Responding to White Fragility
The purpose of this article is to offer a response to the arguments set forth in White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo. I wish to make it clear that I am approaching this book from a Christian perspective with the intent of fostering greater discernment within the Church. In other words, this is not so much a review of White Fragility as it is a response to it.
Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): The ideas advocated in White Fragility are antithetical to the Christian faith and, in fact, constitute a false gospel.
I know that this claim I am making is quite bold. Yet I believe that the evidence will bear this out. As a Christian, I value truth and do not wish to bear false witness or to engage in slander. I intend, rather, to be careful in my criticisms and to analyze White Fragility as fairly as possible. There is nothing wrong with Christians reading books from non-Christians, or even books that advocate a non-Christian worldview. Yet Christians must use discernment and always measure man’s words against God’s words. This is true even when Christians read the writings of fellow Christians, for no Christian should be treated as infallible.
With that being said, Robin DiAngelo starts her book off by arguing that the concept of race is a social construct, even admitting that, “under the skin, there is no true biological race.” She goes on to claim that the idea of race was developed to justify unequal treatment of certain people. On these two points I wholeheartedly agree with her. There is no Biblical concept of race and any attempt to create such a construct is contrary to God’s created order.
Yet the problem with DiAngelo’s argument comes when she offers a definition of the term racism. In her mind, racism is a broad category that involves BOTH overt acts of discrimination AND covert institutions and systems. In other words, DiAngelo argues that racism is not just an action of discrimination based on race, it is an entire system of ideas, institutions, and ideologies.
In the United States, since whites are the predominant race, whiteness is defined by DiAngelo as “all the aspects of being white.” She goes on to say that whiteness is based upon “the definition of whites as the norm or standard for human, and people of color as a deviation from that norm.”
What makes whiteness even more problematic for DiAngelo is that white people are, by nature, completely blind to it. Whiteness apparently includes cultural practices “that are not recognized by white people.” Whites simply “are unaware of, or do not acknowledge” their privilege and the racism that results from their worldview. This white worldview includes values such as individualism, meritocracy, and capitalism. Quite simply, whites have been corrupted by whiteness and are unaware of the damage that it has done and is continuing to do.
These definitions of racism and whiteness lay the foundation for the rest of DiAngelo’s book. Yet it is a foundation that is neither grounded upon the word of God nor revealed in God’s creation. Rather, DiAngelo (whether she realizes it or not) has taken the Biblical concept of sin and replaced it with the secular concept of whiteness.
For example, here are just a few ways in which DiAngelo’s understanding of whiteness/racism matches God’s description of sin:
- Whiteness, like sin, permeates every aspect of society and affects all institutions and ideas.
- Whiteness, like sin, is often unconscious and resides under the surface.
- White people, like sinners, are blind to their whiteness (i.e. sin) and cannot avoid being white (i.e. sinful). Quite simply, it is not a matter of IF racism is present but HOW it is present.
- White people (i.e. sinners), when confronted with their whiteness (i.e. sin), respond with: anger, fear, guilt, silence, argumentation, denial, and even crying.
- White people bring the history of their people with them to the point that they are never exempted from the effects of racism (i.e. sin). In this way, racism and whiteness are covenantal, with white people entering into the world with original sin. As DiAngelo herself says, “I didn’t choose this socialization, and it could not be avoided. But I am responsible for my role in it.”
- White people have a deep and hidden knowledge of racism that they, and the system, seek to suppress but fail to eradicate completely.
This swapping of the Biblical concept of sin with a secular concept of whiteness leads to the creation of an entirely new theology and religion. For, since white people are slaves to their whiteness, they need to be set free and saved. But how does this work within a secular paradigm that denies the existence of either a creator or redeemer? Well, even though DiAngelo does not purposefully try to answer that question, the answers can be found throughout her book.
For instance, in the final chapter of White Fragility, DiAngelo suggests that “the antidote to guilt is action.” Yet, since there is no one to rescue white people from their whiteness, whites must essentially save themselves through their own works. Consider the following statement from DiAngelo:
“If my answer is that I was not educated about racism, I know that I will have to get educated. If my answer is that I don’t know people of color, I will need to build relationships. If it is because there are no people of color in my environment, I will need to get out of my comfort zone and change my environment; addressing racism is not without effort.”
The efforts of self-improvement on the part of white people must reach the point where they “internalize the above assumptions.” The assumptions that DiAngelo refers to is a list of short, doctrinal statements that she provides for her readers. Here are just a few of them:
- All of us are socialized into the system of racism.
- Racism cannot be avoided.
- Whites are / I am unconsciously invested in racism.
