How ‘White Fragility’ Theory Turns Classrooms Into Race-Charged Power Struggles

by Jonathan Church and Christopher Paslay

White fragility theory is counterproductive and divisive. White teachers should not be discounted, bullied, or shut down during anti-bias trainings in schools.

(Note: This article was first published in The Federalist on February 28, 2020. It was also discussed on the Dan Proft radio show.)

On Feb. 28, 2020, Dr. Robin DiAngelo delivers the keynote speech at the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education in Atlanta, Georgia. DiAngelo has become “perhaps the country’s most visible expert in anti-bias training.” She is also the author of a best-selling book on “why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism.”

The answer, she says, is “white fragility,” defined as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” This “racial stress” is the direct result of “implicit bias,” which runs so strong in white people that it is a core reason racism persists in America. This claim is based on a worldview, advanced by an increasingly influential field called Whiteness Studies, that racism is inseparable from the reign of Whiteness.

Whiteness is seen as a central pillar of society. What is Whiteness? It is hard to say, but the basic idea is that all the institutions of society are “white”—made by white people, ruled by white people, and kept in place by white people to make sure that white people continue to benefit from “white privilege.” These institutions are infected by white supremacy, a result of the long arc of racism in American history. Whiteness works through implicit bias, which refers to a whole range of unconscious behaviors, speech, and beliefs that keep white supremacy in place.

It should not be surprising that many white people are not convinced. If so, DiAngelo says, they are experiencing “racial stress,” which gets in the way of dismantling Whiteness. In other words, they are exhibiting white fragility. It turns out, however, that white people have good reason to be skeptical.

What’s ‘Fragile’ Is DiAngelo’s Response to Criticism

One of us, Mr. Church, has written several essays about DiAngelo’s theory over the last year and a half. Among other topics, he has explained how the research on implicit bias does not give us reason to think that implicit bias predicts much of anything about how we think and behave. He has also pointed out many methodological flaws in her work. But his ultimate assessment is simple: “White fragility” is a phrase DiAngelo invented to delegitimize any disagreement with her views on what causes racial inequality.

DiAngelo is attempting to address one of the most important issues of our time. But she does so with an air of piety that presumes she knows all the answers. One of the main challenges in the analysis of Whiteness and white privilege is the deeply ambiguous nature of these terms (see herehere, and here). As historian Eric Arsenen wrote, “whiteness has become a blank screen onto which those who claim to analyze it can project their own meanings.” The inherent ambiguity in a term like Whiteness is likely one of the main reasons DiAngelo has encountered resistance over the years.

In response, she has doubled down, defining “one aspect of Whiteness and its effects, White Fragility,” as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves,” which “include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation,” all of which allegedly “function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.” In other words, disagreement is bad.

In effect, DiAngelo has pulled off a master stroke of rhetorical legerdemain. “White fragility” is a term that rhetorically delegitimizes in one stroke any “defensiveness” when confronted with DiAngelo’s views about racism and Whiteness. Unfortunately, this approach invariably leads to rampant speculation, rather than careful hypotheses, about what Whiteness is and how it causes racial disparities.

The inquisitional nature of this approach is so remarkably transparent that one is at a loss to explain how DiAngelo gets away with asserting incoherently that “[h]uman objectivity is not actually possible” given that such a claim is itself an objective statement that also confuses objectivity with neutrality. Instead, the act of pointing out this incoherence is reflexively treated as an act of heresy which must be “cancelled” or punished for allegedly accommodating white supremacy.

Schools Eat Up Incoherent ‘White Fragility’ Theory

One area in which this theory has become increasingly influential is education. Mr. Paslay has spent two decades in Philadelphia classrooms and teacher training workshops. He has found that white fragility—apart from raising awareness about structural inequality—is having some unintended side-effects on schools in America. Above all, the theory fosters intolerance from facilitators leading anti-bias trainings in educational settings, which can provoke resentment among teachers.

Dr. David W. Johnson, a co-director of the Cooperative Learning Center at the University of Minnesota, studies the benefit of cooperative learning, social interdependence, and constructive conflict. He offers eight guidelines for facilitating classroom discussions with students who are prone to challenge their professors, suggestions many educators leading the professional development workshops Mr. Paslay has attended have ignored.

The first is simply being respectful. Johnson writes of students who are overly critical of their professors, “Do not discount them as people or treat them impolitely (such as cutting them off or not calling on them).”

Yet Mr. Paslay has been cut off in the middle of speaking numerous times in anti-bias teacher trainings. DiAngelo freely admits to limiting the participation of whites in her workshops in favor of people who look different, and even talks of cutting off whites who try to defend themselves. Indeed, in one of her academic papers, she recommends denying “equal time to all narratives in our classrooms.”

Johnson also suggests that teachers should listen to their students carefully, and when disagreeing with them, the focus should be on the issue, not on the person commenting. Again, these are not approaches many facilitators have taken in teacher trainings Mr. Paslay has attended. These trainings are clearly influenced by the theory of white fragility.

In multiple circumstances, the workshop leaders half-listened in a perfunctory manner, knowing that what Mr. Paslay was saying deviated from the tendentious ideological script they had been assigned to deliver. When Mr. Paslay was finished offering his alternative perspective, if he had not been shut down or cut off, the facilitators often took issue with him personally—labeling him “racist” or “biased”— not the issue at hand.

