White Fragility

by Robin DiAngelo

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Student Question

How does DiAngelo organize claims rooted in the good/bad binary in chapter 5 of White Fragility?

Quick answer:

The good/bad binary explains the way many white people incorrectly view racism as isolated acts of prejudice. This definition overlooks how racism is present everywhere in society. It allows white people to separate themselves from racism, which results in their continued contributions to systemic discrimination. DiAngelo organizes the binary’s claims into claims of colorblindness and claims that value diversity. Both categories reduce racism to an inaccurate definition that prevents white people from understanding and deconstructing structural racism.

Expert Answers

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The good/bad binary explains the limited way that many white people view racism. DiAngelo explains that many white people think that racism refers to a concrete, identifiable act done with malicious intent. This understanding of racism is problematic because it allows white people to separate themselves from “the structural nature of racism” (DiAngelo 73). In short, this binary makes many white people think that as long as they don’t intentionally make a racist statement, racism has nothing to do with them.

But DiAngelo stresses that this is a dangerous understanding of racism that perpetuates systemic discrimination. The good/bad binary stops white people from actively being aware of the ways they contribute to racist practices. For example, consider DiAngelo’s story about the white teacher who said she learned about structural racism. While the teacher was recounting her experience, she quoted an African American woman in a distinctly racist way. Because the teacher’s understanding of racism was rooted in an objective understanding of good and bad, she wasn’t aware of how she was reinforcing racist stereotypes (DiAngelo 74).

DiAngelo organizes claims of the good/bad binary into two groups: claims that claim color blindness and claims that value diversity (76).The first category describes people who claim they are not racist because they “don’t see color,” or hold other ideas along those lines (76). These types of claims are problematic because they invalidate the social experiences of racial minorities. DiAngelo explains that in a society where the issue of race is so relevant, it is not possible to treat everyone the same. Claiming to do so denies the role systemic racism plays in creating social inequality.

The second category refers to people who “celebrate” racial diversity to claim they are not racist (77). For example, it is common for white people to point to examples of diversity in their social circles to show they embrace people of color. DiAngelo discusses that these types of claims are also problematic because they “rest on a definition of racism as conscious intolerance” (79). In other words, these claims reduce racism to not being able to be around people of color. This is a narrow and inaccurate definition that essentially says that just including people of color in the same spaces as white people is enough to be not racist. Instead, being actively not racist requires conscious awareness of respect at every level of interpersonal interaction.

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