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‘Whiteness Studies’ Professor Outlines How People Can Avoid Being Racist: Step 1, Stop Being White

‘Whiteness Studies’ Professor Outlines How People Can Avoid Being Racist: Step 1, Stop Being White

Whiteness studies lecturer Robin DiAngelo is again helping her fellow white people understand how racist they are, even if there’s nothing they can do about it.

Having made news with in March with a lecture to students at Boston University, DiAngelo this time addressed teachers. In an interview published in Teaching Tolerance’s summer 2019 publication, she said white teachers are a “critical piece of [the] school-to-prison pipeline.”

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“We all know what we’re talking about when we say ‘good school’ versus ‘bad school.’ We use race to measure those things,” she said. “And now, you take the product of that conditioning, that segregation, that narrow story, and you put that teacher in a position to socialize everyone’s children—and that is a critical piece of [the] school-to-prison pipeline.”

Teaching Tolerance is a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center that provides woke educational materials for K-12 students. Its stated goal is to “prevent the growth of hate.”

In her interview with the group, DiAngelo rehashed many of the themes of her 2018 New York Times bestseller, “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.”

Her basic thesis was that white people need to stop denying that they’re racist. You don’t have to be a “bad person” to hold racist views and play a role in upholding “white supremacy,” she told her fellow white female interviewers Adrienne van der Valk and Anya Malley. Rather, she described racism as more like a disease.

“When I say you’ve been shaped by a racist system – that it is inevitable that you have racist biases and patterns and investments – you’re going to feel offended by that. You will hear it as a comment on your moral character. You’re going to feel offended by that if you don’t change how you’re interpreting what I just said.” she said.

“When we understand racism as a system that we have been raised in and that its impact is inevitable, it’s really not a question of good or bad. It’s just, ‘I have it. I have been socialized into it.'”

According to DiAngelo, “white progressives” are often the most “problematic” because they are so invested in not being racist. She identified a number of seemingly antiracist characteristics that she said are actually racist if you are white. They included: Not caring about race, believing you’re not racist, being offended when someone calls you racist and existing.

Even racial discussion groups are often racist, according to DiAngelo.

A lot of groups that come together to have these discussions generate a list of guidelines or ground rules. And if we really looked critically at those, I think we would see that mostly they’re about maintaining white comfort. They presume a lack of differential power in the space. But power relations are always at play, and people are in different power positions in that room. So the very things that might make a white person feel comfortable may be exactly what says to a person of color, “Do not be authentic; do not be yourself. Do not show your emotions. Do not get upset. Do not be angry.”

DiAngelo – who in her March lecture equated whiteness with being “oppressive, oblivious, defensive, ignorant and arrogant” – sought to set an example for her benighted race by acknowledging her own privilege and bigotry.

“So, let me be really clear: As a result of being raised as a white person in this society, I have a racist worldview. I have racist biases. I have developed racist patterns as a result, and I have investments in the system of racism,” she said. “It’s incredibly comfortable.”

However, DiAngelo said she does not suffer from white guilt because “to the best of my ability, I am trying to challenge my socialization,” she said.

Asked repeatedly what teachers could do once they admit how racist they are, DiAngelo kept returning to the point that white racism is systemic and inevitable. She suggested that white people can never deem themselves racism-free. She said that she simply spends her days striving for the approval of “people of color.”

“I don’t call myself a white ally. I’m involved in anti-racist work, but I don’t call myself an anti-racist white. And that’s because that is for people of color to decide, whether in any given moment I’m behaving in anti-racist ways,” she said. “And notice that that keeps me accountable. It’s for them to determine if in any given moment – it’s not a fixed location – I haven’t made it or arrived.”

DiAngelo’s one concrete piece of advice for teachers was to remember that “parents of color” are right not to trust you because you’re secretly a racist. Regarding such parents, she suggested that teachers tell themselves: “I need to see you and what you need. And I must never forget that your race and my race and the interaction is shaping how I see you as an individual.”

It’s Robin DiAngelo’s racist world

At a time when identity politics are ascendant, DiAngelo’s message has resonated with many liberals, earning her sympathetic write-ups in the likes of The New YorkerUSA Today and The Guardian.

“She challenges rather than gives solutions,” wrote Guardian reporter Nosheen Iqbal in an interview with DiAngelo. “Her book is a harsh wake-up call for white liberals, who she thinks could be much more progressive if they first listened,” wrote Guardian reporter Nosheen Iqbal in an interview with DiAngelo.

However, others have criticized DiAngelo as an extremist. Atlantic staff writer Conor Friedersdorf suggested in a 2015 essay that DiAngelo fixation on the biases harbored by whites was misplaced, and that people would do more to address America’s problems by getting involved in their community or politics.

That take was in keeping with Columbia University linguist John McWhorter’s theory that antiracism is American religion.

“Something happened in this country about five years ago where being on the side of the angels meant that you were supposed to deny facts, that you were supposed to exaggerate, that you were supposed to embrace a notion such as that whites are supposed to be guilty of a privilege that they have upon birth, and the evil of it cannot be expunged,” McWhorter said in an interview with Reason in March. “It all starts sounding like fundamental Christianity.”

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Cover image: Robin DiAngelo. (Screen grab)



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