I want to share something really valuable with you. I received the following note recently.
Hello, I wanted to thank you for helping me convince my workplace not to adopt and spread Critical Race Theory. My boss sent out an email to our strategic planning committee on how to address these current events. She casually mentioned the possibility of using White Fragility as a starting point for discussion. I used information I learned from you to argue that CRT is racist and divisive. She listened. Now all 8,000 of our annual clients and the 150 people I work with can avoid being strongarmed into this garbage.
Obviously, I’m thrilled. So, I asked if I might see what had worked and then, when I saw it, if I could share it with other people who are trying to help keep white fragility and Critical Race Theory out of their workplaces. The result is below.
I don’t want to make this about my own editorializing, but I do want to say that these ideas are more dangerous than advertised. Perhaps they can be incorporated in a stable fashion into an organization, but it seems unlikely. Most often, they will eventually do tremendous damage anywhere they’re incorporated. This is because they poison the corporate culture and make it divisive and tense, which then explodes the moment a divisive issue comes up (e.g., the incident in Minneapolis involving the death of George Floyd).
The message that worked is provided below. Feel free to use it, combined with the other resources here on New Discourses, as a template to create your own materials and get this stuff out of your companies. Knowing what I do about these critical theories, I can assure you that, despite the risk in standing up against them, your company assumes a lot of risk by importing them. As you will see, a very common problem is that people think Critical Race Theory is one thing when it is really another, and good-intentioned people tend to adopt it without realizing what it is (and reject it when they do know what it is).
Thanks for asking for input about what kind of curriculum the organization should use to respond to the current conversation about racism in America. This is an important conversation, and I’m glad we’re trying to have it and being open-minded about discussing it.
To be up front about it, I have deep issues with the white fragility / Robin DiAngelo model (Critical Race Theory, “whiteness,” and intersectionality). I believe these theories promote racism, division, cancel culture, and victimhood. If our organization could stay out of the fray with this model I think we should.
We could be serving our clients in a more holistic and accessible modality. We serve, employ, and are funded by people with diverse opinions, backgrounds, and political views. Calling anyone who doesn’t continuously feel guilty for their original sin of being born white a “white supremacist” and their unwillingness to accept that title as “white fragility” – it’s a guarantee for division and upset that burns the bridges that would be needed to build a unified, just, and equitable society.
I have read some of Robin DiAngelo’s work (papers, not the whole White Fragility book) for my theories of oppression and social justice classes in college. I have also watched a few of her seminars on YouTube. She is absolutely accepted, seminal, and central to the anti-racism movement as it is currently formulated.
The major issue with the current conversation around race is that the goalposts have been moved, but we continue to use the same language to describe very different things. The most foundational example is the new definition of racism.
The dictionary definition that we all grew up with is: “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” Whereas the critical race theory definition of racism is long and complicated, as given here:
The definition of racism offered here is grounded in Critical Race Theory, a movement started in the 1970s by activists and scholars committed to the study and transformation of traditional relationships of race to racism and power. CRT was initially grounded in the law and has since expanded to other fields. CRT also has an activist dimension because it not only tries to understand our situation but to change it. The basic beliefs of CRT are:
Racism is ordinary, the “normal” way that society does business, the “common, everyday” experience of most People of Color in this country.
Racism serves the interests of both white people in power (the elites) materially and working class white people psychically, and therefore neither group has much incentive to fight it.
Race and races are social and political constructs, categories that society invents and manipulates when convenient. In reality our differences as human beings are dwarfed by what we have in common and have little or nothing to do with personality, intelligence, and morality.
Society chooses to ignore this and assigns characteristics to whole groups of people in order to advance the idea of race and the superiority of whiteness. The power elite racializes different groups at different times to achieve their economic agenda, continually and repeatedly prioritizing profit over people.
This definition makes it hard to even start a conversation. It is a power struggle that includes inflammatory language, name calling, and doesn’t leave people room to save face and grow in ways that actually combat the problems that racist biases and systems create. This definition classifies people exclusively by skin tone and leaves no room for those people to ever be redeemed from the power status of their birth. According to this black people will always be powerless and white people will always hold supremacy. That is pure racism according to the dictionary definition by which most people function.
Understanding this definition is important when we as an organization look at our policies and protections for staff and clients. Obviously we want to make sure we are being equitable, humane, and putting people over profit. But calling “normal” racism – on a personal individual level. Accusing people of hatred when they are expressing love – it makes people feel hopeless. That is the entire concept of white fragility. It is a way to invalidate the feelings people have when they are called mean names. The definition of white fragility is: discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice. The title of the book is mocking people for not accepting the CRT definition of racism as normal activity, and therefore all “white” people instead of mistreating people based on their race.
Maybe it’s my white fragility, but I don’t think you need to call people names in order to recognize and correct systemic injustice.