Treating White People How She’d Never Treat Black People

DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” is a focused attack on the behaviors of white people, as opposed to placing the primary focus on particular issues. In an interview with Teaching Tolerance, DiAngelo explained that in her workshops, making generalizations about white people and the fact that they are complicit in systemic racism causes them great umbrage.

DiAngelo stated, “Right now, me saying ‘white people,’ as if our race had meaning, and as if I could know anything about somebody just because they’re white, will cause a lot of white people to erupt in defensiveness. And I think of it as a kind of weaponized defensiveness. Weaponized tears. Weaponized hurt feelings. And in that way, I think white fragility actually functions as a kind of white racial bullying.”

Incredibly, white people taking offense to being called fragile, racist, or reacting with tears or hurt feelings is racial bullying, according to DiAngelo. But all of DiAngelo’s name calling, personal judgements of character, and attacks are not? This amounts to a rhetorical bullying tactic in itself.

It is also a classic example of psychological projection, which is another way scholar-activists like DiAngelo can protect the presumed infallibility of white fragility theory while failing to consider perspectives that run counter to its ideology. Tragically, as research suggests, these workshops are a setback for diversity, and too often leave whites with a feeling of frustration or resentment.

How Anti-Bias Training Breeds Racism

In the world of education, this means white teachers go back to their classrooms feeling guilty, accused, and even more close-minded than before. The recent actions of New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza are a prime example. His use of anti-bias training to dismantle what he called “White Supremacy Culture” in schools sparked a major backlash, prompting administrators, teachers, and parents to call parts of the workshops “ugly and divisive.”

Specifically, teachers were told by diversity consultants to “focus on black children over white ones,” and one Jewish superintendent who described her family’s Holocaust tragedies “was scolded and humiliated.”  To make matters worse, four white New York City school district executives, who were demoted or stripped of duties under Carranza’s administrative reorganization, sued the city, insisting he had created “an environment which is hostile toward whites.”

In essence, white fragility theory boils down to Power vs. Force, a concept made popular by Dr. David R. Hawkins. It analyzes “the hidden determinants of human behavior.” While true power resides from within, force is applied through projection—an outside force trying to impose its will. Force can only work for so long; once it encounters true power, it immediately unravels.

Interestingly, many of the emotions DiAngelo cites as evidence of white fragility—such as anger, shame, guilt, and apathy—are listed by Hawkins as a reaction to force. Nowhere in white fragility theory or whiteness studies can one find positive responses related to true power, such as courage, love, joy, or enlightenment; everything tied to white fragility is zero-sum and is based on dichotomy rather than unity.

White fragility theory is counterproductive and divisive. White teachers should not be discounted, bullied, or shut down when presenting alternative perspectives during anti-bias trainings in schools. A tolerant, holistic approach to social equity in education must be achieved to bring about positive change, and to prevent the unintended perpetuation of racial stereotypes and low student expectations in America’s classrooms.

Jonathan Church is a government economist, CFA charter holder, and writer whose work has appeared in Quillette, Areo, Arc Digital, Merion, Agonist Journal, Good Men Project, and other places. You can follow him on Twitter @jondavidchurch. Christopher Paslay is a Philadelphia public schoolteacher and coach. His articles have appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, American Thinker, and Real Clear Politics, among other publications. You can follow him on Twitter @cspaslay.

KIPP Retires Its National Slogan, ‘Work hard. Be Nice.’

by Christopher Paslay

The founders of KIPP have been successfully reeducated by modern anti-racists.  

On July 1st, KIPP charter school founder Richard Barth announced KIPP was retiring its national slogan, ‘Work hard. Be nice.’  According to Barth, the slogan “ignores the significant effort required to dismantle systemic racism, places value on being compliant and submissive, supports the illusion of meritocracy, and does not align with our vision of students being free to create the future they want.”

Barth also stated that KIPP is committed to “eliminating the presence of police in our schools wherever possible,” and demands “a commitment to anti-racism as a condition of employment because everyone who works at KIPP must be committed to anti-racism in their beliefs and in their behavior.”

It appears we need to do some unpacking here, to use a phrase from the modern anti-racist movement.  But before we do so, let’s give praise where praise is due: KIPP charter schools have had legitimate success over the past decade, especially when it comes to preparing mostly low-income students for college and beyond.  As of the fall of 2017, KIPP’s national college completion rate was 36 percent for all alumni who completed eighth grade at a KIPP school, and 45 percent for those who graduated from a KIPP high school; low-income alumni of KIPP schools are graduating college at nearly 4 times the national average compared with the 11 percent rate expected for that student population.

Although there are many variables when it comes to academic success — educational achievement is indeed a complex equation — hard work is no doubt one of those variables.  KIPP founders knew this from the charter’s inception, which is why KIPP students spend 50 percent more time learning than students in traditional schools, with a school day that typically goes from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., along with a mandatory three-week summer-school program.

Jay Mathews, an education columnist for The Washington Post, agrees.  In January of 2019, he wrote:

I consider KIPP one of the best charter networks in the country, mostly because of its success attracting and developing great educators who help impoverished students learn. The teachers I have interviewed at 42 of KIPP’s 224 schools have supported the network’s long hours, high standards, intricate field trips, focus on character development, and creative use of music and games.

