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Lessons from Robin DiAngelo on What It Means to Be White, Part 1

[1]4,499 words

Part 1 of 2 (Part 2 here [2])

It’s hard not to laugh at Robin DiAngelo, but not because she’s a comedian. Her textbook What Does It Mean to Be White?: Developing White Racial Literacy[1] [3] began what is thus far a tetralogy of long sermons on race relations. Averaging a new title every three years, she came out with her most recent ethnomasochist manual back in June.

I’m going to the source with this one rather than the warmed-up leftovers. Still, my copy is a revised edition, initially leaving me curious as to what exactly there was to revise in the 2012 original. This tome also happens to be volume 497 of the “Counterpoints: Studies in the Postmodern Theory of Education” series. General Editor Shirley R. Steinberg must surely be a busy beaver!

I have no idea how Snowflake the High Priestess of White Guilt can rehash the same old propaganda and put new twists on it, but apparently it pays the bills. Apart from the book deals, Ms. DiAngelo is also a professor — of course. For two decades she has taught the mysteries of diversity in training sessions, becoming one of the biggest names in that racket. She also gives speeches, such as when the University of Kentucky paid $12K [4] for two hours of her wisdom. A hundred clams a minute isn’t exactly Clinton Foundation kind of swag, but not bad! Surely it’s a sweeter gig than being a truck driver, pipefitter, welder, bricklayer, or electrician.

The hype

Much as I expected, the praise for What Does It Mean to Be White? on Goodreads is positively glowing. At the time I looked, the combined four- and five-star ratings were 88% of the total. My favorite one begins thus:

i will do better
i will listen
i will seek support
I will no longer be a member of white solidarity

Amazon has an editorial blurb praising it as a rare comprehensive analysis of whiteness and its problems. That one is from another professional multiculturalism mystagogue, none other than Tim Wise [5], sufferer from a hyperactive facial sphincter and a particularly lousy example of the “fellow white people” tribe. Could the perpetual motion of his fat pie-hole unintentionally be inspiring more anti-Semitism than the combined efforts of Louis Farrakhan, Yasser Arafat, Sergei Nilus, and the Pharaoh of Exodus?

The making of a diversity dervish [6]

The Preface informs us that

[t]his text addresses whiteness within the context of what is now known as the United States, originally known as Turtle Island by some Indigenous peoples. The theft of Indigenous lands was the starting point of our current racial system . . . In honor of the Indigenous peoples whose ancestral territories I stand on and write from, I offer my sincerest respect.

As soon as time machines are invented, Snowflake needs to visit some early nineteenth-century Comanche tribesmen [7] so she can genuflect in person. I’ll film the results as a warning to ethnomasochists.

DiAngelo then describes getting a degree in sociology [8]. After graduation, she found that there’s just one problem: What does anyone do with a degree like that [9]? Ultimately, a career counselor turned her on to a diversity training gig. She thought it over and considered her liberal street cred, although confesses to telling the occasional ethnic joke and allowing such jokes from others to pass without denunciation. Just one paragraph in, and we’re already seeing a small demonstration of the Robin DiAngelo samokritika [10] shtick. Still, this is merely one small, playful lick of the lash; the self-flagellation will begin in earnest later.

The interview committee explained that the State’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS—the “welfare” department) had been sued for racial discrimination and had lost the suit. The federal government had determined that the department was out of compliance regarding serving all clients equally across race and, as part of the settlement, had mandated that every employee in the state (over 5,000 people) receive 16 hours (2 full workdays) of diversity training . . .

The state was forced to put on these spiels and incur 80,000 man-hours in lost productivity? So much for diversity being our greatest strength! I’m not sure how much the DSHS workers were getting paid, but if it averaged $12 an hour, that’s nearly a million clams. That doesn’t include paying 40 diversity dervishes to indoctrinate the captive audience. At least it was only taxpayer money, right?

The interview committee, composed primarily of other (open-minded) white people such as myself, agreed that I was qualified, and I got the job. Initially elated, I had no idea that I was in for the most profound learning curve of my entire life.

I suppose that’s intended to be as warm and mushy as one of Joe Bidet’s adult diapers. Unfortunately, this is when Ms. DiAngelo, this perky chica with the ink barely dry on her diploma, went down the garden path to become Snowflake the High Priestess of White Guilt. I can think of far more socially useful career paths; maybe power-washing gum from sidewalks or something? Anyway, the five day Train-The-Trainer session sounds like it was a real hoot. For example:

On the first day, as we sat in the opening discussion circle, one of the other white women called out, “All the white racists raise your hand!” I was stunned as virtually every white hand in the room shot up.