- I bring my group’s history with me; history matters.
- Nothing exempts me from the forces of racism.
- The antidote to guilt is action.
Of course, since there is no regenerating power of the Holy Spirit and no atoning sacrifice for sins, the proverbial leopard must indeed change his own spots. The white person must become self-aware of his or her whiteness (i.e. woke) and must work so as to change his or her own worldview.
According to DiAngelo, as white people achieve freedom from whiteness, the larger institutions (e.g. laws and policies) would begin to change. This too is a characteristic of religion. For Christians also believe that changed hearts will result in a changed culture. Yet, in Christianity the catalyst for change is the good news of Jesus Christ. In DiAngelo’s religion of racism, the only hope for white people is to get on the treadmill in the hope that they will become “less white.”
Sadly, in DiAngelo’s religion of racism the process of sanctification is never complete. DiAngelo makes this clear when she says, “I will never be completely free of racism.” And while Christianity also teaches that we will never be completely free from the effects of sin in this earthly life, Christianity offers a hope that the religion of racism does not have. For, in Christ, God’s people are set free from the power and penalty of sin (John 8:34–36). They do not have to sin but can choose to practice righteousness. And even though they will continue to fight against sin in their lives, it is God who is working in them to achieve victory (Philippians 2:13). This victory WILL ultimately be achieved when Christ returns and God’s people live again in glorified, sinless bodies (1 Cor. 15:53–55).
Yet, in the religion of racism, there is no glorification because there is no savior. There is no end to the treadmill of cleansing oneself from whiteness. DiAngelo recognizes that this bleak situation is likely to result in outbursts of white fragility, such as depression, guilt, panic, fear, and anxiety. To combat this, DiAngelo offers a solution to our discomfort that, again, bears the mark of a religion:
- Return to the list of underlying assumptions in this chapter.
- Seek out someone with a stronger analysis if you feel confused.
- Take the time you need to process your feelings, but do return to the situation and the persons involved.
The first three steps eerily parallel the Christian act of prayer and confession before the Lord. Step Four, which involves internalizing the key doctrines of racism/whiteness, parallels the Christian practice of reading and internalizing the word of God. Step Five is the act of being discipled, and held accountable, by a person who is more mature in the faith. And finally, Step Six involves repenting of one’s whiteness/racism and seeking reconciliation.
Yet the reconciliation described in the religion of racism is nothing like the reconciliation found in Jesus Christ. According to DiAngelo, white people are at the mercy of colored people. It is wholly upon white people to pursue reconciliation with people of color. And even then, people of color have no obligation to deal with white people with gentleness or mercy. Rather, it is the duty of white people to be less fragile and to humbly accept feedback regardless of how that feedback is delivered.
While white people must approach people of color to seek reconciliation, there is no requirement for the person of color to respond positively. In fact, DiAngelo argues that white people have to be willing to “accept no for an answer.” Yet even if the answer is yes, the standard is always determined by the offended person of color. In other words, the offended person of color decides whether or not the repentance is sufficient and what further steps need to be taken by the white person. This, in effect, sets the person of color in the place of high priest over the white person. And since there is no objective written law of God by which to guide reconciliation, the high priest gets to make up the rules on the way.
Ultimately, the reconciliation described in this religion of racism is a far cry from Biblical reconciliation. In Christianity, the offended party is equally responsible to go to the offending brother and show him his fault (Matthew 18:15). Furthermore, if the offender asks for forgiveness, the offended person is obligated to grant forgiveness, not just seven times but seventy times seven times (Matthew 18:21–22). This forgiveness is not to turn into extortion or personal vengeance. God, in Scripture, sets the limits for what true reconciliation and restitution looks like. This ensures that the offended person does not play the victim card and take advantage of the offender.
In the end, the teachings presented by DiAngelo are clearly the tenets of a new religion based on racism. And while this religion steals from certain aspects of Christianity, it twists the truth and sets up a wicked form of repentance and reconciliation. Worst of all, it offers a false gospel that suggests that white people can be saved by their own works. Yet since there is no atoning sacrifice, there is no justification. White people can never be declared “not guilty” in the eyes of the god of racism. And since there is no resurrection, there is no glorification. White people will never be free from racism and enter into true rest and peace. The god of racism — the god proclaimed by DiAngelo — is a cruel taskmaster that can neither save us from our sins nor grant us true reconciliation. Christians must not bow the knee to this god nor join him to the God of the Bible. We proclaim the true gospel of Jesus Christ, which is truly good news to the world. For it is Christ alone who can set people free from their sins by an objective standard that He has determined. And if the Son sets them free, they will be free indeed.