Why is this white man so angry?
January 10, 2015 10:33 AM   Subscribe

White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable. A 2011 paper by Robin DiAngelo, author, Associate Professor of Multicultural Education, and workplace diversity trainer, explores the challenges of confronting racism which result from the inability of white people to accept that they are beneficiaries of a racist system. (PDF)
posted by emjaybee (126 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is “white fragility” a bit like “affluenza”?
posted by acb at 10:44 AM on January 10, 2015 [12 favorites]


It's interesting to me that as "gay panic" is finally starting to become eradicated as a defense, "white panic" is becoming ever more prevalent and explicit a defense.
posted by MetropolisOfMentalLife at 10:56 AM on January 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


What would be an an example of a multi racial country that didn't have racism in it's cultural and political institutions? Just curious if this problem has been fixed anywhere.
posted by astrobiophysican at 11:00 AM on January 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


A white man is pounding his fist on the table. His face is red and he is furious. As he pounds he yells, “White people have been discriminated against for 25 years! A white person can’t get a job anymore!”

I thought this was very vivid. I've seen loads of these guys.
posted by colie at 11:03 AM on January 10, 2015 [29 favorites]


Yet whites are the least likely to see, understand, or be invested in validating
those assertions and being honest about their consequences, which leads whites to
claim that they disagree with perspectives that challenge their worldview, when in
fact, they don’t understand the perspective.


This is condescending. If they only read a little more, and listened a little more, then they would agree with us! This precludes the notion that they have read, and they disagree with the author's base premises. This is false consciousness under another name.

For example, this line:

Why is this white man so angry?
Why is he being so careless about the impact of his anger? Why are all the other white people either sitting in silent agreement with him or tuning out? We have, after all, only articulated a definition of racism.


Coming from countless arguments on Metafilter about this very topic, I find this to be disingenuous. If you let someone articulate the definitions in a discussion, it gives people no way to disagree. Reading through the piece, almost all avenues of disagreement, from silence, to arguing, are seen as a sign of "White Fragility". How could a white person disagree with the points given in the article? Even ignoring the article could be a sign of it:

White Fragility doesn’t always manifest in overt ways; silence and withdrawal are also functions of fragility
posted by zabuni at 11:19 AM on January 10, 2015 [29 favorites]


I hope people actually read this article. Personally, I think it's well written and insightful. The author is no apologist for this kind of behaviour, rather is pointing out that it occurs, there are structural reasons why it occurs, and there are ways we can combat it. The author states explicitly that "White racism is ultimately a white problem and the burden for interrupting it belongs to white people" (66).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:22 AM on January 10, 2015 [11 favorites]


How could a white person disagree with the points given in the article? Even ignoring the article could be a sign of it:

The point isn't how to disagree. It's WHY would you disagree?
posted by hal_c_on at 11:36 AM on January 10, 2015 [12 favorites]


White fragility.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:40 AM on January 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


zabuni: a definition is not a proof, and changing a definition only changes reality as much as the new definition is mistaken for an old one.

If racism is only possible within an institution of organized social oppression, that doesn't mean nobody hates a white person for being white. White people being hated for being white is a separate problem, with a different significance and a different context, when compared to long term historical institutionalized bias.

The real crux of the disagreement is: is there a significant difference in the degree of political importance of long term legally and socially enforced hatred, vs. incidental and privately held hatred separate from institutions and power?
posted by idiopath at 11:40 AM on January 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


The broader white community is in serious denial about how much of the political and social trouble in the US is directly the fault of its own more belligerent factions and their insistence on scapegoating anyone or thing other than wealthy white elites for their economic troubles. It drags us all down.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:41 AM on January 10, 2015 [77 favorites]


The point isn't how to disagree. It's WHY would you disagree?

It's because privilege is something that is best described as accruing to groups and classes, rather than individuals.

Someone staring down the barrel of losing their job, or losing their home, or barely scraping by for the fifth decade running -- whether they are part of a privileged group or not -- I think you can understand that in those situations they don't feel very privileged. And that is because there are other institutionalized biases working against them economically.

Oftentimes, people misidentify the things that are actually working against them, and are told by their social groups and the media that they consume that it's the Other who is the cause and reason for their problems, rather than those in power whose agenda is being served by those media outlets.
posted by chimaera at 11:43 AM on January 10, 2015 [70 favorites]


Or, what I said was a more long-winded way to say what saulgoodman said.

When I hear people who share my privileged race and gender talk about "feminism" or "affirmative action" or "socialism" as the cause of their problems, my response can be boiled down to "It's the moneyed elites, stupid."
posted by chimaera at 11:45 AM on January 10, 2015 [21 favorites]


This is a great article, and White Fragility is a fantastically concise way to characterize what the author is talking about.

I think there's a powerful analogy with gender, too. Consider the following text from the article, with gendered terms replacing racial ones:

Male people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from gender-based stress. This insulated environment of gender protection builds male expectations for gender comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate gender stress, leading to what I refer to as Male Fragility... Fine (1997) identifies this insulation when she observes “… how maleness accrues privilege and status; gets itself surrounded by protective pillows of resources and/or benefits of the doubt; how maleness repels gossip and voyeurism and instead demands dignity”

I don't say this to change the subject, or to suggest that gender is more important to discuss, but merely because I think it's very striking how similarly maleness and Whiteness function, and how clarifying it can be to understand the actions of White men with these two interlocking forms of fragility and insulation in mind. It's sort of bizarre and fascinating to consider that the most powerful people in society are also the most intersubjectively fragile, in a sense.
posted by clockzero at 11:50 AM on January 10, 2015 [26 favorites]


It's because privilege is something that is best described as accruing to groups and classes, rather than individuals.

That's part of my concern, but to be true, the article does address that.

Conversations about Whiteness might best happen within the context of a larger conversation about racism. It is useful to start at the micro level of analysis, and move to the macro, from the individual out to the interpersonal, societal and institutional.

I disagree though. I think that if you wish to change systemic racism, you should change the system. I think that a bottom up approach does little to change the existing power structures.
posted by zabuni at 11:54 AM on January 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


The article is really great. Thanks so much for linking to it! There are concepts that I sometimes struggle with articulating that are laid out so clearly. And I sometimes need a reminder that the ability to feel overwhelmed and not engage is a privilege itself.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:07 PM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Most white males (as I am one) are spoiled brats. It has only been in recent years that I have come to accept how much of my meager success, let alone my survival in difficult times, has been due to no other talent or quality of mine than being a White Male. And how much certain specific decisions to NOT act like a 'typical white male' have set me back. It's an insight I never would've reached without a few years on Permanent Disability to think about, but then, if I were not a White Male, I might not be on Permanent Disability. I will never deny having won the Birthright Lottery for the 2nd half of the 20th century, and have zero respect for those who do.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:09 PM on January 10, 2015 [38 favorites]


Wow, the story of the woman who freaks out in anti-racism training is tragicomic (starts bottom of page 64). When she gets some feedback on how her behavior had affected POC, she feels she is literally having a heart attack. Naturally, this shifts everyone's focus back to her...
posted by zompist at 12:14 PM on January 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's because privilege is something that is best described as accruing to groups and classes, rather than individuals.

I understand this concept, but am aware that this is what is used by the individuals of a group to absolve themselves of any responsibility in correcting or changing the situation.

So if there is no motivation to change because one is enjoying the fruits of the system, AND because it's not the individual's fault....nothing is going to change.

Just a bunch of white people singing Shaggy's 'It wasn't me'.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:14 PM on January 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


the nice thing about believing in a bottom up approach is that it doesn't matter how much the people in power refuse to listen to others or learn from history, or whether you can speak the language of power or academia, you can still live with dignity and hope and make a difference.
posted by thug unicorn at 12:19 PM on January 10, 2015 [10 favorites]


Whites invoke these seemingly contradictory discourses—we are either all
unique or we are all the same—interchangeably. Both discourses work to deny
white privilege and the significance of race. Further, on the cultural level, being an
individual or being a human outside of a racial group is a privilege only afforded
to white people. In other words, people of color are almost always seen as “having
a race” and described in racial terms (“the black man”) but whites rarely are
(“the man”), allowing whites to see themselves as objective and non-racialized. In
turn, being seen (and seeing ourselves) as individuals outside of race frees whites
from the psychic burden of race in a wholly racialized society. Race and racism
become their problems, not ours. Challenging these frameworks becomes a kind
of unwelcome shock to the system.

posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:19 PM on January 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


It is not a racist system, it is one that discriminates against the poor. Consider this, rich African Americans don't have the problems that poor African Americans have. If it was a racist system they'd both face the same problems. African Americans would not have the ability to become rich if it was racist.

You're right. Black people in beamers never get stopped by the police. And poor white people are always being stopped by cops.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:21 PM on January 10, 2015 [22 favorites]


Consider this, rich African Americans don't have the problems that poor African Americans have.

Except they DO. There's been several FPPs about it just in the past two months.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:21 PM on January 10, 2015 [36 favorites]


Consider this, rich African Americans don't have the problems that poor African Americans have.

Not true. There are lots of black doctors and lawyers who have trouble getting a cab or have been pulled over for "driving while black." The president himself has been mistaken for a waiter.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:21 PM on January 10, 2015 [22 favorites]


Consider this, rich African Americans don't have the problems that poor African Americans have.

Professor Henry Louis Gates might disagree.
posted by Etrigan at 12:24 PM on January 10, 2015 [21 favorites]


Consider this, rich African Americans don't have the problems that poor African Americans have.

This is a transparently ludicrous assertion.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:24 PM on January 10, 2015 [36 favorites]


This seems relevant!
Because of white social, economic and political power within a white dominant
culture, whites are positioned to legitimize people of color’s assertions of racism.
Yet whites are the least likely to see, understand, or be invested in validating
those assertions and being honest about their consequences, which leads whites to
claim that they disagree with perspectives that challenge their worldview, when in
fact, they don’t understand the perspective.

posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:25 PM on January 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


And how much certain specific decisions to NOT act like a 'typical white male' have set me back.

This is, for me, an important point. It's one thing to rebel against a system that oppresses you; it's another to rebel against a system that supports you. The machine is extra intolerant of those who step out of line. It is dangerous for white people to struggle against white supremacy: financially, socially, even physically. The system has built-in bulwarks against the outrage of the oppressed, but it treats white resistance like a sudden aggressive infection and attacks likewise. I'm not surprised when white people turn a blind eye to or otherwise reject systems of racial oppression. It is, in many legitimate and concrete ways, a survival mechanism.
posted by Errant at 12:42 PM on January 10, 2015 [21 favorites]


Not to belittle a serious topic, but I've found term "mantrum" to be quite helpful in certain feminist discussions. Not when debating with genuine misogynists, but not just when chatting with people I already agree with either. It's catchy and silly, but still usefully encapsulates the aggrieved vulnerability of the privileged male when confronted with his privilege. I've been thinking for a while that it would be nice to have something similar for the aggrieved white response. "White fragility" is the same idea, but as a term doesn't quite do the job -- any dumber and catchier one-word nominees?
posted by chortly at 12:45 PM on January 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Whites who position themselves as liberal often opt to protect what they perceive as their moral reputations, rather than recognize or change their participation in systems of inequity and domination"
I think this is correct, but I do get the sense that the paper is gloating a bit. While the heart attack reaction was way over the top, expecting someone who had no clue to immediately get on board *right now* without being defensive is expecting too much, no matter what the cause.

"You know those things you always do? Well, you're a good person generally, but I'd like to inform you that every day of your life you've caused 13 baby kittens to die as a result of your behavior". Whether or not that is the correct perspective, and whether or not the person is willing to change, you're going to have to expect some kind of reaction from the person you're telling that to.
posted by smidgen at 12:48 PM on January 10, 2015 [13 favorites]


Maybe it's just me, but social theorists seem to be really bad at explaining themselves and making their points to people who aren't steeped in critical theory. When I switched to a geography major last semester I didn't appreciate that I had switched to a social science (I do GIS), and whenever the weekly seminar speaker was from the theory side of things I felt totally lost and and confused - and kind of aggrieved, because I was stuck in a room for an hour listening to something I couldn't possibly understand.