It goes on, discussing Snowflake’s initial doe-eyed innocence giving way to self-realizations. These left an uncomfortable feeling deep inside her, like when I overdo it with the habanero sauce. This part of the text corresponds to the beginning of a BDSM session where the dominant player teases the submissive with the flogger, preparatory to letting loose with a good hide-tanning:

I did not see the world objectively as I had been raised to believe, nor did I share the same reality with everyone around me. I was not looking out through a pair of objective eyes, I was looking out through a pair of white eyes. By the end of the 5 days I realized that regardless of how I had always seen myself, I was deeply uninformed — even ignorant — when it came to the complexities of race. This ignorance was not benign or neutral; it had profound implications for my sense of identity and the way I related to people of color.

When it came time to start delivering the lectures, apparently the DSHS folks didn’t appreciate them, and had the stones to make this clear:

The lack of white concern for the impact our anger might have on my co-facilitator, who often was the only person of color in the room, was confusing. Driving home, I saw the devastating effect of this hostility on my co-facilitator as she cried in hurt, anger, and frustration. How could these white participants not know or care about this impact?

What was she expecting, a round of applause after the struggle session? Diversity training is yet another Leftist social engineering program that doesn’t work as advertised. If they had a great track record of creating harmony and cordiality, it would be one thing, but more often, they simply produce blame and resentment. Diversity training sessions tend to be about as pleasant as a colonoscopy.

Other than that, since they were getting such bad reactions all the time, they might want to consider the “jerk rule.” To wit: If you meet a jerk one day, then you’ve met a jerk. However, if everyone you meet is a jerk, then you’re the jerk.

Ultimately it took five years to deliver all the lectures, with Snowflake and her companion being the only diversity dervishes who didn’t quit. After that, she decided to get a Ph.D. in multicultural education and whiteness studies “so that I could disseminate what I had learned through teaching and writing.” Consider this to be a warning of what can happen when people are educated beyond their capacity to understand. (She has a couple of honorary doctorates as well, a gesture which is usually an award for prominently exemplifying certain political opinions.) As a professor, the High Priestess of White Guilt draws a salary to indoctrinate students year after year under the imprimatur of academic scholarship.

White Guilt 101

[11]

You can buy Greg Johnson’s Truth, Justice, & a Nice White Country here [12]

The first chapter begins discussing multicultural education classes for prospective teachers. There’s hand-wringing that the teaching profession is too white. This includes education students, and

[t]his racial homogeneity is compounded by unabated racial segregation in schools and housing, and it may be assumed from these statistics that the majority of whites have not lived near or attended school with people of color, have had few if any teachers, friends, family members, or authority figures of color, and do not interact with people of color in any direct or equal way in their lives or in their teacher preparation programs.

For this reason, she considers these white teachers in training to be racially illiterate: “They were taught to see everyone the same and therefore they don’t see color, and that being white has no particular meaning.” This Boomer-era understanding of liberal race relations is of course totally passé by now. Snowflake delivers samokritika-lite exercises where the students write down their racial attitudes and about how race affected their upbringing, used as the book’s chapter headings. When they indicate they don’t think about race much and that race didn’t affect their upbringing, that’s considered to be evidence that they’re racially illiterate. This is, of course, a signature Robin DiAngelo kafkatrap [13].

What Snowflake doesn’t realize is that naïve liberals with little exposure to minorities will get quite an education [14] as rookie teachers when they manage classrooms full of vibrant youths. Other than that, as bitterly as she complains about racial segregation in schools and housing, if the real thing (de jure) were to return, she’d scream like she were undergoing dental work with carpentry tools. However, it’s hard to imagine her complaining about blacks and Hispanics, who opt to self-segregate. They usually prefer to be with their own kind, just like we do. In-group preferences are normal, but we catch all the blame.

She has much to say about whites being reluctant to discuss race. We’ve been browbeaten about the topic for a century by Leftist renegades, so what does she expect? Still, surely Snowflake wouldn’t care for it if whites discussed race and the conversation strayed into forbidden territory. Leftists love to talk about race, as long as only their opinions are heard.

Yet how do so many white people manage to position race as meaningless even as we live, work, study, love, and play in racial separation? Further, this separation is not benign; racial disparity between whites and people of color is measurable in every area of social life — health, income, net worth, educational outcomes, criminal justice, infant mortality, and life expectancy. If race is meaningless, how do we explain that separation and disparity?