So why is Barth retiring KIPP’s mantra, “Work hard. Be Nice.”?  He is doing so in part as a response to the June 18thletter written by KIPP co-founder Dave Levin, who has decided to embrace the newly emerging cult of modern anti-racism, a highly political and extremely polarizing approach to social justice. Levin wrote to KIPP alumni:

[A]s a white man, I did not do enough as we built KIPP to fully understand how systemic and inter-personal racism, and specifically anti-Blackness, impacts you and your families – both inside of KIPP and beyond. It is clear that I, and others, came up short in fully acknowledging the ways in which the school and organizational culture we built and how some of our practices perpetuated white supremacy and anti-Blackness. In recent years, I have come face to face with the understanding that white supremacy doesn’t just mean the public and hateful displays of racism; it applies to all aspects of the world that are set up for the benefit of and perpetuation of power for white people at the expense of Black, Latinx, and other People of Color.

Incredibly Levin, a man who’s transformed the lives of thousands of low-income students of color through selfless dedication, sacrifice, and love, now believes he actually fostered a charter school system that “perpetuated white supremacy and anti-Blackness,” and that the world is set up “for the benefit of and perpetuation of power for white people at the expense of Black, Latinx, and other People of Color.”

In other words, his worldview is now zero-sum: in order for people of color to achieve, “white privilege” and “white supremacy culture ” must be dismantled; the advancement of one group requires the disruption of another.

Hence, the retiring of KIPP’s famously awesome slogan.  According to the cult of modern anti-racism (not to be confused with traditional multiculturalism, which is proactive instead of reactive, and is celebratory rather than accusatory), “hard work” is a racist term, because it implies that there is no systemic oppression for people of color.  Suggesting a student of color could simply “pull himself up by his bootstraps” discredits the impact of a white supremacy culture, and forwards the “illusion of meritocracy.”

In the world of anti-racism, there is no such thing as real merit.  Specifically, what whites have achieved is illegitimate, because it was gained through the oppression of blacks.  Likewise, the challenges that people of color face are the direct result of racist whites and anti-blackness.  And in order to disrupt this oppressive system, anti-racists must confront systemic white supremacy head-on — which is why “being nice” is no longer tolerated.  (See Angelina E. Castagno’s book The Price of Nice: How Good Intentions Maintain Educational Inequity, or her book Educated in Whiteness: Good Intentions and Diversity in Schools.)

Unlike traditional multiculturalism, anti-racism is rooted in confrontation, provocation, and agitation, and aims to shock implicitly racist whites out of their “privileged bubble.”  Robin DiAngelo’s book, White Fragility, is a textbook course in triggering whites through such agitation, only when whites feel bullied or stereotyped — or dare to offer an alternative point of view — DiAngelo informs them they suffer from White Fragility, and that they basically need to “get over it.”  

So the slogan “Work Hard. Be Nice,” has now been ripped down like the statue of Ulysses S. Grant in San Francisco.  According to the tweet by Max Eden, an education policy expert and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute:

“Don’t work hard, don’t be nice” is truly the message that woke whites are trying to send to at-risk POC youth.  This move by KIPP is an instantiation of systemic racism that will only help reify white privilege.

It’s quite disheartening that the co-founders of KIPP have been completely reeducated by the cult of modern anti-racism.  Their intensions are good, granted, but to use another phrase from the anti-racist movement: intention don’t matter.  Only impact does.

And what will the impact be when hard work and niceness are recast as “racist”?  When a white KIPP student — or a student from any school, for that matter — learns from his anti-racist teacher that theoretically his achievement is not earned, that all of his success has actually come as a result of anti-blackness?  Will his parents sue the pants off of the school?

We shall see.  That day is coming sooner than you think.

Why Silence Is Not Violence

Hillsdale College’s Frederick Douglass statue, crafted by sculptor Bruce Wolf. Breana Noble | Collegian Archives

by Christopher Paslay

Those of us who choose not to forward the polarizing identity politics at the heart of modern anti-racism should not be told our “silence is violence.”  On the contrary: our everyday actions speak louder than any trendy anti-racist words.

Modern anti-racism, an approach that uses polarizing identity politics to bring so-called social justice, is replete with catchy mantras that help drum home its message and accompanying agenda.  One such phrase is White Silence Is Violence, or more simply Silence Is Violence, a slogan that guilts and/or strong-arms people into espousing the ideologies of modern anti-racism.

As Ibram X. Kendi teaches in his book, How To Be An Antiracist — often viewed as the bible of modern anti-racism — you are either an anti-racist fighting for racial equality, or you are a racist perpetuating white supremacy.  There is no neutrality in the struggle.  According to Robin DiAngelo, whose white fragility theory has become one of the most influential ideas about racism in America, white silence perpetuates white supremacy, and maintains the racial hierarchy. 

But what is meant by “silence”?  When it comes to anti-racism, so-called “silence” is not only failing to speak out against racial injustice, but of also failing to become actively involved with the identity politics at the core of anti-racist ideology.  In other words, you can be a well-meaning educator who stands for equity, equality, and diversity — and set an example by modeling just and fair actions in your classroom — but if you don’t commit to actively pushing anti-racist slogans and agendas, you are still categorized as “silent.”