(re-)defining 'whiteness' from 'the state of being white' to 'Whiteness is a location of structural advantage' takes some time to accept and wrap one's head around, as does 'structural advantage', etc, etc, and on and on.

It's very satisfying to come to terms with new terms, but if people seriously expect an audience unfamiliar with these concepts (and thus, in need of learning them) to just pick up the ball and engage constructively, they are sorely mistaken.

And I like being exposed to new perspectives, even when they conflict with, undermine, or cause me to abandon old ones. I don't really know how much that applies to other people.
posted by unmake at 1:04 PM on January 10, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that mandymanwasregistered's comment is a response to the "It's because privilege is something that is best described as accruing to groups and classes, rather than individuals." discussion above. I think it's sadly amusing that this thread has so quickly demonstrated one or more of these white fragility reactions.

Another thing I liked about this is its refusal to cast anti-racism as simply ending an oppression rather than ending a privilege. There's a widespread and deep reluctance to talk in terms of ending privilege, even a denial that this is necessary or a goal, and that this is the case is partly a function of the psychological fragility that comes with privilege. It's also a function of the systemic oppression itself, because focusing exclusively on how those people are treated badly, and not on how we are treated unfairly well, means that the whole issue is safely externalized and distant -- it's very much a part of what DiAngelo talks about with regard to seeing racism as a problem for people of color, not whites.

All of this is just as true about sexism as it is racism, by the way.

I especially liked this part:
Whites consistently choose and enjoy racial segregation. Living, working, and playing in racial segregation is unremarkable as long as it is not named or made explicitly intentional. For example, in many anti-racist endeavors, a common exercise is to separate into caucus groups by race in order to discuss issues specific to your racial group, and without the pressure or stress of other groups’ presence. Generally, people of color appreciate this opportunity for racial fellowship, but white people typically become very uncomfortable, agitated and upset - even though this temporary separation is in the service of addressing racism. Responses include a disorienting sense of themselves as not just people, but most particularly white people; a curious sense of loss about this contrived and temporary separation which they don’t feel about the real and on-going segregation in their daily lives; and anxiety about not knowing what is going on in the groups of color. The irony, again, is that most whites live in racial segregation every day, and in fact, are the group most likely to intentionally choose that segregation (albeit obscured in racially coded language such as seeking "good schools" and "good neighborhoods"). This segregation is unremarkable until it is named as deliberate – i.e. "We are now going to separate by race for a short exercise." I posit that it is the intentionality that is so disquieting – as long as we don’t mean to separate, as long as it "just happens" that we live segregated lives, we can maintain a (fragile) identity of racial innocence.
There's been a number of discussions I've observed the last few days where the psychology of privilege and its related behaviors have been extremely relevant -- a discussion on MeTa about offense and intent, the widespread argument that everyone has a responsibility to promulgate the Charlie Hebdo cartoons -- where I've struggled with attempts to express how absolutely crucial it is to simply imagine the possibility of a kind of a glass walled box of privilege that one should try to get beyond, just as an initial exercise for the sake of the argument, in good-faith. Not to automatically disagree (because, really, you aren't actually disagreeing because there's things being discussed that you've yet to even understand), but to just make the attempt to imagine the possibility that the world that is familiar and comfortable and well-understood isn't, in fact, all of reality.

When DiAngelo talks about how the failure to mourn the lack of diversity in dominant white environments is a manifestation of Whiteness, I thought about how it's the case that while men and whites do not and are not required to understand women's and PoC experience (respectively) the reverse isn't true -- women and persons of color do and are required to understand the male and white experience (respectively) along with their own.

A perverse tragedy of privilege is that is cognitively limiting. And you really don't learn things until you recognize that you're ignorant. It takes work to even see the vast implicit shape of one's own ignorance and it usually only happens when you've had a lot of (adult) practice at continually stumbling into that territory. Privilege very often means comfort, as DiAngelo points out, and in this context it very often means being arrogantly and comfortably ignorant of the narrowness of our own experience and perspective.

This paper seems to me to be too ambitious for an academic work -- it really sort of charts out most of the territory of the psychology of privilege, but necessarily sketchily. But I personally like it for this reason.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:05 PM on January 10, 2015 [22 favorites]


Not to belittle a serious topic

Ah yes, the paper talks of this kind of behaviour by white people as well.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:21 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Great post, thanks!

I, a white male, was fortunate to grow up in a neighborhood and school district that was 50% or greater African American with a bit of some other backgrounds around as well. I think, or at least I hope that, I have built up a decent amount of tolerance for other cultures, if not an ability to interact with them appropriately.

I observed fragility first hand about 9 years ago at a junior robotics competition I took a team I coached to in the Greater Detroit area. The coaches were called to a quick meeting around the game board to discuss ground rules. One coach in particular, I believe of Indian descent, had a handful of questions. The ref there had the patience to answer them. Meanwhile, a white woman, guessing from one of the major suburbs, across the way was a getting a little impatient, and started interjecting clarifying points rather quickly and with a bit of an angry tone. Aside from tone, her overall posture demonstrated there was a lot more than impatience driving her. There was brief, few second cooling period and then Q&A resumed.

Aside from experiences like that, I'm still appalled by the geographic racism that I continue to discover/uncover to this day, not just Detroit and the Suburbs, but even in the town I grew up in, how one particular side grew/sprawled out of nowhere, white dominant, complete with its own shopping/grocery center. A lot of the elements discussed in the PDF of the FPP grow out of such developments.

Again, many thanks for posting.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 1:39 PM on January 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


A while back on Twitter there was a #crimingwhilewhite hashtag that pointed out the blatant double-standard in policing. The timing could have been better, but to deny that being a white dude is playing life on Easy Mode is the height of chutzpah.

(Seems to have been making a resurgence now that Zimmerman has been arrested for violence with a weapon AGAIN.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:44 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the idea of "silence" as being evidence for some trait is somewhat confused or perhaps just not clarified enough. Like Ivan F says, perhaps it's too ambitious to cover it. Even the reference (Powell (1997)) used to support "Silence", while interesting in its own right, is a confusing personal account that feels far from conclusive, or even academic to me (and the author even admits to such).

If I were to take it at face value, the idea that silence is assent to perverse racial categories is trying to read someone's mind. Not only that, but the context in which the silence occurs is critical. If some guy goes off in a diversity class -- and I was one of the students -- I would be silent too, (a) because I'm not into public confrontation generally (b) because I feel it's the *teachers* responsibility to guide the class, and the guy is addressing the *teacher*. Having an argument between two students doesn't seem polite at that moment.

"I think it's sadly amusing that this thread has so quickly demonstrated one or more of these white fragility reactions."

Honestly, did you expect any different? The paper assumes the reactions exist, and tries to lay out a framework for thinking about the reactions themselves. Note that it does not say that mounting a skyscraper-horse is an effective intervention.

As the paper says:
"Viewing white anger, defensiveness, silence, and withdrawal in response to issues of race through the framework of White Fragility may help frame the problem as an issue of stamina-building, and thereby guide our interventions accordingly."
So while I don't totally agree completely with the paper's definition of "white fragility", I do agree that a Nelson-esque "ha! ha!" is probably not the right way to work through it.
posted by smidgen at 1:44 PM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Maybe it's just me, but social theorists seem to be really bad at explaining themselves and making their points to people who aren't steeped in critical theory.

There's that. There's also the (apparent) habit of social theorists to make claims about the empirical world with no empirical evidence or reference to extant empirical evidence. Skimming the article, I kept waiting for the part where she describes the psychological evidence that the relevant attitudes, traits, patterns of thought, etc really do cluster together in some reasonably valid and reliable way, and that behaviors flowing from white fragility really can be reliably elicited using the stimuli she describes, and that the factors she says inculcate white fragility really are associated with it being either more widespread or more intense, and so on.

Which I wouldn't demand from someone just talking about it or describing their experiences with anglos, but do from something purporting to be actual research.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:55 PM on January 10, 2015 [11 favorites]


It's interesting to think about different reactions white people would have if you could somehow actually break through that wall of denial the paper talks about, and confront them with the reality that society is racist and that they benefit from it. I have no idea how you could do that, maybe a really great speech or documentary or something. But say you did accomplish that. What would they do next? Reactions would be all different, but I have a theory that most people would just get frankly amoral about the entire thing:

"Okay, you've convinced me, white privilege exists, and I benefit from it and perpetuate it."

"That is very good to hear. Now I hope you can join us in our struggle to dismantle..."

"Oh, no, I'm sorry. I don't think so."

"What?"

"You've pointed out that most of the things that make my life worth living -- my social status, material comfort, safety, and so on, are inextricably bound up with a system of racial oppression. I think I've been half-aware of it my whole life, but I haven't been forced to confront it until now. So thank you for that. But now that it's out in the open... yeah, I think I'm going to go with the system of racial oppression."

"..."

"I mean, what was that phrase you taught me? White privilege? Well, privilege is really great to have, that's why it's called privilege. Why did you think I'd give it up willingly, just because I learned it exists?"

"Because you wouldn't be able to live with yourself otherwise?"

"Nah. As you get older, you realize that most ideals and political causes are mostly bullshit. My job is to take care of myself and my family, do a decent job at work, and pay my taxes, and that is hard enough, believe me. You want me to make sacrifices that would put my real life responsibilities in jeopardy? No way."

"But other people are in much more desperate situations than you, and partially because of your actions! Can't you see that?"

"Tough. I'm not Mother Theresa."

------------

And scene. How could one respond to an attitude like that? Would it even be possible? And if you could scratch all white people to see what's beneath the surface, under what percentage of them would you find exactly this attitude?
posted by officer_fred at 3:06 PM on January 10, 2015 [60 favorites]


the author, someone who's field is multicultural education and workplace diversity training and is speaking from personal experience, isn't trying to get White Fragility into the dsm, just introduce the idea.

if you're asking for hard empirical evidence before accepting a new idea as useful for talking about oppression, when that idea comes from people who actually know a thing or two about that kind of oppression...your attachment to the status quo is showing.
posted by thug unicorn at 3:08 PM on January 10, 2015 [10 favorites]


Lewis' law, which states that "the comments on any article about feminism justify feminism", is apropos.
posted by thug unicorn at 3:13 PM on January 10, 2015 [19 favorites]


if you're asking for hard empirical evidence before accepting a new idea as useful for talking about oppression

I clearly and distinctly stated that I wasn't.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:19 PM on January 10, 2015


fred, I'd say that defense mechanisms exist because people don't actually like to step on other people's faces for no reason. They find a way to justify it to themselves. They did this even when racism was a lot more overt.

But FWIW, a good deal of white and male privilege is not zero-sum. So we can extend it, rather than remove it from just privileged. It doesn't hurt me if black folks also have good relations with the police, or women can go around without getting harassed.

Even the economy isn't zero-sum. More prosperous non-whites, more equality for women, and the economy grows.

If that seems too sunny a view... well, the depressing part is how hard it is to get people to see all this.
posted by zompist at 3:24 PM on January 10, 2015 [19 favorites]


But say you did accomplish that. What would they do next? Reactions would be all different, but I have a theory that most people would just get frankly amoral about the entire thing:

Maybe I am idealistic, but I just don't think that's true. Everyone is the hero of their own story. Everyone wants to feel like they're the good guy. A lot of the reason you see white people getting upset about the concept of white privilege is the feeling that they're no longer the good guy. That something is unfair and they're the ones benefiting from and perpetuating it. You see this with rich people, you see this with dudes, you see this with any member of a privileged class who's confronted with their own privilege. They desperately, desperately want to prove that they haven't done anything wrong and they're not members of this unfair system. I think this is because most people, at their heart, are not amoral and are not comfortable with the idea of benefiting from unfairness so they twist themselves into ten thousand shapes to convince themselves it's never happened to them.

