- Has a PhD in Critical Multicultural Education & Whiteness Studies
- Virulently anti-white
- Wrote "White Fragility" which was on the New York Times bestseller list for 85 weeks
- Conducts many "anti-racist" training sessions where she charges $40,000 apiece
Robin J. DiAngelo was born on September 8, 1956, in San Francisco. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in History and Sociology from Seattle University, a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Washington (UW), and a PhD in Critical Multicultural Education & Whiteness Studies from UW as well. Since 2007, she has been an Associate Professor of Multicultural Education at Westfield State University in Massachusetts.
Arguing that “all education is political and no teacher is objective,” DiAngelo candidly declares that her “teaching agenda” is devoted to “changing the way students see themselves in relation to the world around them” – specifically, to have them engage in “critical self-reflection” that leads to “multicultural awareness” about the prevalence of “social injustice” and the degree to which racism is “embedded in the foundation of U.S. society.”
DiAngelo says that because she grew up “poor and white,” for many years she herself was largely blind to the “race privilege” she enjoyed as a white person – until introspection eventually helped her gain “deeper insight” into how a racist American society had “socialized” her “to collude with racism.”
In a lengthy 2011 essay titled “White Fragility,” DiAngelo, who claims to have coined that term, writes that “white people in North America live in a social environment” that “protects and insulates them from race-based stress” while building “white expectations for racial comfort.” “Whiteness,” she says, refers to “the specific dimensions of racism that serve to elevate white people over people of color.” This “dominance,” DiAngelo explains, “leads to racial arrogance” and renders whites blind not only to their own “history of brutality towards people of color,” but also to the “structural inequality” that pervades society and rewards white people with all manner of “privilege.” She argues that in order to minimize whatever guilt might be sparked by a conscious awareness of these historical and ongoing injustices, whites routinely cite their own “individualism,” “hard work,” and “virtue” as the qualities that have helped them attain greater levels of financial and professional success than many blacks. “Because whites live primarily segregated lives in a white-dominated society,” adds DiAngelo, “they receive little or no authentic information about racism and are thus unprepared to think about it critically or with complexity.”
“Whites are taught to see themselves as individuals, rather than as part of a racial group,” DiAngelo elaborates in a 2015 piece titled “Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism,” because “individualism enables us to deny that racism is structured into the fabric of society. This erases our history and hides the way in which wealth has accumulated over generations and benefits us, as a group, today. It also allows us to distance ourselves from the history and actions of our group.”
“The disavowal of race as an organizing factor” in both “individual white consciousness” and “the institutions of society at large,” says DiAngelo, “is necessary to support current structures of capitalism and domination,” for “without it, the correlation between the distribution of social resources and unearned white privilege would be evident.” DiAngelo claims that “whites have no compunction about debating the knowledge of people [like herself] who have thought complexly about race,” and that they “generally feel free to dismiss these informed perspectives” rather than attempting to learn from them.
“Any white person living in the United States will develop opinions about race simply by swimming in the water of our culture,” DiAngelo avers, but “they will not be informed opinions.” “Our socialization,” she says, “renders us [whites] racially illiterate. When you add a lack of humility to that illiteracy (because we don’t know what we don’t know), you get the break-down we so often see when trying to engage white people in meaningful conversations about race.”
By DiAngelo’s telling, racism encompasses “economic, political, social, and cultural structures, actions, and beliefs” that “systematize and perpetuate an unequal distribution of privileges, resources and power between white people and people of color.” But only whites can be racist, she maintains, because “the direction of power between whites and people of color is historic, traditional, normalized, and deeply embedded in the fabric of U.S. society.”
She later expanded upon these themes in a 2018 book titled White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism, which debuted on the New York Times Bestseller List in June 2018 and remained there for 85 weeks. According to the publisher’s blurb, the book “explor[es] the counterproductive reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality.” Those reactions, adds the publisher, are “characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence” — all of which, in turn “function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue.” Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson, who wrote the foreword to White Fragility, describes the work as a “vital, necessary, and beautiful book, a bracing call to white folk everywhere to see their whiteness for what it is and to seize the opportunity to make things better now.”
