The Fragility of White Fragility
Joy Reid, national correspondent for the MSNBC cable news network, and one of its news hosts, claimed that the black speakers who spoke at the 2020 Republican National Convention were “trotted out” in order to make white people “feel good about white nationalism.” In other words, in her mind, it was an attempt by white people to use black people for political advantage.
Chelsea Clinton recently participated in a “Women for Biden” national organizing call with Massachusetts Democrat Representative Ayanna Pressley. In that call, she specifically stated that she wants her children to recognize that they are “white children of privilege,” and is committed to raising them in a way to help “erode” that privilege throughout their lives.
What in the world is this all about? Regardless of whether or not we have achieved perfection in the area of race relations, the biblically based American ideal has always been to strive for a color-blind society – one in which people, in the immortal words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Throughout American history, huge strides have been made to move us in that direction. We have certainly not fully arrived at that goal, but at least we have it as a shared ideal to strive toward. And we have moved toward it in ways that are unprecedented in the history of the world.
Well, at least that used to be the ideal. It seems that with the increasing prominence of naturalistic beliefs in American society, the biblically based ideal has been pushed aside to be replaced by a new one that views reality through a naturalistic lens – one that evaluates the value of groups (not individuals) based on the preferences of certain cultural elites.
One of the manifestations of this new ideal is the belief that all white people are racists, and that they live in a world where they are privileged. And to maintain that privilege, they resort to all kinds of immoral tactics. Based on an idea that seems to be ascending in society, these tactics are expressions of “White Fragility.”
To more fully explain the concept of White Fragility, white sociologist Robin Diangelo wrote a book called White Fragility. Diangelo was formerly professor of multicultural education at Westfield State University in Westfield, Massachusetts. Since then, she has become a consultant and trainer on issues of racial and social justice – especially on the topic of white privilege.
Diangelo makes no bones about her own worldview perspective. She is a committed Naturalist, and self-identifies as a white progressive. She also does not shy away from the fact that she writes from a collectivist point of view – that the collective has priority over the individual. In fact, in order to make her case that all white people are racists, she actually admits that she is not able to do it on an individual basis, but must “generalize” her points in order to make her argument work. Additionally, she doesn’t even try to give coherent reasons why her perspective is true or right. She simply accepts it as a doctrine of faith and asserts it to be fact.
You would think that those reading her book would at least want some objective reasoning as to why we should agree with her. I know the entire time I was reading I kept looking for that rationale – and was very frustrated that she never gave one. But, obviously, I was not her intended audience. She was writing specifically to white progressives who already buy into a naturalistic worldview – people who would simply accept her reasoning and follow like sheep. Apparently that has turned out to be a pretty good audience for her, as her book, as of this writing, has sold nearly 800,000 copies.
There was one other thing that I kept longing for as I read the book. I wanted to know what the end game should be. If I wanted to follow her lead and accept her premise that all white people are racist, what outcome should I be striving for? That kind of conclusion also never emerged. The closest she ever came to stating a desired outcome was “to have white people see their white fragility.” Well, okay, but to what end? I still don’t know – other than to feel bad about the fact that I am a white person, and about the white privilege that I have because I am white.
There is a serious problem, however, with the very notion of White Fragility. The problem is that it emerges from a set of beliefs that do not reflect reality. It begins with a false belief about the nature of ultimate reality, and based on that false belief, continues on with a false belief about the nature of man and the ultimate human beings can achieve in life.
Why Does Diangelo Use Naturalism as a Basis for Her Thesis?
I noted earlier that Robin Diangelo is a sociologist. Sociology is the study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society. This kind of study of human society does not automatically have a worldview bias. In fact, it is possible to study human society using the underlying assumptions of any worldview. What will be different when using different assumptions are the conclusions that will be drawn concerning the nature of society. Every worldview perspective has its own unique way of evaluating the nature of human society.
Virtually every public educational institution in modern America now uses Naturalism as its underlying foundation for evaluating every subject area - including sociology. But when it comes to social sciences like sociology, Naturalism has a very serious problem. The naturalistic worldview asserts that the only thing that exists is the natural universe operating by natural laws. It is assumed that these natural laws can ultimately account for every part of reality. Naturalists, of course, acknowledge that human knowledge has not yet advanced far enough to have figured everything out, but ultimately, using the scientific method, we will be able to understand every part of reality.