White people being hated for being white is a separate problem, with a different significance and a different context, when compared to long term historical institutionalized bias.

I've gotten shit for being white. It has been in situations where I was accessing resources (like a low-cost health clinic) that were generally dominated by POC by virtue of POC compromising the majority of the impoverished in the area. And the attitude was very clearly "Don't you have enough? Can't you see we're all waiting here for this, and now you want this too?"

Sure, it was upsetting. But I fully understand this reaction was born of the stress of that situation on top of a lifetime of being treated by a member of the underclass by white people and the white media, and being shat on when attempting to access what meager resources were offered to the impoverished by the government.*

My point is I would be surprised if the vast majority of racism against whites did not directly stem from the oppression of POC. Whereas the vast majority of racism against POC generally stems from attempts to justify structural oppression against them.

*It didn't help I was a total idiot and wore a sweatshirt which happened to feature of the logo of a nationally-renowned, very prestigious private school. I was dirt-poor at the time, I'd gotten it for free from a friend, and it was the warmest sweatshirt I owned--but it was the equivalent of that "woman with Coach purse using food stamps" story told by everyone who hates welfare programs.
posted by schroedinger at 3:26 PM on January 10, 2015 [28 favorites]


Naturally, this shifts everyone's focus back to her...

Yes, that was hilarious and infuriating! It's the darker "real-world" version of an idea that was satirized in the Seinfeld episode where Elaine's co-worker gets a promotion because the boss feels bad about her pinky toe injury.
posted by ReeMonster at 3:29 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


"White people being hated for being white is a separate problem, with a different significance and a different context, when compared to long term historical institutionalized bias."

I'm calling the Irish!
posted by clavdivs at 3:31 PM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's worth reading the entire paper because it's really interesting and gets the ol' brain going. The ideas are really thought-provoking, and there's so much truth being told. But I'm not an academic. I went to music conservatory, did not study social/cultural theory, and didn't have to write academic papers, or even read/study them. So, although I really dug the messages and ideas presented in this paper, I didn't like how it was written; it seemed repetitive and had a strange tone, but I wondered, are all academic papers are like this? Do they always tell you what the paper is about, and then tell you again in slightly different words? Or even repeat entire sentences and almost entire paragraphs verbatim like, 5 paragraphs apart from each other? Is this a thing? Am I wrong for wishing the paper was written differently, even with all the ideas/concepts exactly the same? Or does that mean I'm just a white guy and I'm freaking out because I'm a white guy? I hope not.
posted by ReeMonster at 3:41 PM on January 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


DiAngelo, whatever her merits as a professor, comes across as a really bad workplace diversity trainer/consultant, yikes
posted by Bwithh at 3:43 PM on January 10, 2015


Most white males (as I am one) are spoiled brats.

Most, huh? Can you be a little more specific? (Citations appreciated.)
posted by IndigoJones at 3:52 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


ReeMonster: are all academic papers are like this?

More or less :(

There are reasons for it, too. But if this paper/topic is getting passed around and discussed on the interwebs, maybe in a few days or weeks an Awl, Toast, Bitch, or Bust contributor will write an article on it (or post a link to a someone's blog) that recasts it in a more accessible light.
posted by unmake at 3:55 PM on January 10, 2015


(academic journals are written for specific audiences, not the population at large, and what qualifies as 'good' writing is as different from the common conception as the definition of Whiteness given here.)
posted by unmake at 4:00 PM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Awl, Toast, Bitch, or Bust" sounds like a horrible drinking game at an East Coast wannabe-Ivy.
posted by Etrigan at 4:01 PM on January 10, 2015 [14 favorites]


And scene. How could one respond to an attitude like that? Would it even be possible?

The attitude you describe seems very similar to how most White people already behave, so I'm not sure what the accomplishment which your thought experiment alludes to is.
posted by clockzero at 4:06 PM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Agree that that's how they behave. The accomplishment would be getting them to admit it out loud, which they mostly do not do.
posted by officer_fred at 4:14 PM on January 10, 2015


Not true. There are lots of black doctors and lawyers who have trouble getting a cab or have been pulled over for "driving while black." The president himself has been mistaken for a waiter.

While it would be a disingenuous lie to claim that class completely eradicates all discrimination against black people, it would also be disingenuous to minimize the difference that class does make. Yes, Obama was once mistaken for a waiter. Hilarious and terrible! But he wasn't, say, shoved roughly up against the hood of a car because they mistook him for a murder suspect.

Yes, Gates was suspected of being a burglar while trying to force open the door to his house. Yes, these black doctors and lawyers have been pulled over and forced to show their registration. But they're not being stuck in cells without legal assistance and dying of heat or cold exposure. They're not murdered without an investigation happening.

Class and race both impact discrimination, and saying that should not take away from the impact of either.
posted by corb at 4:36 PM on January 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Sure, class is an issue, but I've noticed that nothing gets white people talking about class discrimination like the discussion of racial discrimination. Sorta like the way discussion of a particularly egregious white-on-black crime seems to cause folks to bring up black-on-black crime.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:45 PM on January 10, 2015 [30 favorites]


Even the economy isn't zero-sum. More prosperous non-whites, more equality for women, and the economy grows.


This. It's not dissimilar to the gains that economies make when women face less discrimination in the workforce. When women are kept out, there's less productivity and there's a GDP drag. (pdf of IMF paper)
posted by jpe at 4:47 PM on January 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Class and race both impact discrimination, and saying that should not take away from the impact of either.

"Should" is a much bigger word than it seems, isn't it.
posted by Etrigan at 4:56 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


"If that seems too sunny a view... well, the depressing part is how hard it is to get people to see all this."

I think it is "too sunny a view". I think everybody -- not just the privileged -- have strong incentives to make the argument you make. But I think that argument is wrong and that most of it is zero-sum.

Think about it this way: why would there be a ubiquitous and systemic structure that hurts one group if it mostly didn't also end up helping the other? Do you think that racism and sexism is just malicious, that it's just gratuitous hurtfulness? Why in the world would that be the case? Some of it is. But most of the harm that's being done to the oppressed is the effect of the benefit provided to the oppressor. That's why it's a society-wide system and that's why there's such intense and instinctive protection of it at all levels.

This misunderstanding is a manifestation of the modern problem of thinking about racism and sexism and other isms as if they were nothing more than bigotry and discrimination as widespread individual personality flaws. If that's how you think about this stuff, then it makes sense to just think of it as people being stupidly hurtful to other people which obviously we'd all be better off if they'd just stop doing that. If you understand it as a system designed by the powerful to protect their power, then this view is obviously wrong.

I'm frequently amazed anew at how effective this prevalent non-structural view is at both undermining efforts at fighting racism and sexism and the like, and how it's used to actually entrench them. The majority of Americans today think that racism is simple race-based bigotry which is extremely convenient for white Americans, especially when they want to divert discussions about racism into discussions about how white people are victims of racial bigotry (conservative reaction) or discussions about their shame, guilt, and good intentions (liberal reaction). Making it about individual people being individually shitty to each other completely erases privilege and the systemic power relationship and both minimizes the scope of the problem and implies that it's essentially unsolvable because, after all, people being shitty to each other is human nature.

Racism is a society-wide structure that systematically benefits white people. Ending racism will remove those benefits. White people don't want to talk about this in this way because of what officer_fred discusses above. People of color don't want to talk about this in this way because that's perceived as too aggressive and this whole structure (remember that there's a whole structure?) pretty swiftly and strongly punishes them for it.

"Maybe I am idealistic, but I just don't think that's true. Everyone is the hero of their own story. Everyone wants to feel like they're the good guy. A lot of the reason you see white people getting upset about the concept of white privilege is the feeling that they're no longer the good guy. That something is unfair and they're the ones benefiting from and perpetuating it. You see this with rich people, you see this with dudes, you see this with any member of a privileged class who's confronted with their own privilege. They desperately, desperately want to prove that they haven't done anything wrong and they're not members of this unfair system. I think this is because most people, at their heart, are not amoral and are not comfortable with the idea of benefiting from unfairness so they twist themselves into ten thousand shapes to convince themselves it's never happened to them."

I actually think that both you and officer_fred are right. I think people are divided between those who, when pressed, will break toward blatant self-interest and those who will break toward fairness and kindness. Progressives lately have weirdly embraced some very questionable personality psychology about how conservatives are the former and progressives the latter, but I think that's not true. My experience with people is that some of them are pretty reliably selfish and some are pretty reliably generous -- and a bunch of others are idiosyncratic about when they will act one way and when they will act another. So I'd be absolutely unsurprised at hearing the reaction that officer_fred describes, because I've heard it. And the first time, I was surprised. But at this stage of my life, I recognize that no small number of people are like that. But I'd also be absolutely unsurprised at hearing the opposite of that reaction and at the kind of reaction you describe. A whole bunch of people really do want to be good people and really do want to be good to others -- I've seen that a lot in my life, too.

But, yeah, I think you're right about what you're describing. I used to talk about this a lot with sexism. I don't talk about it as much now, because there's not much point in it and doing so plays into the counter-productive narrative of making it all about men. But when I first really became aware of sexism thirty years ago -- it was a gradual thing over six months that began with some intellectual orientation/input and one important personal observation and epiphany -- I felt terrible. I mean, really, really terrible. Thirty years later, I still feel almost as bad. I thought I lived in one world, and then I realized that I lived in another, much more horrible world. One in which I've benefited from the horror. Twelve years later, my closest friend went through the exact same experience, which was nice for me because then I didn't feel so alone about it. But I think that women, actually having to live with an awareness (at some level, even if they've internalized sexism) of it all their lives, really don't understand the magnitude of the change of awareness involved nor, more importantly, how threatening or depressing it is. I actually wasn't that threatened by it, but I certainly was horrified and depressed by it. And my sense is that this is a pretty significant mental barrier in its own right, completely apart from all the usual things we talk about. It's just basic human psychology.

These days, I still vaguely wish there was some one, infallible way to raise someone's consciousness. But I mostly have come to think that some people you'll never get through to, and most of the others require some idiosyncratic approach and set of circumstances ... and it's hard to figure out in each case what those might be. I read the threads here and increasingly I write comments that I don't post that are each basically attempts to lead a horse to water, but the reason I don't post them is because ultimately I know that they're unlikely to drink.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:05 PM on January 10, 2015 [24 favorites]


Most, huh? Can you be a little more specific? (Citations appreciated.)

Expecting others to do lit searches for them count?
posted by srboisvert at 5:05 PM on January 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


I am trying to resist sending this paper to a couple of the guys in my gaming group. Although ideally there'd be a more cogent explanation up front about the difference between "this POC did something bad to me because I'm white" and "systematic racism against white people."

(On the other hand, one of them claimed that "the news every day" shows that white people are a discriminated-against minority, so we may be dealing with Too Willfully Stupid to Change.)
posted by Scattercat at 5:25 PM on January 10, 2015


Recently, I was debating a few old white bloggers of the Teabagger variety. I tried to point out a certain set of double standards they seemed to hold. When it came to white teenagers, their own sons and nephews and stepsons and grandkids, they complained endlessly of "wussification." These kids today, they stay indoors and don't get into trouble like kids should. Kids should be getting into fights, taking joyrides, being rebels, like WE did at that age....

....but Trayvon Martin was a dangerous thug who, as soon as he took a swing at someone else, forfeited his life. Michael Brown did the same. Both deserved to die.

Dirty Harry? Greatest movie hero ever. Django? Not so much.
posted by ELF Radio at 6:36 PM on January 10, 2015 [15 favorites]


Racism is a society-wide structure that systematically benefits white people. Ending racism will remove those benefits.

Yes to the first bit; no to the second.

Now, white people sure act as if they'll lose something. They talk that way, they vote that way. But how much of the fear is of something real, and how much is apathy, stupidity, misunderstanding, and sheer cussedness?

Do you think that racism and sexism is just malicious, that it's just gratuitous hurtfulness?

No, I think it's the residue of hundreds of years of slavery, a system based on stealing from blacks. Of course the stealing continued in other forms for longer.

