Social Justice Usage
Source: DiAngelo, Robin J. White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018, pp. 90–91.
In this chapter, I will address the uniquely anti-black sentiment integral to white identity. In doing so, I do not wish to minimize the racism that other groups of color experience. However, I believe that in the white mind, black people are the ultimate racial “other,” and we must grapple with this relationship, for it is a foundational aspect of the racial socialization underlying white fragility.
I remind my readers that I am addressing white people at the societal level. I have friends who are black and whom I love deeply. I do not have to suppress feelings of hatred and contempt as I sit with them; I see their humanity. But on the macro level, I also recognize the deep anti-black feelings that have been inculcated in me since childhood. These feelings surface immediately—in fact, before I can even think—when I conceptualize black people in general. The sentiments arise when I pass black strangers on the street, see stereotypical depictions of black people in the media, and hear the thinly veiled warnings and jokes passed between white people. These are the deeper feelings that I need to be willing to examine, for these feelings can and do seep out without my awareness and hurt those whom I love.
As discussed in previous chapters, we live in a culture that circulates relentless messages of white superiority. These messages exist simultaneously with relentless messages of black inferiority. But anti-blackness goes deeper than the negative stereotypes all of us have absorbed; anti-blackness is foundational to our very identities as white people. Whiteness has always been predicated on blackness. As discussed in chapter 2, there was no concept of race or a white race before the need to justify the enslavement of Africans. Creating a separate and inferior black race simultaneously created the “superior” white race: one concept could not exist without the other. In this sense, whites need black people; blackness is essential to the creation of white identity.
New Discourses Commentary
According to critical race educator Robin DiAngelo, author of the influential book White Fragility, “anti-Blackness” is the essential foundation of the white identity. No doubt, this will sound genuinely insane to most readers and, as they may have noticed, DiAngelo’s words on the topic (above and below) are disconcerting, at best. This abjectly horrifying claim can be understood, however, from within the Theoretical framework of Critical Social Justice and critical race Theory within it.
The key to understanding this claim is understanding that Critical Social Justice does not view the world in the same way the rest of us do. It is an ideology that is rooted in critical theories applied to a postmodern and neo-Marxist understanding of knowledge and power (see also, cultural Marxism, Marxian, power-knowledge, biopower, Foucauldian, and post-Marxism). DiAngelo explains what she’s talking about with these sentences:
[T]here was no concept of race or a white race before the need to justify the enslavement of Africans. Creating a separate and inferior black race simultaneously created the “superior” white race: one concept could not exist without the other. In this sense, whites need black people; blackness is essential to the creation of white identity.
Critical scholars of race have rightly identified that races as we know them now are socially constructed categories that were created particularly during European colonialism—and the Atlantic slave trade, especially—for the purpose of justifying the inhumane and genocidal treatments of non-European races (especially black Africans and indigenous peoples around the world). While people of different ethnic backgrounds (or, more accurately, evolutionary lineages) do exhibit different traits, some of which we associate with race, features like melanin count, hair texture, eye color, and so on, map poorly onto those biological differences. Categories like “black” and “white” are, in fact, largely arbitrary with regard to these and rather extraordinarily genetically diverse, vindicating the claim that they are socially constructed categories (see also, social constructivism). These scholars also rightly recognize that these categories either did not exist or had other meanings before that time and that they were created to justify atrocities through subordination and dehumanization.
In this context, DiAngelo’s statement that the white racial category was made primarily in opposition to the black racial category before the two categories were defined in the context of justifying African slavery by European powers is highly defensible. This raises the question of what’s wrong with this analysis, then? (As surely, either she has a very good point that needs acknowledging or something else is badly wrong.)