This is the kind of confusion that results when leftists pathologize the fact that people prefer to associate with their own kind, and also take absolute egalitarianism [15] axiomatically and cling to the premise no matter how much reality gets in the way. Why is diversity important if everyone is exactly the same except for superficial appearances? As for the results at the end of the semester:

But now my students could see that the way that white people conceptualize race plays a key role in how racism flourishes. At this point in the course, many students were better equipped to critically analyze the fundamental question addressed by this book — how the vast majority of whites can live in racial segregation even as we insist that race has no meaning in our lives. They had also begun to see what is required of them if they want to change these dynamics. In short, they have gained some degree of racial literacy. My goal for this book is to take my readers on that same journey.

By that account, it looks like these future teachers got initiated into Snowflake’s anti-racism cult [16], soon to be infecting countless school kids with the mind-virus. She goes on to say that all white Americans have opinions about race. However, true wisdom on the subject apparently is a matter to be determined by “experts”:

Unfortunately, we confuse these opinions with informed knowledge and lose sight of the fact that this is a social-scientific field of research and scholarship that is ongoing, ever deepening and expanding. Many people feel that taking a class, reading a book, attending a workshop, having a friend, or just being a generally nice person are sufficient to “cover it” and thus lack the humility that is afforded other disciplines. But informed knowledge and opinions are not the same. Informed knowledge on racism for whites only comes from intentional long-term study and practice.

The last sentence specifically calls out whites. Does this mean that non-whites are exempt from the “intentional long-term study and practice” requirement to have a valid opinion? The details about proper indoctrination in “anti-racism” aren’t described at this point, but I’ll provide details:

More boldly, she claims that “experts in the topic have found the arguments [of her book] to be credible and relevant” and that they were arrived at through critical thinking. (Is it possible to be an “expert” without subscribing to the usual laundry list of Leftist orthodoxies?) However, non-initiates shouldn’t try any critical thinking of their own:

Thus, to make the time spent reading this book as constructive as possible, I only ask that readers be willing to grapple with difficult and challenging ideas. Grappling means to receive, reflect upon, practice articulating, and seek deeper clarity and understanding. Grappling is not rejecting out of hand, refusing to engage, debating, or playing “devil’s advocate.”

Who bestowed Ms. DiAngelo with Papal infallibility? That was nicer than saying “shut up and listen,” but a heartfelt request to give it sincere consideration would’ve gone over better.

Then Snowflake makes some sweeping generalizations stigmatizing entire regions, social classes, and generations, as well as ascribing evil intent to the entire range of people with illiberal views about race:

Virtually all people know how to fill in the two sides of the racism binary: if you are a racist, you are ignorant, bigoted, prejudiced, mean-spirited, and most likely old, Southern, and drive a pick-up truck (working-class). If you are not a racist, you are nice, well-intentioned, open-minded, progressive, and “don’t have a prejudiced bone in your body.”

However, even if you’re not one of those scary rednecks with green teeth who drive pickups (horrors!), you’re by no means off the hook! It seems, then, that there is no salvation. So why does anyone bother with this stupid cult?

Although racism does of course occur in individual acts, these acts are part of a larger system of interacting and interlocking dynamics. The focus on individual incidences prevents the personal, interpersonal, cultural, historical, and structural analysis that is necessary in order to challenge this larger system.

The next chapter is about socialization. This shows the “culture iceberg” familiar in Leftist circles. Despite its origin, it unintentionally makes a positive point: Culture is much more than superficial characteristics, including several customs and attitudes that may make compatibility difficult or impossible between greatly disparate groups.

Then the topic changes to a brief recap of radical gender theory [18]. The idea is that everything to do with gender is imprinted by society — therefore chromosomes, hormones, and physiology have nothing to do with any of it, of course. That’s a tie-in to the idea that it works that way with race, too, with the implication that genetics is insignificant.

Other than that, the book says that we’re full of biases and don’t realize it, in the way a fish doesn’t know that water is wet. Then, depending on our personal circumstances, we get pigeon-holed into several categories which come with collective societal baggage. (Of course, this is presented as completely arbitrary and unfair; thus, generalizations couldn’t possibly be about experience with such groups.) This is basically “intersectionality 101” — more about that later. Much digression follows.

Rounding out the long introductory section is a list of definitions: prejudice, discrimination, oppression, and positionality. (A more extensive glossary is at the end.) One could brighten up this dreary and needlessly lengthy part — 38 pages just to expound on four terms — by making up a drinking game or a bingo card about identifying the framing tactics.

