On Integration

Jesse McCarthy and Jon Baskin in The Point:

This summer, amid the ongoing protests for racial justice, Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility once again shot up the best-seller lists. The book, which had already been a huge success on the diversity-training circuit and had received mixed, but muted, responses from intellectual commentators, was now subjected to a symptomatic backlash. This began with left intellectuals taking DiAngelo to task for her focus on workplace harmony at the expense of attention to capitalism or structural inequalities like housing discrimination. It continued with liberals and conservatives chiding the book for its racial essentialism and its discounting of individual agency. And it culminated with the White House statement banning trainings that reflect DiAngelo’s methodology in the federal government: terms like “white privilege” and “systemic racism,” the Trump administration alleged, are both divisive and “un-American.”

If nothing else, the sales figures for White Fragility and its partners in the ascendant genre of antiracist pedagogy—as of this writing, White Fragility is joined on the best-seller list by Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist and Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race—testifies to how ludicrous it is to call such books “un-American.” In fact, their blend of puritanical hectoring, etiquette training, “lucid definitions” and self-help is as American as apple pie. That is both their appeal and their fatal limitation. “Nothing in mainstream US culture,” DiAngelo writes, “gives us the information we need to have the nuanced understanding of arguably the most complex and enduring social dynamic of the last several hundred years.” Fair enough. But a reader is then entitled to believe this lacuna will now be filled, preferably with the information and historical context that can lead to that nuanced understanding. Instead, what is on offer is patently not content but form, not information but reformation, not education but therapy—not a correction of the superficiality of mainstream American commentary and culture but a complement to it. This accounts for why what gets produced by books like White Fragility seems so depressingly familiar.

More here.