I can’t claim to have read Robin DiAngelo’s book “White Fragility”. I’m a black man and I don’t think my blood pressure could take it. Still it gives me a little comfort to read that according to Matt Taibbi, neither have most the people who are currently praising it:
It’s been mind-boggling to watch White Fragility celebrated in recent weeks. When it surged past a Hunger Games book on bestseller lists, USA Today cheered, “American readers are more interested in combatting racism than in literary escapism.” When DiAngelo appeared on The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon gushed, “I know… everyone wants to talk to you right now!” White Fragility has been pitched as an uncontroversial road-map for fighting racism, at a time when after the murder of George Floyd Americans are suddenly (and appropriately) interested in doing just that. Except this isn’t a straightforward book about examining one’s own prejudices. Have the people hyping this impressively crazy book actually read it?
DiAngelo isn’t the first person to make a buck pushing tricked-up pseudo-intellectual horseshit as corporate wisdom, but she might be the first to do it selling Hitlerian race theory. White Fragility has a simple message: there is no such thing as a universal human experience, and we are defined not by our individual personalities or moral choices, but only by our racial category.
Quite possibly my favourite 20 minutes of 2020 so far. Admittedly this isn’t a super high bar…
Let me just paint a little picture here:
In 2012, a 15 year old Lianne Wadi posted several racist tweets. Tweets which resurfaced last week; over eight years later.
Lianne’s father, Majdi Wadi, who is the CEO of a Mediterranean restaurant and grocery store called Holy Land, immediately fired his daughter, now 23, once the company began to receive public backlash.
Despite this, Midtown Global Market, a local hub for many minority-owned businesses, confirmed in a statement the same day that they were terminating Holy Land’s lease.
At least two other companies have announced that they will no longer stock any of Holy Land’s products and will sever their relationship. One going as far as to give away all of their remaining still rather than see it.
All of this happened within the space of a few days because a 15 year old posted racist tweets eight years ago.
To be clear, the tweets themselves were deeply offensive, and were even followed up in 2016 by a racist histogram caption. I’m in no way condoning her actions. I’m asking whether the actions of a teenager should carry repercussions for her entire family of this magnitude.
I’m asking whether we’re okay with a society where we expect a father to fire his daughter for a mistake she made eight years ago and for even that to be insufficient to save the family business from the repercussions of her actions.
It’s good that we’re taking racism seriously. It’s important that people are held accountable for their actions. But redemption has to be part of the story here too, doesn’t it?
Excellent and disturbing article by Yascha Mounk in the Atlantic. Companies are so eager to signal their virtue, and so desperate to avoid the attentions of the Twitter mob, that they’re firing people at the mere suggestion of racial impropriety.
The article tells the story of a number of people who have suffered this fate including David Shor who we’ve already mentioned and others like Emmanuel Cafferty a San Diego Gas and Electric employee with Latin and Mexican heritage who happened to be photographed making the “okay” sign with his hand:
When Cafferty was wrongly accused of being a white supremacist, he fought hard to keep his job. He said he explained to the people carrying out the investigation—all of them were white—that he had no earthly idea some racists had tried to appropriate the “okay” sign for their sinister purposes. He told them he simply wasn’t interested in politics; as far as he remembered, he had not voted in a single election. Eventually, he told me, “I got so desperate, I was showing them the color of my skin. I was saying, ‘Look at me. Look at the color of my skin.’”
It was all to no avail. SDG&E, Cafferty told me, never presented him with any evidence that he held racist beliefs or knew about the meaning of his gesture. Yet he was terminated.
On one level it can’t be helped. Humans are competitive by nature. It’s only natural that there would be a degree of one-upmanship, even over something as important as ending racism. But enough is enough. Because it’s looking increasingly like winning the battle of virtue is going to lose us the war against racism.
To win this war we need allies. We should rejoice when people of any colour are willing to speak out against racial injustice in our society. We should be focusing on their intent to do good, not tripping over ourselves to point out any failings in how they express themselves.
Yet that’s exactly what’s happening. And the cost will be people who would otherwise have joined the fight staying silent for fear of repercussions. People who feel this way are accused of “white fragility”, people who don’t understand how they’re supposed to contribute are dismissed with injunctions to “educate themselves”.
And where does this leave is? It leaves us with people feeling like this man who wrote into the New York Post:
I am a senior-level leader in an organisation and I feel compelled to speak up about racial injustice. But I’m afraid too…as a white man, I’m afraid that I will say something that will e misinterpreted and I will do more harm than good — for my career too. Staying silent seems wrong but safer. Am I alone in this?
We have to do better than this. We have to be clearer. We can’t continue to dismiss people who are confused about what they should do when it’s our community that’s confusing them. This person wants to help, and the environment that we’re creating makes them afraid to do so. If you’re unable to understand how this person feels, maybe it’s time you educate yourself.
Despite the fact that she has over 20 million subscribers on YouTube, I’d never heard of Jenna Marbles before. But now that some videos she recorded have been deemed unacceptable by today’s standards, she’s leaving the platform.
One of the videos in question is of Jenna dressing up as Nick Minaj (as we know, impersonating someone who is of a different ethnicity to you is now inherently racist). Jenna removed the video shortly after publishing it 9 YEARS AGO (!!!), but that has made no difference to the backlash she’s received now.
All that matters is that people were offended, and it hurt them, and for that I am so, unbelievably sorry…this isn’t okay, and it [the video] hasn’t existed on the internet for a long time, because it’s not okay.
Let me just say this: the standard for behaviour simply cannot be whether someone was offended by it. Can this really be all that matters? Part of life is being offended and having your feelings hurt, just as part of life is experiencing physical pain and unpleasant smells. If someone finds something offensive the appropriate response is not to wipe it from the face of the Earth.
Isn’t it better to explore why it was found offensive, see what lessons can be learned and to move forward? Are you really willing to accept a world where people can’t change and grow and make mistakes? Because if you are, I promise you this: however righteous you feel now, you’ll find yourself on the wrong side of the moral law sooner or later.