Racism, racism, racism, racism, & more racism

Chapter 5 is “The Cycle of Oppression.” An illustration provides the basics:

  1. Misinformation is generated
  2. Society Accepts
  3. Internalized Oppression
  4. Internalized Dominance
  5. Institutions Perpetuate & Enforce
  6. Justification for Further Mistreatment
  7. Systematic Mistreatment of Targeted Group

DiAngelo says that misinformation begins the cycle:

The group is presented in limited, superficial, and negative ways. Take, for example, the representation of black men on television. When we see black men, it is most often either in sports (and concentrated in specific sports such as basketball and football), or associated with the criminal justice system, be it in the role of criminal or cop. “Reality” shows about the daily life of police officers or prisoners in lockdown deeply reinforce these associations, as over and over we see the bodies of black men (often shirtless) being forcibly contained. These constant negative representations reinforce prejudice toward black men and cause us to have skewed understandings about their lives.

[19]

You can buy Greg Johnson’s White Identity Politics here. [20]

The reality is that the mainstream media (MSM) more often downplays black criminality. A striking example was the Clinton News Network reporter characterizing the George Floyd riots as “mostly peaceful” protests while standing in front of a burning building. (Do journalists really think the public is that stupid?) Meanwhile, the MSM has an anti-white bias [21], largely resulting from their management’s ethnic priorities, but DiAngelo has nothing to say about that. Anyway, more from Snowflake:

It is also important to note that invisibility is a form of misinformation, because invisibility denies the minoritized groups’ experience. To see virtually nothing testifying to an alternate experience from that of the dominant group is a form of misinformation. In other words, the group’s history, interests, needs, perspectives — their voices — are minimized or absent from the history books, medical journals, media, movies — virtually nothing in dominant culture attests to the (positive) existence or value of the group.

This is approaching Alice in Wonderland levels of absurdity. So we’re to believe that blacks are nowhere to be seen on TV or the movies, their music isn’t on the radio, and their motormouth political figures are systematically “minimized or absent.” Is this just the effect of the ideological bubble on Snowflake’s mind, or does she think her readers are complete idiots? Keep in mind that the first version of What Does It Mean to Be White? was written in 2012: Obama was running for reelection, after having been carried aloft to power four years earlier largely thanks to the MSM hyping him as a messiah.

The truth is that there have been efforts to downplay the historical importance of whites in favor of non-whites. A recent effort is the 1619 Project, which attempts to make blacks and their tribulations the central point of the American experience. It’s all about them these days. Overstating black accomplishments [22] is merely one thing. To some degree, whites are getting written out of our own history, particularly by some of the counterfactual Hollywood casting choices and the Orwellian efforts to gaslight the public [23] by the aptly-named BBC into believing that Britain always was multi-racial. When Snowflake speaks of “invisibility,” when is the last time she’s mentioned that?

The next stage is when that big abstraction called society accepts the misinformation:

Ward Churchill, an American Indian activist, in his challenge to the ongoing use of Indian mascots in sports, uses an example from World War II to illustrate the power of representation and the social acceptance that results from it (2001). On October 16, 1946, Julius Streicher was sentenced to death at Nuremberg, Germany, for “crimes against humanity.”

She doesn’t quite get that his comparison was hyperbolic demagoguery, or the fact that he was as much of an American Indian as Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren. The general tenor of Chapter 5 should be pretty clear by now, so end here.

The title of Chapter 6 is “What is race? [24]” This one’s a doozy, of course. She even quotes Between the World and Me [25] by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Snowflake’s explanation is stuffed full of the usual Leftist talking points. One is that there was controversy regarding where to draw the line about who is white [26], which is a true observation but makes for a weak argument [27]. The following is a bridge too far:

Because whiteness is a social construct, who is included in the category changes over time. European ethnic groups who today we see as white were not always included in the past. But where they may have been originally divided in terms of ethnic or class status, European immigrants became united in whiteness through the process of assimilation. For example, early Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants were not initially considered white in the United States, but they “became” white as they assimilated into the dominant culture (Ignatiev, 1995; Jacobson, 1999; Roediger, 2007).

