McWhorter: White Fragility Is A Racist Tract

White Fragility was published in 2018 but jumped to the top of the New York Times best-seller list amid the protests following the death of George Floyd and the ensuing national reckoning about racism. DiAngelo has convinced university administrators, corporate human-resources offices, and no small part of the reading public that white Americans must embark on a self-critical project of looking inward to examine and work against racist biases that many have barely known they had.

I am not convinced. Rather, I have learned that one of America’s favorite advice books of the moment is actually a racist tract. Despite the sincere intentions of its author, the book diminishes Black people in the name of dignifying us. This is unintentional, of course, like the racism DiAngelo sees in all whites. Still, the book is pernicious because of the authority that its author has been granted over the way innocent readers think.

…And herein is the real problem with White Fragility. DiAngelo does not see fit to address why all of this agonizing soul-searching is necessary to forging change in society. One might ask just how a people can be poised for making change when they have been taught that pretty much anything they say or think is racist and thus antithetical to the good. What end does all this self-mortification serve? Impatient with such questions, DiAngelo insists that “wanting to jump over the hard, personal work and get to ‘solutions’” is a “foundation of white fragility.” In other words, for DiAngelo, the whole point is the suffering. And note the scare quotes around solutions, as if wanting such a thing were somehow ridiculous. Read more»

John McWhorter, 14 July, 2020 The Atlantic

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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2 comments

  1. When I read McWhorter’s assessment of White Fragility I kept having flashbacks to the PCA’s 2018 Ad Interim report on Race.

    McWhorter identified White fragility as the prayer book of a cult. The PCA’s 2018 Ad Interim Report on Race affirms Revelation 7:9 and seems to take literally, contemporarily, visibly, and congregationally-specifically, the verse that says the people of God all wear white.
    Hermeneutics is sometimes hard so we should sympathize. Godfrey has an excellent series on Revelation free on Ligonier right now.

    McWhorter notes that DiAngelo says if you fail to do work to undo whiteness you are racist. The PCA’s 2018 Ad Interim Report on Race suggests that if you aren’t willing to change worship style then you’re racist.
    There’s a lot here in terms of understanding the weight of the threat and fear as motivation. Maybe start with Curt Thompson’s books on shame? Keller’s Bible studies on Galatians and Romans both have good material to understand Sonship.

    McWhorter identifies the tension between DiAngelo’s claims that whites don’t understand or know about whiteness and that whites are deeply engaged in self-preservative tribalism. The PCA’s 2018 Ad Interim Report on Race argues qualitatively for a particular ethnic/cultural expression but also defines such preferences as racist.
    I don’t have a recommendation here, maybe a class on logic, or the need to define terms? Maybe just a class on how purity cultures expand the negative aspects of the law.

    We could go on and on categorizing the similarities but let me highlight one difference:

    Towards the end McWhorter admits that of course folks have racial bias but asks why they would do the “soul-searching” and “self-mortification” that DiAngelo suggests. This is where DiAngelo falls short, seeing such questions themselves as racist. The PCA’s 2018 Ad Interim Report answers those questions, moving well past the law (the confessional section) to the missional components (The Bride should be attractive to the world, not just to Christ) and the vision of the next eschaton. So where DiAngelo is limited to the ascetic movement, the PCA is able to swing to a theology of glory. The risks and tensions are compounded not mitigated by these additions.

    Sociological sacramentalism is not straightforward because it doesn’t just involve hermeneutics and the law but also some emotional or psychological readings of implicit attack, appeals to the world that include and sometimes hide an appeal to force and fear. Not just a carrot but also a stick. Super interesting to hear folks talking about all this outside of a church context.

  2. Excellent review. McWhorter’s Daily Beast article (I’m certain you’ve seen it) on the way “antiracism” was becoming a new religion way back in 2015 was eye-opening at the time and pre-figured a lot of what we see today. He mentioned in a conversation with Glenn Loury recently that he’s writing a book on this topic, which I expect will be amazing.

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