Recently, Hillsdale College was accused of such “silence.”  Ironically, Hillsdale was founded in 1844 by Free Will Baptists who were abolitionists and feminists, and the college immediately began admitting blacks and women.  Because of Hillsdale’s abolitionist reputation, Frederick Douglass spoke there, as did Edward Everett, who shared the stage with Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.  When the Civil War began, Hillsdale sent a higher percentage of students to the Union Army than any other college in Michigan.  Sixty students gave their lives in the fight against slavery.  A full history of Hillsdale can be found here

Still, in the beginning of June, several dozen Hillsdale students signed an open letter to Hillsdale College that went viral on social media — a letter that accused the college of participating in, or at the very least not preventing, racism.  Why?  Because Hillsdale did not publicly promote the Black Lives Matter movement and advertise the reforms its activists proposed. According to the letter, this “silence” was evidence that the college had “abandoned its founding principles” and consented to “white supremacy” and the “tyranny of our militarized police force.”

In other words, Hillsdale College has been fighting for racial equality and social justice for over 175 years by its actions, not by simply mouthing political slogans or trendy phrases.  And thankfully, Hillsdale didn’t bow to political pressure or get bullied into espousing a modern anti-racist ideology, but took a stand and held firm to its values and principles.  In an official statement titled, “On the College and Silence: A letter from Hillsdale College,” the leaders of the college explained that they didn’t need to publicly pay homage to any modern anti-racist cause, because Hillsdale’s actions were its testament to their fight for equality and justice: 

Amidst the events of recent weeks, a number of alumni and others have taken up formal and public means to insist that Hillsdale College issue statements concerning these events. The College is charged with negligence — or worse.

It is not the practice of the College to respond to petitions or other instruments meant to gain an object by pressure. The College operates by reasoned deliberation, study, and thought. The following observations, however, may be helpful and pertinent.

The College is pressed to speak. It is told that saying what it always has said is insufficient. Instead, it must decry racism and the mistreatment of Black Americans in particular. This, however, is precisely what the College has always said. . . .

The College founding is a statement — as is each reiteration and reminder of its meaning and necessity. The curriculum is a statement, especially in its faithful presentation of the College’s founding mission. Teaching is a statement, especially as it takes up — with vigor — the evils we are alleged to ignore, evils like murder, brutality, injustice, destruction of person or property, and passionate irrationality. Teaching these same things across all the land is a statement, or a thousand statements. Organizing our practical affairs so that we can maintain principles of equity and justice — though the cost is high and sympathy is short — is a statement. Dispensing unparalleled financial help to students who cannot afford even a moderate tuition, is a statement. Helping private and public schools across the country lift their primary and secondary students out of a sea of disadvantages with excellent instruction, curricula, and the civic principles of freedom and equality — without any recompense to the College — is a statement. Postgraduate programs with the express aim of advancing the ideas of human dignity, justice, equality, and the citizen as the source of the government’s power, these are all statements. And all of these statements are acts, deeds that speak, undertaken and perpetuated now, every day, all the time. Everything the College does, though its work is not that of an activist or agitator, is for the moral and intellectual uplift of all. 

(The full statement can be found here, and it’s very worth reading.)

The courage displayed by Hillsdale’s leaders is the kind we need in America as a whole, especially in our public school system.  Just as students have multiple learning styles, educators have multiple teaching styles, and fight for racial equality and justice in their own ways.  Most teachers do so through their actions — by modeling fair and just behavior and strengthening core values such as love, honesty, friendship, respect, and tolerance — and by teaching critical thinking skills. 

Those of us who choose not to forward the polarizing identity politics at the heart of modern anti-racism should not be told our “silence is violence.”  On the contrary: our everyday actions speak louder than any trendy anti-racist words. 

Anti-Racism: The New Religion of Woke Millennials

by Christopher Paslay

Anti-racism, as it is currently configured, has gone a long way from what used to be considered intelligent and sincere civil rights activism.

Dr. John H. McWhorter is an African American Professor of English 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.

In 2018, during a lecture on racism, McWhorter highlighted the ways in which modern anti-racism is less like a productive approach to racial equality, and more like a religion.

“Anti-racism, as it is currently configured, has gone a long way from what used to be considered intelligent and sincere civil rights activism,” McWhorter stated.  “Today, it’s a religion, and I don’t mean that as a rhetorical faint.  I mean that it actually is what any naive anthropologist would recognize as a faith, in people many of whom don’t think of themselves as religious.  But Galileo would recognize them quite easily.  And so for example, the idea that the responsible white person is supposed to attest to their white privilege, and realize that it can never go away — and feel eternally guilty about it — that’s original sin right there.”

McWhorter’s take on anti-racism is a growing perspective.  “We have a cult of social justice on the left,” Andrew Sullivan wrote in New York magazine, “a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical.”  Michael Barone wrote about the cult-like behavior of millennials in his Washington Examiner piece, “The new religion of woke anti-racism.” 