Some of DiAngelo’s insights from her 2018 book include the following:
- “Whiteness rests upon a foundational premise: the definition of whites as the norm or standard for human, and people of color as a deviation from that norm.”
- “We consider a challenge to our racial worldviews as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people.”
- “It is white people’s responsibility to be less fragile; people of color don’t need to twist themselves into knots trying to navigate us as painlessly as possible.”
- “All progress we have made in the realm of civil rights has been accomplished through identity politics…. This book is unapologetically rooted in identity politics.”
- “Authentic antiracism is rarely comfortable. Discomfort is key to my growth and thus desirable.”
- “People of color may also hold prejudices and discriminate against white people, but they lack the social and institutional power that transforms their prejudice and discrimination into racism; the impact of their prejudice on whites is temporary and contextual.”
- White progressives can be the most difficult for people of color because, to the degree that we think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us as having arrived. None of our energy will go into what we need to be doing for the rest of our lives: engaging in ongoing self-awareness, continuing education, relationship building, and actual antiracist practice.
- “White people raised in Western society are conditioned into a white supremacist worldview because it is the bedrock of our society and its institutions. Regardless of whether a parent told you that everyone was equal, or the poster in the hall of your white suburban school proclaimed the value of diversity, or you have traveled abroad, or you have people of color in your workplace or family, the ubiquitous socializing power of white supremacy cannot be avoided. The messages circulate 24-7 and have little or nothing to do with intentions, awareness, or agreement. Entering the conversation with this understanding is freeing because it allows us to focus on how–rather than if–our racism is manifest…. [S]topping our racist patterns must be more important than working to convince others that we don’t have them. We do have them, and people of color already know we have them; our efforts to prove otherwise are not convincing.”
- “If I believe that only bad people are racist, I will feel hurt, offended, and shamed when an unaware racist assumption of mine is pointed out. If I instead believe that having racist assumptions is inevitable (but possible to change), I will feel gratitude when an unaware racist assumption is pointed out; now I am aware of and can change that assumption.”
- “For those of us who work to raise the racial consciousness of whites, simply getting whites to acknowledge that our race gives us advantages is a major effort. The defensiveness, denial, and resistance are deep.”
- “White fragility functions as a form of bullying; I am going to make it so miserable for you to confront me—no matter how diplomatically you try to do so—that you will simply back off, give up, and never raise the issue again.”
In White Fragility as well, DiAngelo condemns America as a nation whose history has been punctuated on every line with evil: “The United States was founded on the principle that all people are created equal. Yet the nation began with the attempted genocide of Indigenous people and the theft of their land. American wealth was built on the labor of kidnapped and enslaved Africans and their descendants. Women were denied the right to vote until 1920, and black women were denied access to that right until 1964.”
In addition to her professorial activities, DiAngelo since the early 1990s has provided workplace training and consulting on issues of “cultural diversity and social justice, with a special focus on race relations.” Her training sessions take “an anti-racist approach” founded on the premise that “the historic and current power differentials between people of color and white people” are the result of longstanding “dynamics of internalized racism and internalized dominance.” Among DiAngelo’s clients have been the City of Seattle, the Washington State Department of Health & Human Resources, the YMCA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the UC Davis School of Nursing, the Commonwealth Corporation, and many schools, both public and private. Training and consulting sessions with DiAngelo can cost $40,000 apiece.
DiAngelo reports that she is a two-time winner of the Student’s Choice Award for Educator of the Year at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work. Among her published works is a textbook titled Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Critical Social Justice Education. Published in 2011 by Teachers College Press, this book received both the American Educational Studies Association Critics Choice Book Award (2012) and the Society of Professors of Education Book Award (2018).
Further Reading: “Robin DiAngelo” (LinkedIn.com); “About Me” (RobinDiAngelo.com); “Philosophy of Teaching & Courses Taught” (RobinDiAngelo.com); “White Fragility” (by Robin DiAngelo, 2011); “Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism” (by Robin DiAngelo, Huffington Post, 4-30-2015).