White fragility: Behind the worldview | The change

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In our 2019 Gospel Coalition article, "The Incompatibility of Critical Theory and Christianity," Dr. Pat Sawyer and I Christians to read White Fragility because it was and is the most popular example of a book that is rooted in contemporary critical theory, an ideology that is fundamentally incompatible with Christianity.

In this paper I will not go into the text of White Fragility itself. Many different authors (1) (2) (3) from across the political and religious spectrum, including myself, have explained at length why the book's central thesis and supporting claims are false, contradictory, and harmful. Instead, I want to focus on the overarching framework it's based on. I worry that because many Christians are unfamiliar with contemporary critical theory, they misunderstand DiAngelo's book. Worse still, Christians can subconsciously absorb elements of their worldview without realizing it.

A helpful analogy might be for a Christian to read a Mormon book about parenting. While there are indeed select insights to appreciate, a Christian unfamiliar with Mormonism is likely to misinterpret Mormon references to “grace” or “fatherhood of God” or “the eternal meaning of the family”. Likewise, Christians who get away from White Fragility and think that DiAngelo is merely calling us to "be humble when it comes to race" don't quite understand what she is saying. If we put White Fragility in the context of DiAngelo's other writing, we can interpret it more precisely.

Interlocking systems of oppression

DiAngelo's book Are All Really Equal? She explains her ideology most clearly, which she expressly rooted in the ideas of Karl Marx, the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, and postmodernist philosophers (pp. 25-27). In this paper, she explains that society is divided into "dominant / oppressive and subordinate / oppressed" groups according to "race, class, gender, sexuality, ability status / state of emergency, religion and nationality" (p. 44). It is crucial that by “oppression” she understands not only violence or coercion, but also “the imposition of the culture of the dominant group on the minority group” (p. 62). Hence, "Exism, racism, classism, ability awareness, and heterosexism (that is, affirming the relationship between men and women as the norm) are specific forms of oppression" (p. 61), as they all involve unspoken, self-evident values ​​that some groups ( Privileging men, whites, heterosexuals, etc.) and marginalizing others (women, colored people, LGBTQ people, etc.).

This definition of “oppression” not only explains why DiAngelo understands “racism” in terms of structures and systems, but also why she regards racism as merely a form of oppression, alongside ability and heterosexism. It also explains why a commitment to "critical social justice" requires active resistance to all of these various oppressions. Fighting racism but not fighting heterosexism would, in their view, be as inconsistent as abortion, but not euthanasia. We must actively work against all oppression, regardless of whether it is based on race, gender or sexuality: “There is no neutral reason; Choosing not to act against injustice means allowing it ”(p. xxiv).

Subjective knowledge

DiAngelo also insists that all knowledge is socially structured. It is "never purely objective, neutral and outside of human interests … The field of science is also subjective" (p. 15). Knowledge is not “simply the result of a rational, objective and value-neutral process that is removed from any political agenda”. (P. 25) Instead, “knowledge depends on a complex network of cultural values, beliefs, experiences and social positions.” (P. 29) “Language is not a neutral transmitter of a universal goal or a fixed reality. Rather, language is the way in which we construct reality ”(p. 70).

The naive view that there can be “objective knowledge” enables dominant oppressive groups to disguise their values ​​as neutral. Consequently, truth claims by dominant groups are suspect and those of oppressed groups need to be centered: "Dominant groups have the narrowest or most restricted view … minority groups often have the broadest view of society" (p. 70).

Obviously, this view of knowledge will have a profound effect on whether Christians can continue to profess doctrines such as the deity of Christ or the Trinity or the nature of the gospel as objective, universal truths that can be known to all people equally. Do we know objective truths from the Bible or do we only know our white, western, male interpretations of the Bible?

Race and racism

Finally, Christians alarmed by some of these ideas might nonetheless insist that DiAngelo's views on race are at least valuable. Here, I'll just add a couple of quotes from their peer-reviewed contributions to the race to indicate that we need to read their statements more closely.

In “Beyond the Face of Race: Emocognitive Explorations of White Neurosis and Racist Cray-Cray” she writes: “Under the power of white, the racist Cray-Cray becomes a socially sanctioned process of engaging with the lies of white neurosis, everyone is forced to do it. "And" we hope to offer a new approach to racial healing by reinforcing Thandeka's (1999) postulation of white as a form of child abuse. " And "the current state of white emocognition and rationality is incompatible".

In Leaning in: A Guide for Students to Constructively Deal with Social Justice Content, she criticizes statements such as “People should be judged by what they do, not the color of their skin”, “My parents taught me that all people are equal "and" I have friends from all races and we are all good with each other "as" predictable, simplistic and misinformed ".

It is crucial for us to recognize that when it comes to fundamental worldview questions like "Who am I?", "What is good?" And "what is my purpose?" DiAngelo's work provides very different answers than Christianity.


As I said at the beginning, I and many others have written elsewhere about the problems with the White Fragility text. Additionally, I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to "poison the well" or argue that everything DiAngelo says is wrong. In fact, Dr. Sawyer and I Christians continue to read this book to better understand our culture. However, we should read it the same way a Utah Christian reads the Book of Mormon. She reads it to better understand her Mormon neighbors, but with the knowledge that it is built on a broken and spiritually dangerous foundation that will harm anyone who accepts it.

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