But we have also been wasting people. Nobody benefits from keeping a permanent underemployed underclass-- we'd all be better off if we treated everyone as full human beings-- in quantifiable money terms, as jpe points out.

I'm guessing, but I'd suggest that the loss from the wasting outweighs the gain from the stealing, for most white people. (And probably always has: slavery was good for a small minority, and impoverished most white Southerners.)

If you disagree, would you suggest to a developing country that (say) they introduce a new form of discrimination, create a new underclass? How could that possibly benefit their economy?

(Now, the fastest way to a nonracist society would probably be to give people money. Back of the envelope calculation: the median wealth for US adults is about $45,000. A pretty good start would be giving that amount to every black person. That would cost $2 trillion. Could we afford that? Of course we could; the Iraq war cost more than that. And yes, right now this is just a political dream, but so is getting rid of systemic oppression.)
posted by zompist at 6:36 PM on January 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Well, you wouldn't admit to recommending this for moral reasons, but one traditional way to kickstart an economy is to go to war. The oppression that results may not even end up at your doorstep if you pick the right theater.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:45 PM on January 10, 2015


Back of the envelope calculation: the median wealth for US adults is about $45,000. A pretty good start would be giving that amount to every black person. That would cost $2 trillion.

How much would it cost to make up for years of underfunded schools?
posted by craniac at 6:47 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


This passage, about the cultural competency training, is interesting:
A cogent example of White Fragility occurred recently during a workplace anti-racism training I co-facilitated with an inter-racial team. One of the white participants left the session and went back to her desk, upset at receiving (what appeared to the training team as) sensitive and diplomatic feedback on how some of her statements had impacted several people of color in the room. At break, several other white participants approached us (the trainers) and reported that they had talked to the woman at her desk, and she was very upset that her statements had been challenged. They wanted to alert us to the fact that she literally “might be having a heart-attack.” Upon questioning from us, they clarified that they meant this literally. These co-workers were sincere in their fear that the young woman might actually physically die as a result of the feedback. Of course, when news of the woman’s potentially fatal condition reached the rest of the participant group, all attention was immediately focused back onto her and away from the impact she had had on the people of color. As Vodde (2001) states, “If privilege is defined as a legitimization of one’s entitlement to resources, it can also be defined as permission to escape or avoid any challenges to this entitlement”
I would be interested to hear what the "sensitive and diplomatic feedback" was.

It's weird to me that this article seems to mock someone's physical distress in this way. If my experience with average-Joe white america (the type of people who would be in a mandatory cultural competency training) is any indication, these ordinary white people have difficult lives and it sort of sounds like they were told that much of what they had was unearned and during this mandatory sensitivity training, the woman was told that her attitudes were hurtful to her coworkers. Many people who are struggling in day-to-day life, white or black, have enormous burdens and to be told, in front of your coworkers, that your meager position in life is unearned and your attitudes are "wrong" or "hurtful" is not surprisingly, upsetting. I don't know ... no doubt my skepticism will be deemed emblematic of White Fragility ... but this paper reads like the work of someone who brooks no objections to her work and has conveniently defined anyone who objects as representative of the pathology she claims to have identified.
posted by jayder at 6:52 PM on January 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


most of it is zero-sum

There are many behaviors that are non-zero sum, where people will still act as if they are: centuries of mercantilism when free(er) trade helps everybody, for example. I’m no expert, but my limited understanding of game theory leads me to believe that in the absence of trust people often act in ways that leave everybody worse off.

a system designed by the powerful to protect their power

This strikes me as being essentially a conspiracy theory of racism. Very little about any human society strikes me as being “designed” in that sense. Not that there aren’t winners in any society who will fight to keep their advantages however they came by them, just that there’s no real evidence that the winners themselves designed the system. We’re just perpetuating a slightly modified version of the past, tweaked for current conditions and circumstances.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 6:52 PM on January 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


awesome article! i've been referring to this (in white men) as "hysteria," but that's a bit too glib and can be misunderstood. so useful to have this definition!

As for the zero-sum game discussion, there will be some white people who lose. But overall society will gain.

to make an analogy to ending oil addiction; if climate change is finally acted upon, Exxon will likely be bankrupted. But civilization will continue. Sorry boutcha, Exxon.
posted by eustatic at 7:01 PM on January 10, 2015


Jayder, I don't doubt that that kind of distress happens, but what's frustrating about it is that the people who experience that distress seem to think that making them feel bad is the point of the exercise. It's not, of course. But I've heard that reaction a LOT-- people complaining, in discussions of privilege, that they're being told to feel bad or feel guilty about themselves for having benefited from white privilege. Hell, there was a point where that was my reaction, too: defensiveness and guilt, because yes, it is horrible to know that you are the unwilling, unintentional beneficiary of such a fucked-up system.

Guilt is, of course, entirely beside the point. White people feeling bad about themselves because we benefit from privilege accomplishes nothing. Briefly feeling bad about benefiting from structural racism is not even in the same universe of bad things as structural racism getting in your way every day of your life.

White people getting over themselves and pitching the fuck in to help fix things is what is actually needed. My guilt fixes nothing. My guilt accomplishes nothing. My work is what's needed-- and so is everyone else's.
posted by nonasuch at 7:09 PM on January 10, 2015 [22 favorites]


A white man is pounding his fist on the table. His face is red and he is furious. As he pounds he yells, “White people have been discriminated against for 25 years! A white person can’t get a job anymore!”

I thought this was very vivid. I've seen loads of these guys.



This is every single white man I have known since I retired. Many, many.
posted by notreally at 7:14 PM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wow, the story of the woman who freaks out in anti-racism training is tragicomic (starts bottom of page 64). When she gets some feedback on how her behavior had affected POC, she feels she is literally having a heart attack. Naturally, this shifts everyone's focus back to her...
posted by zompist at 3:14 PM on January 10


A good ol' fashioned case of "White Woman Crying" (or "White Girl Tears"). A long-recognized syndrome, you can find it anywhere there's supposed to be a honest conversation about the state of race in America, especially in activist circles. Mrs. Obama was a target of this just about eighteen months ago.
posted by magstheaxe at 7:31 PM on January 10, 2015 [14 favorites]


I've heard that line of reasoning too. Usually followed or preceded with a story of how they were not hired for a particular job because of affirmative action and were told as much.

I and assuming the last part is straight-up fiction. Why would a potential employer tell someone that? Wouldn't they just use the same neutral "you're not a good fit." Or "we found a candidate that more closely matched the position."?

I guess what I'm asking is if there has ever actually been a case where the white dude was told he wasn't hired because a less qualified minority was needed to fill a quota. I mean this genuinely.

My assumption is no. My suspicion is that in many cases, there are older gentlemen who have relied upon privilege early in their careers to benefit them (be it race or gender). And either ageism, poor economy, or just plane not keeping up with skills on the job market, are not the desirable hires they once were. With the failure, or at least faultering of privilege, they lash out at anything they can blame that isn't on their shoulders. In this case, ironically the race of others and convoluted plots to keep them from work.

That's all a hunch though. Maybe someone is telling them that race is the reason they aren't getting the job.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 7:44 PM on January 10, 2015


Huge, huge thanks to emjaybee for posting this, and for everyone who has commented. I came across the article from another source several weeks ago, and it was truly eye-opening to me (yet another white male). Having a daughter had already sensitized me to a feminist dynamic, and the fact that she and my wife are Jewish (I'm a non-religious goy) had raised my consciousness, as well. You see, I went through a lot of my life under the mistaken impression that because I had gone to an integrated high school, had had POC as friends, etc., that I was immune to the charge of racism. But long before reading the linked article, I'd been disabused of that specious notion, and in fact had come to the decision that all people, of all colors harbor racial animus, and that if one were to ask (even) a paragon of racial equality -- let's say, for the sake of example, the Rev. Desmond Tutu -- if he or she grappled with those feelings, I'm solidly convinced that that person would be willing to admit that it was a daily struggle to come to terms with said emotions, and that the fight to overcome those horrible feelings was a reward in and of itself.

But running across this was incredibly helpful in my pursuit of acting with compassion toward my fellow whites, and to act this way with everyone, actually, but it's "whites" that constitute a giant issue for me five days a week. I'm in a very conservative workplace, in a bright blue state. During my tenure there I've heard so much disgusting, racist, ignorant drivel come out of the mouths of my coworkers that I've come home many times feeling as if I'm a thousand years old (I'm sure all of you can imagine how things were at work when Trayvon Martin was killed, or the shooting and ensuing events in Ferguson; it was far, far worse than you're thinking.) This PDF and many other texts like it have allowed me to put dimensions and labels on what I confront at work, and everywhere else in my bright blue environment. I don't know that I'm going to change anybody's mind, there or anywhere else, but information like this has allowed me to be more at peace with where I'm at intellectually and emotionally. It's also caused me to look in the mirror everyday with a great deal more honesty about my own privilege and emotional "pre-load."

Other than that, I don't think I have a lot more to add to a very profound and rewarding dialogue on the blue, except to say that I don't think racial equality is a zero-sum proposition. If we truly want to world to be a better place, everyone will need to pull in that direction. Even though 2014 was very disheartening in many ways, I remain optimistic that we're on the verge of making things a tiny little bit better. At any rate, I've chosen to live and act as that optimism is a reasonable proposition...
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 7:45 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really love this paper, but I have to question the insinuation that everyone who remains silent are doing so because of White Fragility in the context of a workplace sensitivity training seminar. This paper reminded me of another person who lead sensitivity training:

Judith Katz, the author of the 1978 publication White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training, is critical of what she calls self-indulgent white guilt fixations. Her concerns about white guilt led her to move from black-white group encounters to all-white groups in her anti-racism training. She also avoided using non-white people to re-educate whites, she said, because she found that this led whites to focus on getting acceptance and forgiveness rather than changing their own actions or beliefs.

Workplace sensitivity meetings are not a forum, they're not about expressing white guilt, lobbing pity on those that suffer from institutional oppression, or making sure that you're reputation is preserved. They're about getting people to change their behaviours to create a more accepting and respectful work environment.

I mean, you can have an academic discussion about privilege on Metafilter, but this isn't a workplace. When I've been in sensitivity training seminars in the past, I can't recall having anything to add to the conversation. The instructors provide information about white privilege and the lived experiences of people who are harmed by it, and I say "I understand" (presuming that I actually do understand and don't have any questions). They say "here are things that you can do to be more inclusive and respectful of people in your workplace," and I say "okay, I will do those things." I suspect that in the context of DiAngelo's class it would be very hard to say anything that wouldn't bring the conversation back to my white feelings. As we preach almost daily on MeFi, in those cases you need to just shut up and listen.

Based on what DiAngelo states in her paper, it seems that she isn't really leading a discussion, but lecturing on white privilege, and the people who are discussing are doing so because they either disagree, don’t understand, or don’t want to. To be clear, I'm not saying that all the people who were silent were doing so out of respect. I'm sure that there had to be people who were silently disagreeing. But I am saying that I would have been silent because expressing my white feelings aren't the goal of a workplace anti-racism class.
posted by Shouraku at 8:37 PM on January 10, 2015 [12 favorites]


[i]What would be an an example of a multi racial country that didn't have racism in it's cultural and political institutions? Just curious if this problem has been fixed anywhere.
posted by astrobiophysican at 11:00 AM on January 10 [2 favorites +] [!][/i]

US americans have a history of leveling the racial caste system in areas of our political institutions, then building it back, differently. so certain problems get fixed. then the caste system gets rebuilt because "racism is not a problem anymore" and "we can totally win the votes in X if...."

also, the frame of the question is a bit wrong. justice is not some problem that gets "fixed."
posted by eustatic at 9:42 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


What I find fascinating (and complicated!) is the dynamic in which the author's critique, "Some group X has a tendency to react poorly under any criticism of their implicit attitudes/behavior", is eventually counter-criticized by the allegation "This author is constructing an argument that leaves her writings/theories closed to any criticism".