I beg to differ with Messieurs Noel Ignatiev [28], Matthew Jacobson, and David Roediger [29]. Fresh-off-the-boat Irishmen, Poles, and Italians were sometimes perceived as furriners who talked funny, had weird customs, and practiced Popery. However, despite this antiquated nit-picking, along with all the other ethnic-joke fodder remaining from the nineteenth century, these furriners nonetheless were considered white. If not, then they wouldn’t have been let into the country. Snowflake should be aware of this, since she complained about whites-only immigration policies prior to the 1965 death sentence for America called the Hart-Celler Act. It was a nice try at muddying the waters with this “social construct” patter, though.

The chapter ends by discussing Jews. Despite approaching the subject with customary piety, she begins treading on thin ice:

Yet while many Ashkenazic Jewish people may not feel fully white, if they are of European heritage they are perceived as white by the culture at large, and thus granted white privilege.

Careful, Snowflake; reckless talk like that could make you lose that sinecure of yours pushing white guilt. If you get cancelled, you can forget about any more of those hundred-dollar-a-minute lectures. Then you’d have to find a real job! Wouldn’t that suck?

Chapter 7, of course, is “What is Racism?” Ah, the great anti-concept, the titan of all devil-words, the disruptor of rational discourse . . . You knew the following was coming, didn’t you?

From an antiracist perspective, when I say that only whites can be racist, I mean that in the United States only whites have collective social and institutional power and privilege over people of color.

The old familiar tautology, such a fragrantly steaming pile of argumentation that it almost certainly was cooked up by an academically-trained mind [30]. Yeah, sure, whites certainly have complete power, don’t we? The government just loves us [31], right? The MSM loves us, too; this year’s White Pride Month pageants on TV were fantastic. Big Tech zealously silences our critics. In fact, every single important institution in society never fails to take our side [32].

At the time she wrote that, Obama was President and about to be reelected. If Snowflake would learn to qualify her words and write with some nuance, then she’d avoid looking stupid. By Chapter 8, she actually does touch on this: “In the case of Barack Obama, the entire social system didn’t transform on the day of his election.” Granted, The Lightworker wasn’t much of a maverick, but that’s his shortcoming. A black President, holding America’s highest office, disproves the feigned helplessness element of the tautology.

Anyway, that special definition of “racism” is designed to create a double standard stigmatizing whites uniquely while absolving everyone else. Taking it to its logical conclusions, whites can’t really be blamed for bad behavior, since it’s just what we do by nature, just as it’s the nature of non-whites to be eternally innocent. Lions are lions, and sheep are sheep. Since the “racist” label is a derogatory term applying only to whites, and the moral opprobrium it implies is illegitimate, it’s therefore no more significant than calling someone a honky. So I’d like to thank whoever excreted the “only whites can be racist” tautology, since it demonstrates that “racism” is a meaningless anti-concept [33].

Snowflake has much else to say; for example, “As they have been across history, blacks were discriminated against during the sub-prime loan rush that precipitated the housing crisis.” Actually, what set things in motion [34] was government pressure on banks to give loans to the precious minorities despite their bad credit ratings, despite knowing they were likely to welch on their mortgages. If there had been more discrimination, the 2007-2008 catastrophe could’ve been avoided.

Several economic statistics follow, showing how tough minorities have it in our society, which of course is presented as evidence of systemic “racism.” (If Snowflake thinks that average whites were living high on the hog a few years after the Great Recession strip-mined the middle class yet again, she can speak for herself, as well as anyone else who can get paid $100 a minute to bloviate about diversity.) Of course, none of the factoids she lists mention differences in average intelligence, work habits, educational motivation, attitudes toward authority, and so forth — all of which can affect economic outcomes profoundly. Anyway, if things are so terrible in the US for Hispanics, then why do millions of them want to come here? So they can be oppressed? As for blacks wanting to boost their income, I hear that getting a job does wonders.

After that is a long section about how the criminal justice system is unfair to the precious minorities. (The discussion doesn’t include Asians, who have a low crime rate. Is that because of their high IQs, or do we keep forgetting to oppress them?) The following head up a list of outrage-porn bullet points:

As the proverb goes, if you can’t do the time, then don’t do the crime. This happened because of the vastly disproportionate minority crime rate [35] — but The Narrative doesn’t mention this [36]. Can Snowflake conjure up a scintilla of sympathy from her big, liberal heart for the white victims and their families? Probably not; everything’s our fault, right? However, the litany of outrage-porn bullet points demonstrates that she’s highly indignant about the perps being incarcerated.

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Note

[1] [37] Robin DiAngelo, What Does It Mean to Be White?: Developing White Racial Literacy (New York: Peter Lang, 2016).