Unlike classic multiculturalism, where conversation and the exchange of diverse ideas and viewpoints are encouraged, modern anti-racism is about indoctrination — its ideology is to be completely accepted, no questions or alternative viewpoints allowed.  Anti-racism has a set doctrine that must be embraced, lest one risk being branded “racist” and chastised and/or silenced.  As National Book Award winner Ibram X Kendi teaches in his book, How to Be An Antiracist (which is part of the Philadelphia School District’s recommended anti-racism curriculum), “There is no neutrality in the racism struggle.”  You either get active fighting racism as an anti-racist, or you remain passive and help perpetuate systemic racism.

Some common points within the anti-racist doctrine are:

  • America is a systemically racist country, and all racial disparities are a result of this racism.
  • Being ‘colorblind’ is racist, because it denies systemic injustice and is “problematic.”
  • Color should not, however, be acknowledged when it comes to unflattering statistics like crime or school violence.  Bringing up color here is considered “problematic” and is not allowed. 
  • All whites have a ‘privilege,’ and perpetuate systemic racism by default.
  • All people of color are racially oppressed, and suffer from systemic racism by default.
  • Whites have zero authority on racial matters, while people of color have total authority.
  • Whites have zero understanding of the experiences of people of color in America.

Whites who fail to accept anti-racist doctrine — or challenge, question, or offer any alternative viewpoint— suffer from “white fragility,” a “problematic” condition where whites supposedly become extremely fragile when they are faced with talking about race. According to Robin DiAngelo, whose white fragility theory has become one of the most influential ideas about racism in America, whites consider a challenge to their worldviews on race a challenge to their worth as a person. As she explains in her book, White Fragility (which is part of the Philadelphia School District’s recommended anti-racism curriculum):

The smallest amount of racial stress is intolerable — the mere suggestion that being white has meaning often triggers a range of defense responses. These include emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and withdraw from the stress-inducing situation. These responses work to reinstate white equilibrium as they repel the challenge, return our racial comfort, and maintain our dominance within the racial hierarchy.   

So if you’re white, and you are learning about anti-racism, you have one option: shake your head and say yes.  Unlike classic multiculturalism, which celebrates diversity and core values that unite the races, anti-racism goes on the offensive, provoking people by race, labeling and stereotyping them, forcing them to adopt the ideology or face backlash.  While multiculturalism is interpersonal, and offers practical solutions like inclusivity and tolerance for diversity on an individual or classroom level, anti-racism is mostly sociopolitical, and targets “systems” by disrupting or dismantling certain groups in order to end “injustice” and spread anti-racist doctrine.  Remember: white silence is violence.

During a 2018 lecture on racism (see video above), Professor McWhorter explains how modern anti-racism — a far cry from classic multiculturalism and the positivity of traditional civil rights activism — has become a religion all its own: 

The idea that, there is going to be a day, when America comes to terms with race, or that there could be.  What does that even mean?  What is the meaning of the ‘coming to terms?’  What would that consist of?  Who would come to them?  What would the terms be?  At what date would this be?  The only reason that anybody says that is because it corresponds to our conception of Judgment Day, and it’s equally abstract.

When we use the word “problematic,” especially since about 2008 or 2009, what we’re really saying is “blasphemous.”  It’s really the exact same term.  Or, the suspension of disbelief.  That is a characteristic of religious faith.  There’s an extent to which logic no longer applies.  That’s how we talk about racism.  So suppose someone asked, ‘Why are we to focus on the occasional rogue cop who kills a black man, when nine times out of ten that black man is in much more danger of being killed by another black man in his neighborhood?’

Gosh, that’s not pretty, but like many things that aren’t pretty, it’s also true.  If you ask about it — though you know you’re not supposed to — eyes roll, and you’re given an answer that doesn’t really completely make sense.  And there’s an etiquette that you’re supposed to stop there.  It’s rather like certain questions that you ask a priest, very gently, but you know that if you don’t get a real answer, then you’re just supposed to move on. . . .

But there are problems with [anti-racism], there are severe problems with it.  It does some good things — it gets some good people elected.  But there’s some bad things.  So for example, if you’re a good anti-racist, then you’re thinking about the cops that kill black men . . . but you’re not supposed to think about the fact that so much more murder happens to men like that in their own neighborhoods.  You’re supposed to think of that as maybe connected to racism in some abstract way, but you’re not supposed to think about it.  You’re not supposed to think about all of those homicides every summer in big cities across America.  Teenage black boys are killing one another in the hundreds over frankly nothing.  That’s somehow less important than what the occasional RoboCop does.  That’s modern anti-racism for you.  That’s backwards. 

And when we think about anti-racism . . . that whites need to undergo some sort of massive psychological revolution before we can have any kind of black success, beyond what we have already, why is somebody talking about their white privilege important, when we’re talking about making black schools better? . . .

Modern anti-racism turns a blind eye to most black homicide.  Anti-racism as currently configured, turns a blind eye to black young people’s upward mobility.  It turns a blind eye to doing the kinds of things that civil rights leaders of fifty years ago considered ordinary in favor of what is ultimately and inwardly a focused quest for moral absolution that has at best a diagonal relationship to helping people who’ve been left behind.  The issue here, I must repeat, is not whether or not racism exists; we know it does. . . . I had some racism of my own two weeks ago.  That’s not the issue.  The issue is whether modern anti-racism is the best way of combating the effects of that racism.  And it’s not. 