I'd love to see someone take a crack at this.
posted by polymodus at 9:45 PM on January 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


I remember this from back in the 60s when Jules Fieffer had the character Whitey Backlash.

Kind of sad how little has changed.
posted by happyroach at 12:19 AM on January 11, 2015


The universalism vs individualism idea really resonates with me. White people are almost always viewed as individuals; black people are almost always seen "color first". As a corollary, white experience (and presence) is seen as the default, i.e. universal. A notable example we see in pop culture is when a character is cast non-white, people freak out. That's not how reality is! That doesn't make sense! But so-and-so isn't *black*! Etc. A black person can't just be a person.

I've personally (I'm white) been trying a mind game on myself by adding "white" in contexts where a speaker or writer would often include a race for a non-white person. It's jarring at times.
posted by R343L at 1:29 AM on January 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's super cool that an awkward encounter in a diversity training course inspired such a thorough analysis.

I can't help imagine, however, what the response would be if the author's questions were posed on the green:

How can I communicate better with people who don't share my worldview?
I said a thing. People reacted hurt. My friend felt awkward. Whhhyy? Special snowflake details below the break [more inside]

DiAngelo brings up good points, things which anyone who cares about diversity should be (and probably already are) considering, but it's frustratingly myopic in its own viewpoint (see also: Marxist video game reviews) and the way it's been constructed so as to brook no arguments or criticism. And yeah, I get that that cover-your-ass mentality is part and parcel of academic writing but still.. the audience's reaction was totally unsurprising. Anyone who doesn't exist solely in an academic bubble of socially adjusted, mindful departmental colleagues - or just occasionally reads the comments section on mainstream news articles - should have expected as much.

Hell, substitute 'academic' for 'white' in her paper and it makes nearly as much sense.

Those frustrating lectures I mentioned? One of them was about why attempts at putting critical theory into practice in the real world fail and go awry! When elaborate theoretical frameworks developed at a stratospheric remove from the populations they're supposedly describing are imposed upon the real world and don't meet with success, their authors go back to develop elaborate theoretical frameworks as to why their ideas didn't play out as expected.

Don't we have a saying for that around here?

Was the freaked out white woman redirecting or stealing attention? Sure. Does that happen essentially happen all the frickin time? Hell yeah.

That's one truth. DiAngelo isn't wrong. But there are other true ways to understand what's going on. To paraphrase Chris Rock, white people are crazy. Racism is a mental illness. Criticizing that woman freaking out so bad she's thinks she's having a heart attack because she can't deal starts to look like victim blaming.

If racism is a mental disease, people need therapists who can connect to them. And maybe DiAngelo can play that role, now that she's though so thoroughly explored the sort of insecurities our racist society fosters.
posted by unmake at 1:41 AM on January 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have a story I call the "That Time I Was Really Racist" story, about when I was a person driving a van and told a black person to go to the back in favor of some white people. I tell this story a lot to white people, with the framing of "That Time I Was Really Racist" because a lot of white people act like being called racist is the worst thing ever.

Me, I always remember That Time I Was Really Racist, and as far as I'm concerned BEING racist is a whole lot worse than being CALLED racist.

Every single time I tell the story, the white people around me comfort me.

Every. Single. Time.

A huge chunk of the time I'm told I'm being too hard on myself, that I should let the past go, that it was just one time in my twenties, and a ton of other mitigating stuff - ignoring that "That One Time I Was Really Racist" is a representation of tons of other times I was probably racist but didn't notice; this one was just blatant.

When I point out that the situation was hella worse for the man who had lived through Civil Rights only to be told by a snot-nosed kid to get to the back of the bus in the 2000s, it's like they can't even conceive of sympathizing with him.

All of the white people I've told this to consider themselves Liberal and in favor of Civil Rights, but it is telling that in an individual case they sympathize with the white bus driver, not the black bus passenger.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:37 AM on January 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


Every single time I tell the story, the white people around me comfort me.

To be fair, it's within the bounds of propriety to try to empathize with the person that you are currently speaking to. Now, if the man that you had told to get in the back of the bus was with you when you told the story, and people still gave all the sympathy to you, then I would say that there is something wrong. Or if they tried to somehow claim that you weren’t actually raciest. But as it stands, your comment could be called "I Tell A Story About A Time That I Really Screwed Up, And The People Around Me Are Empathetic Listeners."
posted by Shouraku at 4:09 AM on January 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


also, the frame of the question is a bit wrong. justice is not some problem that gets "fixed."

I feel like this is a case where it's genuinely difficult to distinguish a difference in worldview from a difference in vocabulary. In a certain manner of speaking, a "problem" is defined in relation to a "solution" and vice versa; the solution doesn't need to be perfect or permanent, the problem doesn't need to be fully specified, but you can't have one without the other. Could be that "fixing" the American justice system describes some combination of changes in policy, stronger internal-affairs groups, and getting everyone involved to admit that systemic discrimination is a thing that needs to be dealt with, like modify the oaths that judges swear in with to account for the concept. None of which actually makes the issue into a non-issue, but if every item in the "problem" column has its neighbor in the "solution" one, it's "solved," even if every solution is imperfect, and all of them require maintenance.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:10 AM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]



We, the people in Singapore, declare that religious harmony is vital for peace, progress and prosperity in our multi-racial and multi-religious Nation.

We resolve to strengthen religious harmony through mutual tolerance, confidence, respect, and understanding.

We shall always

Recognise the secular nature of our State,
Promote cohesion within our society,
Respect each other's freedom of religion,
Grow our common space while respecting our diversity,
Foster inter-religious communications,

and thereby ensure that religion will not be abused to create conflict and disharmony in Singapore.


Racial Harmony Day - July 21

MULTICULTURALISM IN SINGAPORE* The Way to a Harmonious Society
CHAN Sek Keong, Chief Justice of Singapore.

posted by infini at 5:36 AM on January 11, 2015


Have these ridiculous social theorists and deconstructionists ever been outside of the USA?

Anyone who has been would most certainly know that race - skin color - is a minimal factor in most social interactions among people everywhere, globally.

But culture most certainly is a factor, and a very large one. It causes social divides almost everywhere (having traveled to 30+ countries and living long term in several).

Dunderheaded solipsistic America social theorists like DiAngelo would label these divides as "racial" when they are obviously and inherently about culture.

The monumentally stooopid premise of academic multiculturalism (or at least those like DiAngelo who make a buck on it) is that the "culture" part of "multicultural" is somehow a function of race. It most certainly and demonstrably is not.
posted by geeyore at 7:11 AM on January 11, 2015


Anyone who has been would most certainly know that race - skin color - is a minimal factor in most social interactions among people everywhere, globally.

Your experience does not match mine even the slightest bit. I'm a Romani American who passes for white. I've lived on four continents and in six countries, and in every one (including the U.S.), race (or skin color, or ethnicity, or whatever you want to call it*) is absolutely a factor in everyday social interaction as well as large-scale interactions.

* -- Unless you want to define "race" in a very narrow way.
posted by Etrigan at 7:23 AM on January 11, 2015 [13 favorites]


Anyone who has been would most certainly know that race - skin color - is a minimal factor in most social interactions among people everywhere, globally.

A++ for self-evidently false assertion.

A white man is pounding his fist on the table. His face is red and he is furious. As he pounds he yells, “White people have been discriminated against for 25 years! A white person can’t get a job anymore!”

I work with a couple of those guys. They will sit there and say with great fervor that white men are the most openly discriminated-against group and that these days any jobs go to women and minorities. Pointing out to them that the office is entirely white guys (including recent hires) somehow doesn't connect.

Racism is a society-wide structure that systematically benefits white people. Ending racism will remove those benefits.

In a perfect world, ending discrimination would remove the relative benefit that some people are receiving, by extending those benefits to all people. For example, the solution to biased traffic stops isn't to start pulling over everyone and treating them poorly; it is to stop racial targeting of minority drivers. As a white guy, ending that practice will improve other people's lives without causing any change to my own.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:40 AM on January 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Anyone who has been would most certainly know that race - skin color - is a minimal factor in most social interactions among people everywhere, globally.

You know the adage of "always bet on black" when at the craps table?
Well when I hear stuff like the statement above, I always bet on white.

No way in the world that that statement is coming from someone who doesn't identify or pass as white/caucasian/european.

Saying something like that is like saying "You know, I don't know why lower class people are always complaining about the lack of money not allowing them to move up...its never stopped my upper middle class family from becoming a family of engineers and college professors".

I love threads like these, because it points out that "even on Metafilter" people are inherently dismissive of non-white experiences.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:44 AM on January 11, 2015 [19 favorites]


Even if it were true that race is only a problem in the United States (and it is definitely not true), fixing racist white society in the United States would be a worthy goal.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:08 AM on January 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Also, as a white woman traveling in mostly non-white countries, it is incredibly obvious that the benefits of being white accrue all over the place. The deference with which I, at 25, was treated by elderly and important Ivorian men was horrifyingly embarrassing, especially compared to the way they treated Ivorian women my age. My whiteness even trumped my femaleness. Being white made me important, worth listening to, automatically respected, a little bit concerning, etc. Attitudes of white supremacy, whether entrenched through colonialism, economics and foreign aid, military power, histories of slavery, etc. have left pretty indelible marks on the world system.

And other cultures have other complicated relationships with race and ethnicity. Check Japan, or China, or South Africa, or France, or Peru, or Brazil, or Rwanda. There's a lot of dismantling to do and it's pretty blatant white naivety to suggest that race doesn't matter.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:15 AM on January 11, 2015 [22 favorites]


Attitudes of white supremacy, whether entrenched through colonialism, economics and foreign aid, military power, histories of slavery, etc. have left pretty indelible marks on the world system.

"White racism" in scholarly circles disappeared with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, but it was replaced with a virulent new "black racism," which many African-Americans adopted as a belated response to the former, even before the rehabilitation of ancient Kush.
posted by clavdivs at 10:05 AM on January 11, 2015


The exterior of the Cairo museum has no marker for the 25 th dynasty.

It seems redacting history is part of the cause.
posted by clavdivs at 10:07 AM on January 11, 2015


Dunderheaded solipsistic America social theorists like DiAngelo would label these divides as "racial" when they are obviously and inherently about culture.

Could you explain this one? How does a black man getting stopped while driving by a white cop have anything to do with his "culture"?
posted by schroedinger at 10:10 AM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not gonna respond to the straw men and red herrings above.

It would be quite easy, but it's Sunday ya know, and there are other things to do.

However, it's quite evident that there is very, very little serious exposure to non-American cultures in a non-American context here, and hence very little first-hand empirical understanding of "race" versus "culture" outside of the perverted way in which it's canonized by U.S. academics and media.

Exhibit 1 is DiAngelo's laughable 16-page tautology ("You are white, therefore you will react badly when I criticize you for being white.... which is what white people do when they are criticized or instructed, because they are white.") That's not very "multicultural" of her.

I recognize the futility of breaking through solipsism.
posted by geeyore at 10:34 AM on January 11, 2015


"I recognize the futility of breaking through solipsism."

Right: yours.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:42 AM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I find it hard to see anything in that article where the author criticizes someone for the color of their skin. I see a lot of challenging assumptions and examining structures and attempting to move the conversation past the defensive reactions impasse that often arises.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:49 AM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Geeyore, I'd love it if you would give a little more detail. It's very hard to have a conversation if you refuse to actually... say anything.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:59 AM on January 11, 2015


However, it's quite evident that there is very, very little serious exposure to non-American cultures in a non-American context here, and hence very little first-hand empirical understanding of "race" versus "culture" outside of the perverted way in which it's canonized by U.S. academics and media.

It's worth pointing out that the author is explicitly and intentionally discussing American society. Since you seem to agree that historical contingency leads to differing social patterns in disparate contexts, I'm perplexed by what seems like your implicit critique of the fact that the author isn't offering a universal, nomothetic explication of race as a social phenomenon.
posted by clockzero at 11:12 AM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd love to see someone take a crack at this.

