of this seems to have led her to look inward. Rather, she sees herself as the bearer of an exalted wisdom that these objectors fail to perceive, blinded by their inner racism. DiAngelo is less a coach than a proselytizer.

When writers who are this sure of their convictions turn out to make a compelling case, it is genuinely exciting. This is sadly not one of those times, even though white guilt and politesse have apparently distracted many readers from the book’s numerous obvious flaws. . . .

For those interested in solid criticisms of White Fragility, McWhorter’s article is well worth reading, especially because it comes from the perspective of an African American (to continue reading, click here). Perhaps one day DiAngelo will debate McWhorter head-to-head, but I highly doubt it. I’m sure McWhorter would welcome the challenge. DiAngelo, on the other hand, probably wants to debate McWhorter as much as Joe Biden wants to debate President Trump.

Which is to say, he’d wipe the floor with her. 

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