Impact vs. Intent: Inside the ‘Racism’ at a Philadelphia Starbucks

by Christopher Paslay

Because only people of color can accurately analyze racism, and that whites — because of their privileged status in a white supremacist society — have no ability to be objective about racial matters, a white person’s intentions can be rendered meaningless if a person of color interprets them as racist.

In April of 2018, two black men were removed from a Starbucks in the Rittenhouse section of Philadelphia by police for refusing to make a purchase. The men asked to use the bathroom and were told by a Starbucks manager that the restrooms were for paying customers only, and were asked to leave. The men, who were apparently meeting a friend for a business meeting, didn’t leave or buy anything.  

They sat down at a table, disregarding the manager, who was a white female, so she called the police; because of a loitering problem in the Rittenhouse Starbucks, managers were apparently instructed to reserve the store for paying customers only. “Hi, I have two gentlemen in my café that are refusing to make a purchase or leave,” the manager said, according the 911 call. “I’m at the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce.” 

The police came and respectfully tried to explain to the men, for nearly 15 minutes, that they needed to leave or be charged with trespassing. According to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, the police gave the men three chances to leave, but they didn’t move.  Finally, the two men were escorted out in handcuffs, but not arrested. The incident was captured on cellphone video by a woman in the store, who then put it up on the Internet. The video went viral, prompting a personal apology from Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, and causing the closing of 8,000 stores for anti-bias training. 

The Rittenhouse Starbucks was soon boycotted and vandalized. The manager was quietly transferred to another store, and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross soon caved to pressure and apologized for making a mistake. Later that month, Starbucks issued a new company policy that stated all were welcome at Starbucks — paying customers or not.

The ruling in the court of public opinion was that the Philadelphia police officers (one of whom was black) and the Starbucks manager were racist, if not consciously, unconsciously. They suffered from implicit bias, and their intentions didn’t matter. Sure, the store manager was only following store policy at the time, and the police were only following the law in regard to loitering on private property, but it was the impact of their actions that truly counted; the two black men felt harassed and discriminated against, which is all that mattered. 

Believing that the two black men could have respected the authority of the manager and purchased a cookie or cup of coffee for a few dollars or left the store, was apparently unreasonable. Social justice advocates insisted that if the men would have been white, the manager would have left them alone; defenders of the manger and police insisted that if the men would have been white, their arrests would have gone unnoticed. There was no way of definitively proving any of this, except for the accusation of implicit bias, which was all that was needed to prove the manager and police guilty of racism.

There’s a growing movement within whiteness studies to “think impact, not intent.”

“I think intentions are irrelevant,” anti-racist educator Robin DiAngelo said in an interview with Teaching Tolerance. “It’s nice to know you had good intentions, but the impact of what you did was harmful. And we need to let go of our intentions and attend to the impact, to focus on that.” 

Because only people of color can accurately analyze racism, and that whites — because of their privileged status in a white supremacist society — have no ability to be objective about racial matters, a white person’s intentions can be rendered meaningless if a person of color interprets them as racist. This perspective is effectively gaining ground due to a concept known as implicit bias, which underpins a very large majority of anti-racist ideology.

Unfortunately, the actual science behind implicit bias — a person’s so-called unconscious discriminatory attitudes which directly influence their behavior — is relatively weak.  Research continues to show Harvard’s Implicit Association Test, which is viewed as the Holy Grail of racial bias testing, is invalid and unreliable. In the words of New York Magazine writer Jesse Singal, “there’s very little evidence to support the claim that the IAT meaningfully predicts anything.” 

Singal writes:

In fact, the test is riddled with statistical problems — problems severe enough that it’s fair to ask whether it is effectively “misdiagnosing” the millions of people who have taken it, the vast majority of whom are likely unaware of its very serious shortcomings. There’s now solid research published in a top journal strongly suggesting the test cannot even meaningfully predict individual behavior. And if the test can’t predict individual behavior, it’s unclear exactly what it does do or why it should be the center of so many conversations and programs geared at fighting racism. 

This hasn’t stopped the whiteness studies movement from using implicit bias to forward their narrative on racism and white supremacy, however. Despite the absence of hard data, anti-racist educators continue to use implicit bias to focus on impact over intent, claiming the unconscious biases of well-meaning whites are causing them to perpetuate racism despite their intentions to do otherwise. 

So when a situation arises between a white individual and a person of color, and the person of color feels slighted or victimized by racist behavior, the intention of the white person doesn’t matter; it’s just the impact of the white person’s behavior that counts. Furthermore, because whites have no racial objectivity, only the person of color can determine if the behavior was insulting or racist, as there’s no co-creation or co-responsibility between the races when it comes to antiracism.

Is this a recipe for racial healing and understanding?  Hardly.  But it is good for increasing the power of identity politics, which is a major goal of the anti-racist agenda. 

Colorblind Racism: Why Anti-Racists Insist We Look At Skin Color

by Christopher Paslay

The concept of colorblindness has been hijacked and redefined by anti-racists, so much so that its meaning has literally been inverted and turned on its head — going from a positive that society should strive to attain to a negative that it should guard against.