So as social scientists, sociologists attempt to use the scientific method to study human society. The only problem is, there are non-material aspects to human society that cannot be studied using the scientific method. The best these “scientists” can do is conduct surveys and polling to determine trends and averages – but none of these kinds of evaluations are capable of determining why societies are the way they are. This does not, of course, keep sociologists from asserting conclusions “as if” they knew why particular outcomes emerge. But those conclusions are not actually based on scientific analysis – they are based on the naturalistic presuppositions of those researchers. They are philosophical statements, not scientific ones.
And such is the nature of Diangelo’s conclusions about racism and White Fragility. She came to her conclusions based on beliefs that she brought into her research, not on any research itself. So with that background, let’s have a look at her beliefs about White Fragility.
What is White Fragility?
To begin understanding White Fragility, we need to have a look at Diangelo’s notion of white privilege. To her, white privilege is defined as the societal advantage that comes with being part of the group that sets the social norms in a society. In America that would be white people. So, since white people established society’s norms, anyone who is white is automatically conferred privilege, irrespective of wealth, gender, or any other factor – purely because they are white.
In her thinking, those who have this kind of societal advantage don’t want to give it up, so they implement all kinds of measures to maintain it. Based on her beliefs, in order for white people to maintain their advantage, they have to set up systems that disadvantage all other groups. This has led to a societal system that particularly disadvantages people of color – especially blacks. This systematic societal structure is referred to as systemic racism. Diangelo considers that, based on systemic racism, ALL white people are racist since they are white and participate in white privilege – even if it is unintentional. It is her contention that the institutions of American society were specifically designed to reproduce racial inequality.
Diangelo considers that there are many elements to this systemic racism, but it begins with basic cultural values. She states that if you are a white person and are against illegal immigration, for traditional family values, against school bussing, and for societal advancement to be based on merit, you are racist. That is because these values prop up white people’s standing in society and keep black people from advancing.
White Fragility, then, is defined as the discomfort and defensiveness that white people feel when they are confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice – particularly when they are personally called out on it.
The Naturalistic Construct of White Fragility
It was noted above that the very concept of White Fragility is a naturalistic construct. But what exactly does a person have to believe in order to agree with it? We have already alluded to it, but let’s go a little deeper and specifically spell it out. We get at the beliefs of Naturalism by finding out how it answers the three essential worldview questions: 1) What is the nature of ultimate reality? 2) What is man? and 3) What is the ultimate one can achieve in this life? Once we know that, we can see how that philosophy deals with the notion of White Fragility.
What Is the Nature of Ultimate Reality?
Naturalism is the belief that the natural universe is all that exists. Thus, there is considered to be no God, or any kind of transcendent reality. That being the case, there is no possible objective source for any moral belief. Human beings must determine for themselves what is moral and what is not moral based on their own personal preferences. Those who are able to become powerful enough to influence the moral rules of society, then, are the ones who get to play God in society.
Thus, the notion of White Fragility is not based on any objective measure, but is merely the philosophical preference and unsupported assumption of those who believe in it. There is no reason to accept it other than belief in the pronouncements of those who assert it to be true.
White Fragility, as a moral construct, begins with an underlying belief that white people are racist. The reason they are racist is not based on anything any particular white person has done. Rather, it is founded upon the fact that the culture that exists in America was established by white people, and that their cultural rules disadvantage black people. Thus, the racism is structural, not personal. With that as a starting point, it is impossible for a white person to not be racist since they are advantaged by simply existing in the white established culture.
However, since the very notion of racism is considered a moral taboo, white people reflexively reject the notion and throw up all kinds of defenses to keep from considering themselves racist. This denial is called White Fragility. Again, it is not based on any kind of objective reality, but purely on accepting the naturalistic philosophy of the gods (the people) who assert it.
What is Man?
In Naturalism, man is nothing more than one naturally evolved animal among many. Based on that belief, the notion of White Fragility is purely tied to the natural existence of man on earth. It is understood in the context of the following worldview question.
What Is the Ultimate One Can Achieve in this Life?
Since Naturalism rejects the concept of transcendent reality, this life is all that can possibly exist for mankind. Thus, the ultimate one can achieve in life must be a purely temporal construct. There is no other possibility. Based on naturalistic beliefs, there are two levels of ultimate achievement that are possible – the collective level and the individual level.
When it comes to the notion of White Fragility, the individual level is mostly irrelevant. While the author of the book never specifies any specific desired outcome from people as they consider their White Fragility, she does mention that it is possible to “feel better” once their white privilege is personally recognized and they work to give it up as a means of assuaging the guilt of being a racist.
It is the collective level, though, that is most important. As it relates to the human species, survival is considered to be the ultimate goal. The important principle as it relates to human survival, then, is that if the existing structural racism can be eliminated, the survival, and even the thriving, of the collective can be enhanced. Thus, white people ought to recognize their racism and dedicate themselves to eliminating all expressions of it in their lives.