It's a case of methodology here. The goal is agreed upon and worthy, but someone has injected their own treatment plan into the mix (while some were swept up in a confessional mode, or refuse to separate the two). I suspect that post-modern critical theory is probably not ideal for race relations, because it is deploying a hidden Marxist framework to support itself, and if you look around at the author's past material, she has blatant issues with people who see others as individuals and cites examples from her own work groups where she is one of the parties involved. The silence thing is a tip-off and reveals techniques familiar to those exposed to cults or political abuse. Then there is the issue of a white consultant (herself) with an academic chip on her shoulder working with Human Resource departments to potentially interrogate employees about race, all the while condemning the white power structure, perhaps doing more harm than good. On principle it is worthy to defend the right be silent, and the freedom to disagree with or dislike someone who happens to be of another race, without being accused of a thought crime, as long as full equal rights are protected and acknowledged. In practice, racism was always a fallacy because it condemns or favors individuals to a fate by their association with a class or group.
posted by Brian B. at 11:18 AM on January 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


"In a perfect world, ending discrimination would remove the relative benefit that some people are receiving, by extending those benefits to all people."

I am flummoxed and frustrated with the tenacity with which so many cling to this view. I think it's definitely a function of racism -- it protects white sensibilities and hides the reality of white privilege.

Sure, there are some things where the white experience is one that everyone could and should experience -- like not being shot by the police when you're twelve and you are holding a toy gun.

But these sorts of examples -- police going out of their way to treat black people badly and racists doing egregiously racist things -- are only a small part of the totality of the system of racism. There's a damn reason why we talk about privilege, and that's because there are advantages granted to whites and men because they're white and male. The number of available jobs is zero-sum. The amount of available housing is zero-sum. The total amount of money available for payroll at a company is zero-sum. The number of undergraduate admissions to Harvard in a given year is zero-sum. The amount of time available for someone to speak in a business meeting is zero-sum. The amount of venture capital available to tech start-ups is zero-sum. The seats in Congress are zero-sum.

The number of seats on the frickin' bus is zero-sum.

Blacks were pushed to the back of the bus so that whites could sit in the front, which was a more desirable place to sit. This is still true today in analogous situations widely across American society -- whites and men are granted attention and respect and opportunity and time and resources at the expense of black people and women because at any moment in time and in various ways these things are limited and the easiest way to ensure that whites and men have more of it is to simply take it or keep it from blacks and women.

Last night I wrote and didn't post a response that took some of the earlier comments about this seriously -- as a general principle, it's pretty arguable that eventually, as we approach the ideal, a lack of racism and sexism will result in society-wide gains in wealth and happiness such that whites and men are better than they were under racism and sexism.

But, firstly, as Keynes famously said (in a similar objection to mine), in the long run we're all dead. Those whites and men aren't these whites and men, and these whites and men here and now will have to give some shit up.

Secondly, this general principle isn't even necessarily true in specific cases -- it's sensitive to the combination of how extreme is the concentration of wealth/opportunity and the magnitude of wasted potential. The much more equitable and much more productive society of present-day France has not and would not restore the wealth and advantages enjoyed by the Bourbon-era aristocracy.

I also think it's suggestive how quickly and easily liberalized trade was analogized to anti-racism. Because it's certainly true that, in general, trade liberalization generates a great deal of wealth and usually the initial losers end up being better off than they started. Except that this isn't always true. Many factors complicate this. But what happened in the 90s and still happens today with trade liberalization discussions is that all discussion of those initial losers, all discussions of the possibility that those losers will not eventually become winners, all discussions of who is benefiting most from it here and now (and who is paying the highest cost here and now) are waved-away by authoritative appeals to the general principle that trade liberalization is good and everyone is better off.

It suggests to me that both of these narratives benefit the empowered and are the expression of the empowered's interests. With regard to trade liberalization, it's an authoritative appeal to the common well-being that distracts attention away from how they're advancing their own narrow self-interests at the immediate expense of the less powerful. With regard to anti-racism, it's an authoritative appeal to the common well-being that distracts attention away from how white influence would necessarily be reduced by successful anti-racism and therefore simultaneously de-legitimizes the approach of directly limiting white influence and making white racial grievance much more plausible (because according to this worldview, no whites should ever lose anything!).

I don't quite understand the origin and promulgation of this earnest and prevalent desire to frame things as "no one has to give anything up, it's all about ensuring that people have the things they should; so happy rainbows unicorns anti-racism/anti-sexism yay!", but it sure seems to me that it's designed around this white (and male) fragility DiAngelo discusses and it suspiciously aims all the attention toward individual shitty actions by racists and sexists, emphasizes that racism and sexism are "problems that blacks and women have to deal with" and away from the systemic, structural advantages that whites and men enjoy. It's sort of a trojan horse, and progressives should know better.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:21 AM on January 11, 2015 [10 favorites]




I really want to give a huge amount of love to Deoridhe's comment. It's so excellent in so many ways at once.

"The universalism vs individualism idea really resonates with me. White people are almost always viewed as individuals; black people are almost always seen 'color first'. As a corollary, white experience (and presence) is seen as the default, i.e. universal. A notable example we see in pop culture is when a character is cast non-white, people freak out."

and

"...if you look around at the author's past material, she has blatant issues with people who see others as individuals..."

That first quote if from a comment by R343L and he makes a very good point -- the marked/unmarked distinction is part of this and being seen, by default, as an individual is a substantial privilege that white men enjoy (and one of those that aren't zero-sum which everyone could enjoy). It's exactly what's going on when those white people are upset by those segregated groups DiAngelo describes, or why many men get really worked up about "mansplaining". As a male feminist, I've encountered this very often when, among feminist women, I'm seen as representative of my class and not as an individual. I always think of it as an opportunity to re-learn something I learned a long time ago, but it's still unpleasant for me. Because my whole life's experience otherwise is that I'm always first seen as an individual. But people of color and women live with this experience every day -- they're seen as representatives of their class, first and foremost.

However, DiAngelo's discussion about universalism versus individualism wasn't limited to that phenomenon, nor was it at all hostile to individualism -- I feel like some people didn't quite get the nuance of what she was trying to say. Her point was that individualism/universalism is a sort of figure/ground dualism that Whiteness uses opportunistically to see what it wants and to ignore what it wants. When convenient, it sees two faces and denies the vase. When convenient, it sees the vase and denies the two faces. And, weirdly, it seems to utterly lack awareness of this contradiction:
Whites are taught to see their perspectives as objective and representative of reality [...] The belief in objectivity, coupled with positioning white people as outside of culture [...] allows whites to view themselves as universal humans who can represent all of human experience. [...] the [white] person declares that we all need to see each other as human beings (everyone is the same). [...] Further, universalism assumes that whites and people of color have the same realities, the same experiences in the same contexts [...] the same responses from others, and assumes that the same doors are open to all. Acknowledging racism as a system of privilege conferred on whites challenges claims to universalism.

At the same time that whites are taught to see their interests and perspectives as universal, they are also taught to value the individual and to see themselves as individuals rather than as part of a racially socialized group. Individualism erases history and hides the ways in which wealth has been distributed and accumulated over generations to benefit whites today. It allows whites to view themselves as unique and original, outside of socialization and unaffected by the relentless racial messages in the culture. Individualism also allows whites to distance themselves from the actions of their racial group and demand to be granted the benefit of the doubt, as individuals, in all cases.
"Geeyore, I'd love it if you would give a little more detail."

It doesn't seem to me that there's much more to understand. His argument is quite similar to the class argument above in both its shape and its function. It's much more extreme -- he's denying entirely non-US racism -- but the function of it is to take something that's certainly true -- that cultural differences drive a great deal of worldwide institutional oppression -- as a means of taking attention away from racism.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:01 PM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think I can see a gist in geeyore's comment: US construction of "race" as a category IS cultural, as evidenced by the history of the one drop rule and the possibility of changing categories for people with ambiguous features, or the way that say Jews and the Irish have become "white" in the 20th century, or the new category of Hispanic that embraces many peoples with little common ancestry. And hence there are interminable arguments about whether Islamaphobia or whatever can be called racism, because whether oppression/prejudice/conflict is labelled racism has important local ramifications. So racism in the US context as a particular case of conflicts within and between cultures. ("US" should maybe be "Anglosphere" here).

On the other hand, I don't see a problem with Americans writing for an American audience ignoring that in a short paper. Nor do I think this has much bearing on the severity of the problem of how the white cultural group maintains its power and standing against other groups.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:17 PM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Most people assume that racism grows from a perception of human difference: the fact of race gives rise to the practice of racism. Sociologist Karen E. Fields and historian Barbara J. Fields argue otherwise: the practice of racism produces the illusion of race, through what they call "racecraft."

"Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life". I don't think this book has had a discussion here, but I've just received a copy and it looks interesting. Anyone read it?
posted by colie at 12:39 PM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


"I think I can see a gist in geeyore's comment: US construction of 'race' as a category IS cultural, as evidenced by the history of the one drop rule and the possibility of changing categories for people with ambiguous features, or the way that say Jews and the Irish have become 'white' in the 20th century, or the new category of Hispanic that embraces many peoples with little common ancestry."

Well, yeah, because the modern pseudo-scientific notion of race is false and ultimately it's a cultural construct. But I'm pretty sure that's not actually the position that geeyore is arguing, because it comprehensively undermines his argument. On the one hand, in service to his argument, it would mean that racism in the US is really cultural, as he says is true of the rest of the world. On the other hand, it would mean that at least some the rest of the world's variety of so-called cultural oppression could involve the same physiological markers that are associated with American racism against blacks. So both sides of that sword undercut the stark distinction he's trying to make.

A good example to use to investigate his ideas is Brazil, where the social constructions of race are very different than they are in the US. So do we find that in Brazil there's no systemic favoring of lighter skinned people over darker skinned people, given that its notions of race are distinct from those in the US? Well, no, that's not the case.

And, anyway, as people have already argued earlier, it's certainly not the case that the modern idea of racial categories that draw such a strong distinction on the basis of skin color was an American invention. It's an eighteenth and nineteenth century European invention and the notion of a racial class of "black" people is deeply embedded in European colonialism, particularly of Africa, and there's a whole bunch of post-colonial structures of systemic racial oppression around the world today that reflect it ... including racism in the US.

The US is distinct in a number of ways with regard to race and ethnic conflict/oppression -- the former is emphasized and the latter is de-emphasized relative to much of the rest of the world. But the two things overlap both in the US and in the rest of the world and it's so fundamentally wrong to argue that they're quite different as to be essentially suspiciously dishonest.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:43 PM on January 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


nor was it at all hostile to individualism -- I feel like some people didn't quite get the nuance of what she was trying to say

Here is one such essay on the topic. And post-modernist style is not so much a nuance as it resembles a feigned objectivity that is widely ridiculed as indistinguishable from absurd imitation (refresh for effect).
posted by Brian B. at 1:20 PM on January 11, 2015


Shouraku: To be fair, it's within the bounds of propriety to try to empathize with the person that you are currently speaking to. Now, if the man that you had told to get in the back of the bus was with you when you told the story, and people still gave all the sympathy to you, then I would say that there is something wrong.

Ironically, at the moment you are empathizing not with the person you're responding to (me), but rather the multitude of white people who chose to empathize with me over the black man I wronged. This rather implies that "who you empathize with" is more complicated than "the person you are responding to," as, if your claim were true, you would be empathizing with me and not them.

There is a tendency for people to empathize with those who we can imagine ourselves in the shoes of most easily, and to mistake this empathy for knowledge. Especially in attempts at racial justice, it is far more important to empathize with the person who is discriminated against racially. This is especially true if one is white, as we have the least opportunity and pressure to empathize with people of other races due to their relative invisibility within our media and social landscapes.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:55 PM on January 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ivan, thanks for giving specific examples. Unfortunately I don't think they prove your point.

The number of available jobs is zero-sum.

Not true; jobs are created all the time. The employment rate would actually look pretty good if GOP statehouses hadn't spent the recession firing teachers.