A major part of anti-racism is challenging a white person’s belief in colorblindness, and how this belief serves to both obscure and perpetuate white privilege and institutional racism. Traditionally, colorblindness is a positive — a way of viewing the world not through the superficial lens of race and skin color, but through a deeper perspective, one centered on universal human values like love, compassion, tolerance, honesty, and friendship. Often times, the concept of colorblindness is associated with Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, where he famously stated that he dreamt of a time when his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

But today, the concept of colorblindness has been hijacked and redefined by anti-racists, so much so that its meaning has literally been inverted and turned on its head — going from a positive that society should strive to attain to a negative that it should guard against. Within the field of whiteness studies, the concept is now known as “colorblind racism,” and anti-racist educators now call for people not to be colorblind, but to be “colorbold.” According to DiAngelo, colorblind racism is “pretending that we don’t notice race or that race has no meaning. This pretense denies racism and thus holds it in place.”  DiAngelo’s definition ties in directly with the essential question of her book on white racial literacy What Does It Mean To Be White?, which asks, “What does it mean to be white in a society that proclaims race meaningless, yet is deeply divided by race?” 

But there’s a fundamental problem with both the essential question of DiAngelo’s book and with her definition of colorblind racism. According to “An Empirical Assessment of Whiteness Theory: Hidden from How Many?”, which used data from the American Mosaic Project to test the hypotheses developed in the paper, race does matter to white people, as 74 percent of white Americans surveyed — almost three-fourths — said that their racial identity was either “very important” or “somewhat important.” 

And according to a 2016 Pew Research study on America’s views on race and inequality, 31 percent of whites admitted that being white made it easier for them to succeed, while 53 percent of whites said more must be done to bring about racial equality in America. 

It’s not that the majority of whites think race doesn’t matter, it’s that they think it shouldn’t matter; there’s a major difference between these two concepts. Nearly all Americans are aware of race, especially in light of the news media’s obsession with race and racism on television, in newspapers, and on the internet. Granted, some whites may not always be aware of the advantages race gives them in their daily life, or the ways in which race may disadvantage people of color in certain situations. But the notion that whites believe race doesn’t matter is misrepresented and overblown.

True colorblindness isn’t “pretending we don’t notice race or that race has no meaning” as DiAngelo claims. Traditional colorblindness is the filtering out of the superficial characteristics of eye shape, hair texture, and skin tone, and of connecting and interacting with others via the universal human values of love, kindness, honesty, tolerance, respect, and compassion. If all people learned to do as much, not just casually but with the very core of their beings, the world would be a different place. Racism, prejudice, discrimination, and all manner of social injustice would begin to subside. 

A major goal of anti-racist educators within the field of whiteness studies is to level the playing field and end systemic racial disparities. The purpose behind creating the term “colorblind racism” is clearly to make whites as equally aware of race and racism as nonwhites are, which will in effect “bear witness” to injustice, and help bring an end to it. But what happens then? Once everybody’s sufficiently aware of the ugly consequences of race, then what? 

Logic would suggest the next step would entail teaching people not to judge people by the color of their skin, and to connect and interact with them as fellow humans instead of treating them as “others.” In other words, it would be time to circle back and employ colorblindness. As T.S. Eliot said, We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

At its core, whiteness studies is really a battle to define and control whiteness itself.  By redefining “racism” to mean inherent white privilege and oppression, all whites become guilty by default, even those whites who are caring people free from discrimination. Thus “whiteness” becomes “racism,” which ultimately transforms the property of whiteness into the commodity of racism, and enables the politically oriented whiteness studies movement to usurp whiteness to use and redistribute as it sees fit.

Which is exactly why the field of whiteness studies doesn’t take the direct path and preach traditional colorblindness, and that’s because indoctrinating society to be hyper-aware of race is helping keep race at the forefront — right where anti-racists need it to be. Race and skin color are indeed invaluable when it comes to identity politics, so teaching Americans to be “blind” to it makes no sense politically, and would negatively impact race as a commodity and source of power.

Anti-Racism: The One-Sided Conversation

by Christopher Paslay

Unfortunately, there is no real communication when it comes to anti-racism.  “Conversations” about anti-racism are in reality monologues disguised as dialogues.

In February of 2009, Eric Holder called America “a nation of cowards” for not talking about race.  Ten years later, through the efforts of antiracist educators like Robin DiAngelo, this conversation has finally come to fruition—although the “dialogue” on race is more of a monologue, where scholar-activists like DiAngelo lecture whites about their privilege in an inherently racist society, and where whites shake their heads and say yes. Yes, I live in a world of white supremacy. Yes, my unconscious is loaded with implicit racial biases. Yes, America was founded on the backs of slaves. Yes, yes, yes . . .

This is the only acceptable way for whites to engage in a “conversation” about race in 2020: to sincerely and enthusiastically swallow whole the teachings given them by experts on antiracism and white racial literacy. Silence and nonparticipation are not allowed. According to prominent whiteness scholar and antiracist Robin DiAngelo, “The racial status quo is not neutral; it’s racist. Therefore, anything that works to maintain the status quo rather than challenge it maintains racism.”  

In other words, white silence maintains racial comfort and equilibrium, which keeps white supremacy in place by failing to disrupt the racial hierarchy. So if you’re white and don’t want to appear close-minded, you’re obligated to join the “conversation.” 

