Diversity, an $8 billion enterprise back in 2003, exploded in the wake of Donald Trump’s election into one of the nation’s fastest-growing industries. Colleges funneled millions of dollars into diversity and inclusion efforts; in 2019, a survey found that 63% of working diversity trainers had been hired within the past three years. And it’s not just corporate strategy that’s up for sale: you can buy diversity in the form of books, movies, merchandise, and $2,500 dinner parties where white women pay to confess their racist complicity. Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility seminars—at which the attendees are overwhelmingly white, female, and highly educated—cost as much as $165 per person. Her keynote speaking fee is $40,000. Whatever is being sold, be it a jade vagina egg or a ticket to an anti-racist workshop, there’s a great deal of money to be made off the guilt, anxiety, and insecurities of financially secure white women.
And like any other luxury lifestyle choice, this one is an ongoing investment. As a marketing strategy, convincing women that social justice is best achieved through endless self-interrogation is brilliant. The savviest brands on offer turn the profitable allure of unattainability into a core part of their ethic. DiAngelo herself talks about anti-racism the way some people would talk about training for a marathon—“I want to build the stamina to handle the discomfort so we don’t retreat in the face of it, because retreating holds the status quo in place”—only in this version, it’s endless preparation for a race that never comes…
…Reading DiAngelo’s book, however, it becomes clear that not knowing is part of the deal. White Fragility explains not only that white progressives are the most dangerous racists of all, but that they always will be, and only through constant and unmitigated navel-gazing can they hope to do less damage. This anti-racist regimen isn’t a solution; it’s an intellectual diet that you’ll be paying for over the rest of your life.
But for those whose activism begins and ends with hashtags and book clubs, the narcissism is undeniable, and arguably even part of the appeal—what Vulture’s Lauren Michelle Jackson calls “a vanity project, where the goal is no longer to learn more about race, power, and capital, but to spring closer to the enlightened order of the antiracist.” (“And yet, were one to actually read many of these books,” Jackson notes, “one might reach the conclusion that there is no anti-racist stasis within reach of a lifetime.”) Self-help social justice doesn’t just offer privileged white women the comfort of a permanent passion project; it fuels the pleasant, ego-driven delusion that nothing is more important to the cause, to any cause, than the innermost minutiae of your own thoughts, attitudes, and feelings.
Kat Rosenfield, “Master Cleanse: Why Social Justice Feels Like Self-Help to Privileged Women” (June 28, 2020) (HT: The True Presbyterian Podcast)