The amount of available housing is zero-sum.

Not true; we build a million new housing units a year.

The total amount of money available for payroll at a company is zero-sum.

True but misleading. The average CEO is paid 350 times the salary of his lowest-paid worker. How much payroll money would be freed up if this was just 50 times, as it was in the 1960s?

The number of undergraduate admissions to Harvard in a given year is zero-sum.

I can't find Harvard data, but Yale enrollment for 2013 was 12,109; for 1976 it was 9,721.

Total college enrollment in 2011 was 21 million. In 1965, it was 6 million.

The amount of time available for someone to speak in a business meeting is zero-sum.

Would that it were zero. But I guess sure, if you have 10 whites and hire a black person, you might expect to talk 9% less.

The amount of venture capital available to tech start-ups is zero-sum.

It used to be $0. Venture capital is historically a new industry.

The seats in Congress are zero-sum.

The number of seats white men would have to give up to achieve black proportional representation: 31, of 541. (Also, you're aware that that Congress could create additional seats whenever it likes? It's just an ordinary law.)

The number of seats on the frickin' bus is zero-sum.

Here's how every bus I've ever been on works: you get in, and get the first available seat, if any. The problem on buses was never the number of seats.

I think you're a firm anti-racist and your intention to not minimize the problem is admirable. From my point of view, however, you're echoing conservative talking points ("they're taking my jobs! I can't get educated because of blacks!") and trying to scare white people with vague threats of loss, and that seems unhelpful. We live in a prosperous country; extending that prosperity to black people is not something we cannot afford.

The real problem is white folks' attitudes, which is why the OP is relevant. But a good fraction of those attitudes are based on false consciousness (i.e., untrue things). E.g. if all those people who think they lost jobs to blacks were correct, then the black employment rate would be higher than white, which it isn't.
posted by zompist at 2:11 PM on January 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Ironically, at the moment you are empathizing not with the person you're responding to (me), but rather the multitude of white people who chose to empathize with me over the black man I wronged. This rather implies that "who you empathize with" is more complicated than "the person you are responding to," as, if your claim were true, you would be empathizing with me and not them...There is a tendency for people to empathize with those who we can imagine ourselves in the shoes of most easily, and to mistake this empathy for knowledge. Especially in attempts at racial justice, it is far more important to empathize with the person who is discriminated against racially. This is especially true if one is white, as we have the least opportunity and pressure to empathize with people of other races due to their relative invisibility within our media and social landscapes.

This is something that I hadn't thought of. Thank you for that.
posted by Shouraku at 2:21 PM on January 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Here is one such essay on the topic. And post-modernist style is not so much a nuance as it resembles a feigned objectivity that is widely ridiculed as indistinguishable from absurd imitation (refresh for effect).

OK but people were already criticizing the author based on this article only, so I was and am still curious as to what it is about this piece (instead of embarking on a nontrivial survey of her works). By which I have in mind an analysis of specific lines or paragraphs of text, instead of repeating broad general claims that that she brooks no argument, or that this is a critical-theorist text which makes it unproductive, etc., claims which serve better as people's conclusions on what this text is about.
posted by polymodus at 2:22 PM on January 11, 2015


"From my point of view, however, you're echoing conservative talking points ('they're taking my jobs! I can't get educated because of blacks!') and trying to scare white people with vague threats of loss, and that seems unhelpful."

I think you meant that the conservative talking points try to scare white people with vague threats of loss, not me, given that you grant my anti-racism credibility. But I'm certainly not trying to scare white people, it's just that the necessary implication of this systemic privilege is that ending it would mean losing that privilege.

Why do I think it's important to talk about the systemic privilege as opposed to what you want to talk about, which is the systemic hurt?

Because the low-hanging fruit of anti-racism and feminism has been the egregious harm you're talking about and we've made great strides in ending it. But that success has meant that this obvious and extreme stuff which Americans think of as racism and sexism has led Americans to think that racism and sexism have been eliminated. Meanwhile, people freak out at the mere mention of the word privilege with regard to being white and being male and it is nearly impossible to get people to recognize the reality of it, how it works, and how they've benefited from it.

For example, I think it's interesting that you interpret my "time available for talking in a meeting" example as being that the inclusion of a new black person would mean some less time speaking for white people ... and not that actually present black people (and women) in such meetings now are discouraged from speaking, leaving more time for the white people (and men) to talk. I used the bus example because I thought -- with the Alabama case being so important in civil rights history -- it would be unambiguous and uncontroversial in demonstrating my point. Instead, you argue that all the buses you've seen have plenty of seats. That's pretty weird, dude.

Your preferred message has the perverse effect of comforting white people and men about their own personal status quo. It implies that racism and sexism can be solved by passing some laws, maybe, and some better social planning and education, and it implies that if there's anything white people and men need to change about their own behavior, it's to avoid walking up to black people and women and insulting them. Otherwise, it's pretty much not their problem. As long as they are good people who aren't racist and sexist, they're in the clear.

My message does alarm white people, sure. And it echoes the message of Fox News and conservative racists. But you know what? Those folk are inevitably going to fan the flames of white fear, regardless. And about this point in the conversation is when someone points out that the median age of a Fox News viewer is something like 68, and the men like the guy DiAngelo describes are not uncommon, but they're also only a small portion of white people. I pretty much don't hear white people here on MetaFilter saying things like that. But white people here on MetaFilter benefit from racism. And all of us participate in racism, we live and breathe the daily process of systemic racism. At this point, fighting racism means dismantling all this structure that surrounds us, and that's not possible until white people are even willing to admit that it actually exists. Most white people don't want to admit it exists because they intuitively realize that they benefit from it, if it does. Forget Fox News conservatives, it's like pulling teeth to get just a random progressive white person to admit that they've benefited from racism and sexism all through their lives. We see it in this very thread.

And the point I've been trying to make, and which I deeply, sincerely ask you to make an effort of imagination to carefully consider, is that the non-threatening-to-white-people message you prefer, not to mention how highly you value avoiding threatening white people, actually undermines anti-racism because of what I wrote in the paragraph before the previous one -- it comforts white people and men about their personal status quo, it makes it someone's else's problem, and it perversely legitimatizes the very complaints that you call illegitimate because, for example, every time a white person looks to Presidential-cycle elections and sees his interests less represented by the result, he is deeply aware that he's lost a social advantage he previously had and he's even more convinced that this is prima facie unjust because people like you have been telling him that ending white privilege couldn't possibly be a bad thing for him, personally. You've ceded the moral argument at the outset, you've granted him the justness of all the benefits he's accrued because of white privilege.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:46 PM on January 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


DiAngelo: upset at receiving (what appeared to the training team as) sensitive and diplomatic feedback on how some of her statements had impacted several people of color in the room.

Jayder: I would be interested to hear what the "sensitive and diplomatic feedback" was.


Yeah Jayder, from my experience with international cross-cultural training and work experience; It's always important to remember to let people save face. This woman's comments should have been discussed with her manager in private. I don't blame her for reacting badly. This wasn't just white fragility but strait up humiliation and a shaming experience.
posted by Che boludo! at 3:52 PM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


America is too busy funnelling its greatest minds towards developing the latest disruptive piece of entreprenerial nonsense to bother itself with its tragic race relations.

Somewhere, Nero is playing the worlds smallest violin.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:50 PM on January 11, 2015


Here, hear.
Ivan F do care to address zompists stompis data crunch.
posted by clavdivs at 5:55 PM on January 11, 2015


Sarge, not everyone on the U.S. beanplates this issue, especially a "theory" like this... So bad in fact you really can't add to the discussion because your blessed with not being American. (Not here on mefi of course) How ever, I live and work and walk in a city were diversity is a a way of life, along with racism. My only solution is from the self, what do I do to be aware. You talk to people, you change their tyre, we open the door you say thanks you
Apparently that is not enough.
I have a great analogy about ignorance and racism in the form of shaving powder when I clerked a store.
But I keep that for myself.
posted by clavdivs at 6:07 PM on January 11, 2015


Ivan, you're doing some serious strawmanning here. You don't know what my "preferred message" is. I am disappointed that rather than recognize that your "zero sum" statements were (to put it nicely) exaggerated, you turn this into an accusation of "highly valuing not threatening white people". If this zero-sum thing is so important to you, why not try to explain it better and find better examples rather than cast aspersions about my motives?

Let me just emphasize one point where you imagine we disagree:

Meanwhile, people freak out at the mere mention of the word privilege with regard to being white and being male and it is nearly impossible to get people to recognize the reality of it, how it works, and how they've benefited from it.

Yes, quite so! I said nothing to contradict this, and indeed said several things to support it.

As an exercise, I went through Peggy McIntosh's original list of 46 examples of white privilege, and divided them into categories:

benefits that could be extended to black people if racial privilege went away -- 42 items
zero-sum benefits that white people would lose if racial privilege went away - 4 items, all related to segregation (having only white people around or in control)

Please note, this business of extending privilege is not easy! Take police reform: that's a huge task that will require a bit of everything: law, activism, journalism, changing attitudes. But the idea is not to take away white people's safety or good relationships with the police.

I'll give you one good example for your point: local school funding. Equalizing district funding either means white people have worse school quality, or have to pay higher taxes. I think the actual cost is exaggerated and we should just pay it, but this particular issue is the freakout that birthed the modern conservative movement. If you think it's near impossible to get people to think about privilege, try suggesting that we need to raise taxes. They'd rather double the income of the 1% again.

And note, addressing everything on McIntosh's list would not avoid white people freaking out. They'd freak out a lot! Some people go crazy when they see black people where they didn't before. We've just got to get through the freakout stage.

This is not a new thing. Check back to the '50s/'60s and look at what happened when sports was integrated. Freakout city!
posted by zompist at 6:41 PM on January 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


zompist, I think a number of your counterexamples are missing Ivan Fyodorovich's point.

> "The number of available jobs is zero-sum." / "Not true; jobs are created all the time."

Sure, but right now, at any given time, only a certain number of jobs are available to a certain number of people in any particular locale. And note that the population is increasing along with those newly created jobs; unemployment has never dropped to effectively negligible levels no matter how many new jobs are created -- there's always people who want jobs but don't have them. So at any given time, multiple people are going to be competing for any given job opening. Who gets that job? Who doesn't? What's the systemic effect? What would be the systemic effect of removing racism from the system? How would the pool of unemployed people change?

> "The total amount of money available for payroll at a company is zero-sum." / "True but misleading. The average CEO is paid 350 times the salary of his lowest-paid worker."

I think your response is far more misleading. For one thing, your counter-example is, in fact, EXACTLY the case of a (statistically white, male) person giving up privilege to equalize things. Your own case posits that some people have to get paid less for others to get paid a fair amount. So right now, across the board, who gets paid more and who gets paid less? What would be the effect of removing racism from that? Would all salaries rise or remain the same? You don't think so. And what about a company with more than 350 workers? Who else has to have a lower salary to even things out? What would happen?

> "The number of undergraduate admissions to Harvard in a given year is zero-sum." / "I can't find Harvard data, but Yale enrollment for 2013 was 12,109; for 1976 it was 9,721."

Ivan Fyodorovich specifically said, "in a given year". At any time you apply to a University, there are a limited number of spots. Who gets them and who doesn't? Being told, "well, you both might have gotten in if you had applied in 40 years" isn't actually helpful, and may not even be true because again, the population is increasing.

> "The seats in Congress are zero-sum." / "The number of seats white men would have to give up to achieve black proportional representation: 31, of 541. (Also, you're aware that that Congress could create additional seats whenever it likes? It's just an ordinary law.)"

31 is a significant number. And, sure, they *could* create additional seats. But they haven't. And if they did, there would still be a set number. Who would get those seats? How would that change is the effects of racism were removed?

In a lot of ways, you're not wrong. There's no reason we can't eventually achieve full employment, or college for anyone who wants it, or an expanded Congress. So, yes, theoretically, everyone could be lifted to an equal, high level. I don't think it's an unreasonable long-term goal.

