Robin DiAngelo’s 2018 book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism is experiencing a resurgence amidst a national reckoning surrounding issues of racism and its consequences. In consideration of its immense popularity and numerous critics, The Exchange has invited several authors of various backgrounds to engage in a two-part discussion of the merits and flaws of White Fragility. Part one included the initial reviews to the book from five different individuals, with part two providing a platform for others to respond to the book and to these reviewers. You can find my full introduction to this series, as well as a list of all our contributors, here. This week we will be embarking on part two of this series, as we have invited several authors to respond to our initial articles. You can find a summary of part one and an introduction to part two, here.
Yesterday, we began part two with Dr. Sheila Caldwell. Today we are joined by Daniel Yang. Yang is currently the Director of the Send Institute, a missiologist think tank in North America. In addition to his training as a church planter, Yang has earned an M.Div. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Michigan, and is currently a Ph.D. Intercultural Studies student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
We look forward to welcoming John Richards Jr., George Yancey, and Sitara Roden as we continue on with this series.
As a theologically conservative Asian-American, I must admit that reading White Fragility felt a little like listening to someone else’s family meeting. This should not be surprising since Robin DiAngelo is clear that her intended audience is white progressives like herself.[i] One of the first-round reviewers, Allison Ash, points this out in her article, but also believes DiAngelo’s book can apply to white conservatives and Christians alike. And while not explicitly written this way, George Yancey’s full review is an important outsider’s perspective as an African-American and as a social scientist.
It is this outsider’s perspective that I specifically want to address.
There is no monolithic non-white perspective on the ideas described in White Fragility but it is important to acknowledge they exist. To put it plainly, non-whites are watching whites have this conversation amongst themselves. From my perspective, some of it is hit or miss as pointed out by many of the first-round reviewers. For a long time, whether progressive, conservative, racist, or an ally, whites have managed much of the narrative for how race is framed and talked about in America. And whether non-whites find DiAngelo’s ideas helpful or harmful or a combination of both, the outsider dynamic to this conversation increasingly matters as we consider that the percentage of the white population in America continues to shrink and the complexity of racial categories continues to grow.
My aim here is to frame a perspective of how I see this conversation developing, first through the eyes of a minority in America and second as a missiologist concerned with how this fits into Christian mission.
The Process of Becoming a Minority in America
W.E.B. DuBois penned these powerful words describing the African-American experience as he saw it in the late 19th century:
It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.[ii]
As articulated by DuBois, the African-American “double-consciousness” is a very nuanced phenomenon painstakingly developed through historical experience and generations of struggle. DuBois offers something that many African-Americans have found helpful and insightful in their American experience. It is unique to African-Americans and should not and cannot be appropriated onto other racial groups in America.
Related but tangential to DuBois, the process of discovering what it means to be a minority in America is fraught with non-stop subconscious self-examination, false ascriptions, and overt animosity. As a minority, there is an ongoing frustration in wanting to express your thoughts and ideas only to find the race conversation make its way back to centering the dominant group experience, framed primarily to enlighten them rather than to truly advance the conversation. The day to day work of a minority in America is to see yourself the way white Americans see you in order to articulate your point in a way that makes sense to them. While this is a necessary skill in a diverse and pluralistic society, the mental, spiritual, and physical work of managing this consciousness causes fatigue.
But whites are getting fatigued, too.
Maybe not the way African-Americans and other minorities get fatigued. But the point of this book is that more now than ever, some whites are resistant and tired of having to see themselves through the eyes of other groups in order to better articulate their points in a way that makes sense to others. It is tiring to have to always consider what another group has to say before you decide on something!
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Source: Christianity Today