Robin DiAngelo’s Racial Essentialism


Unknown artist (formerly attributed to J.M.W. Turner), Schematic Studies of a Head, c. 1794–5

From the Observer:

The author’s style is to combine typically condescending accounts of her own encounters with white progressives (often while in the role of trainer and facilitator of anti-racist workshops across the US) with analytical exposition. Throughout the book, she assumes the role of an omniscient narrator of anti-racist truth, which grates. One third of Nice Racism is devoted to a single chapter, The Moves of White Progressives, in which DiAngelo calls time on “seeking absolution”/“the need to be racially forgiven”, “expecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) people to teach us about racism”, and “lecturing BIPOC people on the answer to racism”. All of these, she argues, serve as a way of displacing the burden of responsibility for tackling racism on to the victim, not the perpetrator.

Elsewhere, however, she describes situations in which she herself does all of these things and without any sense of irony or awareness. In a section headed Lapses in Humility, for example, she describes an occasion when she lectures a group of BIPOC people within a professional context, only to discover, at the end of the session, that her dismissive attitude towards an audience member has caused widespread offence.

In the passage that follows, she recognises her error, but then responds in a way that sits squarely within the playbook of “white moves” she has been at pains to denounce. “I felt like a fraud,” she writes, “exposed and chagrined at how disrespectfully I had treated the group and the leaders. A few hours later, I was immobilised with shame, wanting to go home and never talk about race again. But hiding in my house and remaining silent about racism for the rest of my life was not an option. Pushing through the powerful pull to avoid the discomfort of facing my [BIPOC] host, I scheduled a call with her to seek some closure and repair.”

There’s a sense of deep internal contradiction running through DiAngelo’s writing that emerges from such discrepancies and which is at odds with the wealth she has accrued as an authority on anti-racism. It points towards the limitations of a worldview that, however well intentioned, pushes us deeper into the silos of ethnic identity.

“Nice Racism by Robin DiAngelo review – appearances can be deceptive”, Ashish Ghadiali, Observer


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