The issue with the concept of whiteness as anti-Blackness, or it being intrinsically dependent upon it, is that the social significance in the racial categories of “white” and “black” have not been static for the last 400 years. Indeed, there have been the abolitionist movement (successful nearly 160 years ago), followed by the Civil Rights Movement (successful over 50 years ago), and many other changes before, between, and since. These, individually and as a larger whole, constitute genuine, indisputable progress in the domain that might be called race relations in the United States. As this progress occurred, the various meanings applied to these socially constructed racial categories have also been radically altered, almost to the point of being obliterated for all legal and many, if not most, practical purposes. Certainly, very, very few white Americans today would see themselves as intrinsically anti-Black as a foundational or fundamental part of their identity. It requires ignoring at least the last 200 years—and indeed more—of history, to say nothing of the current reality, to conclude that anti-Blackness is fundamental to a white identity in the 2020s, whatever the case might have been in the 1720s, 1820s, or 1920s.
Critical Social Justice has a habit of presenting this kind of very pessimistic and cynical analysis. It often tends to believe that once a set of cultures and their intrinsic power dynamics are established, those do not appreciably change—ever—without a complete overthrow of the system (see also, hegemony, revolution, liberalism, and dismantle). If a white racial identity was created in order to justify and enforce white supremacy, in the eyes of “progressive” Social Justice, that is all it can ever do until the entire social order is dismantled and remade anew. This cynical view is, quite obviously, utterly absurd—dangerously so. This is, of course, a rather astonishing claim to make of the Critical Social Justice ideology, but only in such a context can DiAngelo’s (reverse)-anachronistic understanding of white and black racial identities today (her book was published in 2018) be made sense of.
As a concept put into practice, one might notice that defining whiteness as anti-Blackness is probably not going to be helpful for reducing racism. In fact, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that, despite having the intention to use the idea to unmake itself, DiAngelo is deliberately restoring a long-discredited view of race that could very well be used to fortify a new white supremacist movement. (One, it turns out, cannot always control how one’s ideas will be used.) It is for this reason that we should be eager to point out that DiAngelo’s view here is wrong, whether it would have been correct two centuries ago or not.
Anti-blackness; Biopower; Blackness; Colonialism; Critical race Theory; Cultural Marxism; Dismantle; Foucauldian; Genocide; Hegemony; Identity; Ideology; Indigeneity; Knowledge(s); Liberalism; Marxian; Neo-Marxist; Post-Marxist; Postmodern; Power-knowledge; Progressive; Race; Revolution; Social construction; Social constructivism; Social Justice; Subordination; System, the; Systemic power; Theory; White; White fragility; White supremacy; Whiteness
Source: DiAngelo, Robin J. White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018, pp. 94–95.
Anti-blackness is rooted in misinformation, fables, perversions, projections, and lies. It is also rooted in a lack of historical knowledge and an inability or unwillingness to trace the effects of history into the present. But perhaps most fundamentally, anti-blackness comes from deep guilt about what we have done and continue to do; the unbearable knowledge of our complicity with the profound torture of black people from past to present. While the full trauma of this torture in its various forms—both physically and psychologically—is only borne by African Americans, there is a kind of moral trauma in it for the white collective. In his revolutionary book, My Grandmother’s Hands, social worker and therapist Resmaa Menakem refers to white supremacy as white body supremacy to argue that white supremacy is a form of trauma that is stored in our collective bodies: “Many African Americans know trauma intimately—from their own nervous systems, from the experiences of people they love, and, most often, from both. But African Americans are not alone in this. A different but equally real form of racialized trauma lives in the bodies of most white Americans.” Our projections allow us to bury this trauma by dehumanizing and then blaming the victim. If blacks are not human in the same ways that we white people are human, our mistreatment of them doesn’t count. We are not guilty; they are. If they are bad, it isn’t unfair. In fact, it is righteous.
There is a curious satisfaction in the punishment of black people: the smiling faces of the white crowd picnicking at lynchings in the past, and the satisfied approval of white people observing mass incarceration and execution in the present. White righteousness, when inflicting pain on African Americans, is evident in the glee the white collective derives from blackface and depictions of blacks as apes and gorillas. We see it in the compassion toward white people who are addicted to opiates and the call to provide them with services versus the mandatory sentencing perpetrated against those addicted to crack. We see it in the concern about the “forgotten” white working class so critical to the outcome of the last presidential election, with no concern for blacks, who remain on the bottom of virtually every social and economic measure. As Coates points out, “toiling blacks are in their proper state; toiling whites raise the specter of white slavery.”
Revision date: 6/25/20