But that's a long-term goal. And any short-term achievements will effectively be working in a zero-sum system. Otherwise, you're saying, "Look, I know a disproportionate number of members of your group are in the unemployed ... but in the future we will achieve full employment and that won't be the case!" Even if true, working for fairness *right now* means proportionate representation among the employed and the unemployed -- and that means the proportion of unemployed among some other group is going to go up.
posted by kyrademon at 4:32 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Now, white people sure act as if they'll lose something. They talk that way, they vote that way. But how much of the fear is of something real, and how much is apathy, stupidity, misunderstanding, and sheer cussedness?

I think it cannot be stressed enough that they receive or did receive real benefits. When, say, all of the tax money was directed towards their projects, schools, etc, they were tangibly benefiting from it. When they were the only people who could be or were hired, they had lower unemployment. When redlining existed and a lack of spread out low-income housing abounded, their home values were higher and were locked in. They had higher percentage chances of everything.

So yes, if it goes away, they will lose those real things, those benefits. And maybe people feel like that's okay or that's justified or worthwhile. But claiming that doesn't exist just plays into the hands of people who don't want to change it, because they can point directly to factual inaccuracies.
posted by corb at 9:55 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


@Brian B. at 11:18 AM: "post-modern critical theory is probably not ideal for race relations, because it is deploying a hidden Marxist framework to support itself, and if you look around at the author's past material, she has blatant issues with people who see others as individuals..."

Thanks for pointing this out. The Marxist orientation isn't really hidden in DiAngelo's paper, although I get your point. In fact all one needs to do is substitute "class" for "race, racist, racism" when reading DiAngelo's paper and you'll be looking at a full-blown Marxist rant, couched in the pleasantries of academia.

In fact as I was reading DiAngelo's paper, I was repeatedly struck by the similarities between it and something resembling a communist "reeducation" session (with several relatives who've experienced those first-hand, it's been a topic of some interest). Those who might want to examine the many parallels between DiAngelo's trainings and Marxist reeducation sessions could peruse the hundreds of reeducation camp transcripts from the Yale Genocide Project.

And yes, one of the signature underpinnings of all Marxist reeducation sessions is the teacher/interrogator's calm and breezy dismantling of the interrogee/student's belief in their own individuality. Success is achieved when and only when the "student" comes to understand that his or her entire being is informed by "class," and that one's individuality is nothing but a fiction (and a fiction intended exclusively to perpetuate the class).

DiAngelo's paper follows that exact same cadence and objective. But instead of the being defined by "class," DiAngelo's version of Marxist cant exposes the student as a function and product of "race."

Having once delved into the topic of reeducation from another angle, there's something deeply disturbing and actually quite alarming about DiAngelo's efforts. But perhaps even more so that organizations actually pay her to conduct these reeducation sessions.
posted by geeyore at 10:38 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I remain amazed at the lengths people will go to pretend racism (and classism for that matter) are not real.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:13 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


"So yes, if it goes away, they will lose those real things, those benefits."

I agree with your comment but I think his response would be that not denying those things to people of color would mean overall increased productivity and more overall wealth production and so at some indefinite point in the future, everyone could have those things that white people had exclusively. For example, he'd say that every project and school would get that higher level of tax money.

This elides all the cases where a resource is genuinely limited and elides those where the benefit to whites of the racist system is a relative advantage with regard to other groups, such as with the best jobs and the best schools. There are many things where the distribution over time remains zero-sum and there's even more things where the benefits are a relative advantage. So his analysis doesn't account for those.

Then there's also the point that I repeatedly made and which kyrademon reiterates -- even if over the long term all such white losses -- such as result from a more proportional distribution of tax money to schools, as in your example -- are recovered such that whites end up equal to or better than before, that's still in the indefinite future and actual white people at the actual time these adjustments are made will experience actual losses.

Furthermore, we still haven't accounted for all the follow-on, synergistic advantages that continue to accrue as a result of prior advantages. Ending those advantages today will alter the course of people's lives such that even if that particular example of a redistribution loss (such as tax dollars to schools) is eventually canceled out by aggregate gains, the white people who experienced that loss will still end up in less advantageous positions at that future date than they would have otherwise.

This is just the flip side of the real advantages that white privilege brings. They are cumulative and synergistically reinforcing. Ending those advantages will necessarily result in worse long-term outcomes because right now white people have artificially improved outcomes. And those outcomes are to some degree perpetuated across generations because of the combination of shared culture and childhood environment. So -- I know I've used this phrase a lot -- even if all such present racial inequities were the kind that, were they presently corrected, this correction would eventually be swamped by the tide that raises all boats -- even if that were the case, given that there's any significant time-lag for this process to complete at all, means that the benefits lost during the interim by white people will result in worsened outcomes that cannot themselves be corrected for.

So in order to make this view of the process of anti-racism actually work, we'd have to say that the vast majority of all racism doesn't involve present zero-sum distributions, it doesn't involve the unequal relative distribution of differently desirable stuff, and the anti-racism correction would need to be instantly fully realized and not realized over time.

That's hand-waving utopianism masquerading as a solution to real-world practical problems. It's not just wrong, it's pernicious in how it actually functions in the civil discourse.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:47 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


@Deoridhe: "I remain amazed at the lengths people will go to pretend racism (and classism for that matter) are not real."

You might add "culturalism" to your list. Because that has been in existence since the dawn of humanity.

And when you compute the solution to the human species making all kinds of social distinctions based on culture, class, economics, language, skin color, musical styles, art, education, religion and everything else that might be "different" between human beings, please send your memo to the world.

In the twentieth century, many tried to achieve the ideal solution to exactly those problems (actually "that problem," because it's really only one). The results were not entirely promising.
posted by geeyore at 11:57 AM on January 12, 2015


That seems like you're offering up an instance of the "if you can't solve all the problems completely, then you shouldn't try a partial solution to this problem" fallacy.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:45 PM on January 12, 2015


I've given real-world examples of this process working— e.g. the supply of college education has multiplied since the beginning of the civil rights movement. House values have multiplied. During more redistributive times (i.e. before Reagan), median income rose and poverty fell dramatically. Nothing utopian about it. No pie-in-the-sky futurism; compare people's standard of living in 1935 vs. 1955.

I realize that this is counter-intuitive. People think we live in a zero-sum world, and that's one reason they fight so hard against more justice for the disadvantaged.

kyrademon, I think you missed the point of my CEO reference. The economy keeps generating additional wealth. We used to distribute it to all classes. Now we give it only to the 10%. We moved from liberalism to plutocracy. This isn't unrelated to white privilege— in fact, the package was sold to white voters based largely on anti-minority feelings. (And it's no accident that right-wing politicians promote the zero-sum idea: it reinforces those feelings.) But most whites don't benefit from this wealth grab; quite the contrary.

Why aren't we making more progress on racial equality? Because of entrenched white privilege? Sure, of course. But the elephant in the room is plutocracy.

But I think I'm talking too much, so I'll stop now.
posted by zompist at 12:46 PM on January 12, 2015


"I've given real-world examples of this process working— e.g. the supply of college education has multiplied since the beginning of the civil rights movement."

This was one of your examples:

"I can't find Harvard data, but Yale enrollment for 2013 was 12,109; for 1976 it was 9,721."

The US population in 1976 was 218M. In 2013 it was 316M. That's an increase of 45%. The increase in Yale enrollment from 1976 to 2013 was 2,388, which is about 25%. So whatever you think you're demonstrating by showing that enrollment increased over that period, you didn't demonstrate it, because in fact a seat in a Yale freshman class became considerably more scarce over that period, not less.

But let's look at Yale more closely. According this Yale publication, total university enrollment increased from 10,728 in 1985 only to 11,017 in 1999 fifteen years later -- an increase of only 2.7%. During that same period, "white & unknown" enrollment declined from 8,504 to 6,870, a fall of 19%.

As you can see if you look at those numbers, this is because Yale (like the other Ivies) implemented the anti-racist proportional representation that we're discussing. Yale roughly followed US racial proportions as they changed -- although Asian-Americans are greatly over-represented through that period, the degree to which they are over-represented remained roughly constant. As non-white populations became larger portions of American society, so too did they become larger portions of Yale's enrollment. And Yale's enrollment did not even remotely keep pace with increasing US population. The inevitable result is that white enrollment declined. It became more difficult for a white person to be admitted and enrolled in Yale over that period -- it's not that it merely became easier for people of color.

Your probable response is that Yale should have just increased enrollment overall such that no white slots were eliminated. I've already demonstrated repeatedly and at length why that doesn't actually achieve the result you're saying it would, but I respond to your Yale thing here specifically because of how casually it argues for something that turns out to be the opposite of what you imply, even on your own terms.

Similarly, your congressional example was just weird and prima facie wrong -- adding exactly the number of reserved for PoC seats in Congress such that the House became racially proportionate (and thus avoiding the transfer of seats away from white) would nevertheless decrease white representation in the House. That's how it works, mathematically. If you move from a dictator having the only vote to everyone having a vote -- including the dictator -- then by your logic the dictactor hasn't lost anything. But of course he has.

I think that particular example was just an overenthusiastic error on your part, but it exemplifies how you are laser-focused on this "just make the quantity bigger" as the all-inclusive answer. It's not even really a coherent argument, but more like a slogan. I think you mean well, but because you're so fundamentally wedded to this idea and feel so sure that because my argument sounds like Fox News, you aren't even making an effort to think beyond what you brought to this conversation. So much so that you'll make that Congress rebuttal or not actually bother to check white enrollment at Yale but only look-up total enrollment.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:11 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Well, when we're talking zero sum games, we're talking about scarce distribution of resources, and we're talking economics.

And unless you are the elitest of the elite, you certainly could be getting a bigger slice of the pie, regardless of race and racism. If I'm worried about whether it's me as a white man or some black woman getting, for example, accepted into a position at a prestigious college, I am not worried about why there's only 25% more of those positions when there are 50% more people. If you split things unfairly that are zero sum in the short term, then the people who benefit have less interest in demanding that those things become not zero sum in the long term.

Racism, classism, discrimination in general is designed to give some group of people in the middle a good enough deal so they have less incentive to question why no one on average is getting a great deal. The true beneficiaries are the people at the very top. That's not to say that I don't benefit from being white and male, but those benefits are intended to buy apathy towards changing the system. And to be honest, it probably works better than I care to admit.
posted by Zalzidrax at 1:45 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


@rmd1023 at 12:45 PM on January 12: That seems like you're offering up an instance of the "if you can't solve all the problems completely, then you shouldn't try a partial solution to this problem" fallacy.

No, I'm pointing out that your solution to perceived race problems should also be the solution to other problems that arise from the human capacity to make distinctions on whatever characteristic they find meaningful (however shoddy those distinctions might be).

We've already seen how that turns out. DiAngelo - whose sophomoric paper is the topic of this discussion - resorts to a Marxist or even a Maoist solution to her perceptions of racism, race, racist, etc. If you can't accept her solution, well that's simply a function of your race, racism, whiteness, privileged-ness. Or, as the Marxists and Maoists would say, you're hopelessly trapped in your class. (in fact DiAngelo *does* say exactly that.) And the 20th century has demonstrated where DiAngelo's and other Marxist reeducation experiments have led. Genocide and mass murder.

Great calls to eliminate all distinction-making among "the masses" and to enforce a kind of quotidian sameness as prescribed by people like DiAngelo, and cultivated through reeducation and diminution (indeed, extinction) of the individual have had a very, very nasty habit of turning out badly over the last 100 years.

I'd think extremely carefully about the kinds of "solutions" that Marxists such as DiAngelo might be proposing.
posted by geeyore at 8:11 PM on January 18, 2015


...

Explaining privilege to privileged people leads to genocide.

That's... a theory.
posted by Etrigan at 8:23 PM on January 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Is this where I go on the "Communism as expressed in the world is totalitarianism and totalitarianism sucks" rant?
posted by Deoridhe at 12:58 PM on January 19, 2015


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