Disagreeing, of course, is strictly forbidden. Questioning, probing, challenging, or offering any alternative perspective outside of the approved antiracist school of thought is not an option; all disagreements are invalid, born out of ignorance and misinformation. If whites are persistent in their challenge, they may be told they suffer from “white fragility,” a condition where whites become defensive or standoffish because they lack the endurance to withstand having their views on race confronted.  Developed by DiAngelo, the theory is heavy on politics and light on science. 

In reality, the “conversation” on race is nothing more than a one-sided lecture by zealous whiteness scholars, aimed at indoctrinating the white listener into the cult of antiracism.  These so-called “conversations” have three rules:     

Rule#1:  Whites have zero understand what it’s like to be a person of color in America.  In other words, whites are from Venus and people of color are from Mars, and despite the fact that we are all human and have similar life experiences and emotions — such as love, hate, joy, grief, and compassion — whites could never, even in the smallest sense, empathize with people of color.  Black lives are so drastically oppressed, and white lives are so fantastically privileged, that whites couldn’t possibly understanding the life experiences of people of color.   

Rule#2:  Because Whites live in a privileged white bubble, they are racially illiterate, and have zero authority on racial matters.  Conversely, people of color are racially fluent, and hold a monopoly on racial authority (although, curiously, this still doesn’t stop liberal whites like DiAngelo from lecturing whites on their racial transgressions 24/7). 

Rule# 3:  Whites must acknowledge their privileged status in America, and accept their role in perpetuating systemic racism.  And remember: silence and disagreement aren’t an option. 

So where’s the conversation?  Where’s the exchanging of ideas on race, racism, and better communication?  The answer: There is none. 

As a public school teacher in Philadelphia, I’ve dedicated my life to teaching, coaching, and mentoring children of all races and ethnic backgrounds.  I teach them to read, write, speak, and listen.  I help them to think critically about the world around them, and instill in them the values of love, respect, compassion, and tolerance for diversity.  

Still, this is not enough.  Because I believe in the unity of classic multicultural education, which is more celebratory than accusatory — and seeks to unify people by core values rather than divided them into dualistic groups based on identity — I am the so-called “problem.”  As a white person, I’m expected to blindly swallow whole the divisive ideologies at the core of anti-racist identity politics, which preaches all whites are privileged racists, and all people of color are oppressed victims.    

Unfortunately, there is no real communication when it comes to anti-racism.  “Conversations” about anti-racism are in reality monologues disguised as dialogues.

What is Anti-Racism?

by Christopher Paslay

The advancement of one group should not depend on the disruption, de-centering, or dismantling of another, either individually, culturally, or systemically.

Addressing racism as a system of unequal power between whites and people of color, anti-racism emerged as dissatisfaction grew with multicultural education, which only superficially dealt with the issue of systemic racism. As University of South Dakota sociologist Jack Niemonen wrote in his paper after doing an exhaustive analysis of 160 peer-reviewed journal articles on the subject:

Generally, anti-racist education is understood as a set of pedagogical, curricular, and organizational strategies that hope to promote racial equality by identifying, then eliminating, white privilege. . . . One of its strengths, it is claimed, is the ability to move beyond prejudice and discrimination as a problem to be corrected in individuals in order to examine critically how institutional structures support racist practices economically, politically, and culturally.

Anti-racism’s mission to eliminate white privilege is notable, in that it operates from a zero-sum mentality, and associates Whiteness with oppression and structural racism. By redefining “racism” to mean inherent white privilege and oppression, all whites become guilty by default, even those whites who are caring people free from discrimination. Robin DiAngelo, whose white fragility theory has become one of the most influential ideas about racism in America, openly calls for the de-centering of whiteness in order to end white privilege and so-called white supremacy culture in America. She defines “white,” “white identity,” and “whiteness” as follows:          

White: The “top” classification of the socially constructed and hierarchally arranged racial categories. Those perceived and categorized as white are granted social, cultural, institutional, psychological and material advantages.

White Identity: To be socialized as a white person, enact whiteness by implicitly and explicitly upholding racism and white supremacy, and participate in the rewards of being perceived as white.

Whiteness: A term to capture all of the dynamics that go into being defined and/or perceived as white and that create and reinforce white people as inherently superior through society’s norms, traditions, and institutions.  Whiteness grants material and psychological advantages (white privilege) that are often invisible and taken for granted by whites.

However, addressing systemic injustice starts with personal accountability and action, as anti-racists call on American educators to self-reflect and personally adopt anti-racist ideologies in their lives and classrooms. Therefore, “Whiteness” solely as a systemic, non-individual entity with its own existence is a logical fallacy (see here), and when anti-racists speak of Whiteness, they can only be referring to the cultures, behaviors, and attitudes of those who identify as “white.”

Anti-racism shouldn’t be anti-white. The advancement of one group should not depend on the disruption, de-centering, or dismantling of another, either individually, culturally, or systemically. Bringing positive change is a two-way street between whites and people of color, and involves cooperation and synergy; approaches which divide learning communities into political identity groups, and separate teachers and students into “oppressors” and “oppressed,” are misguided and counterproductive.