How a Biblical Worldview Evaluates White Fragility
To get at the biblical worldview, we must do the same thing we did when looking at Naturalism – we must see how the Bible answers the three essential worldview questions, and note how these deal with the notion of White Fragility.
What Is the Nature of Ultimate Reality?
Based on a biblical worldview, ultimate reality is the God of the Bible who has revealed himself to be righteous, just, and love. He does not evaluate or value people based on ethnicity, social status, or gender, shows no partiality based on nationality, does not value people based on observance of religious rituals, does not judge human beings based on their works, and has provided the possibility of eternal salvation for ALL of mankind regardless of background – all based on a single criteria.
What is Man?
As it relates to God’s view of human beings, He sees all people as a special creation that He created in His own image. Further, all humans ultimately descended from the original two human beings He created in the beginning. Based on this, the notion of White Fragility must be considered through a spiritual lens, not a material one. It can be understood in the context of the following worldview question.
What Is the Ultimate One Can Achieve in this Life?
Based on a biblical worldview, the ultimate one can achieve in this life is an eternal personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. The ultimate is not the temporal satisfaction of some social justice cause, but a spiritual relationship with Him.
Thus, Diangelo’s White Fragility is not a concept that corresponds in any way to a biblical worldview. White Fragility assumes that offense is a one way street – from white people to black people – and that it can only be solved by acts taken in material life. The Bible does not see mankind that way. It really does envision a color-blind society where every person is equal before God. As it relates to human-to-human interaction, every person (both black and white) should have enough respect for one another, based on their love for God, that they would never try to cause offense. And if it does happen, they love each other enough to try to solve the problem together.
The Fragility of White Fragility
The fragility of the very notion of White Fragility is in the fact that it has no ultimate desired outcome. And if there is no ultimate desired outcome, there is no way to design a plan to solve the problem. Essentially, all Diangelo has done is to assert that there is a problem, then urge white people to acknowledge it and wallow in their misery for being a racist. There is no way to get past it.
There are some other problems associated with this notion, as well. Supposed white privilege is not the only factor responsible for causing tension between two races. Three other matters immediately come to mind.
First, those who promote the White Fragility agenda base their assessment on their naturalistic beliefs. They don’t justify those beliefs, but they still assume them to be true and attack white people based on them. But until they are able to justify the validity of their Naturalism, they have no standing to accuse people of racism who hold other worldview beliefs.
A second matter that Diangelo doesn’t account for regards the differences that exist in various cultures. As a general principle, some of the problems that are manifested between races are cultural, not racial. It is certainly true, as the author points out repeatedly, that historically, blacks in American society have in some ways been treated differently than white people. This different treatment certainly accounts for some of the cultural divide that exists in society. But it is not as simple as that, either. Even within the black community there are numerous subcultures that have different folkways and mores (which is true in the white community, as well). These cultural differences relate to matters such as economic status, religious beliefs, use of language and other cultural symbols, customs, rules of leadership, and geographical influences. These differences create various conflicts even within the black community itself. However, none of these elements of culture are accounted for in Diangelo’s discussion of White Fragility. According to her, ALL of the worlds conflicts can be laid at the door of white privilege.
Another matter that Diangelo did not account for is population density. The current percentage of the black population in America is 13.4%. The percentage of other non-white ethnicities is 10.3%. That means that the white population is 76.3%. This is actually a lower percentage than in past times.
The reason for noting these statistics is that, except for some very unusual circumstances, the culture of the majority population virtually always establishes the cultural norms for a society. There is nothing inherently right or wrong about that, it is simply a fact and could hardly be any other way. Diangelo makes an assumption that the values of the white population that established American society are wrong, immoral, and racist, but never gives any reason why that should be accepted as true. Why is it racist for the values of the majority to dominate a society?
The fact is, right and wrong are not a function of race, they are a function of values. Diangelo has her preferred values that are based on a kind of collectivism that she assumes are non-racist – yet she never objectively identifies them or tells why people should adopt them. Her values stand in stark contrast to biblical values that are based on an objective foundation that is revealed in the Bible, and which evaluates people as individuals.
The notion of White Fragility is, indeed, fragile. When compared to the way reality is actually structured, it literally falls apart. It is a false religious belief that simply does not reflect the nature of ultimate reality, the nature of man, nor does it provide us with a means of achieving the ultimate it is possible for us, as human beings, to achieve in life.
© 2020 Freddy Davis
Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication, and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah.
You may also contact Freddy at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule him for speaking or leadership engagements.
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