Review: Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm

Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm by Robin DiAngelo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are a lot of ways one can tackle this book and I'm sure there are myriads out--I've even read a few. Some clearly come from a disposition that they would immediately dismiss anything that DiAngelo says from the start. They often do so because they are blatantly racist (white supremacists like those who participated in the march in Charlottesville, Virginia), they buy into the idea that those seeking racial and social justice are "the problem" (folks who drink up unquestioningly their information from Tucker Carlson, Ben Shapiro, Fox News, The Blaze and the like), or those who are deeply involved in owning the game of internecine battles around racial progress and equity (Bill Maher, John McWorter, and Matt Taibbi to name a few). It's strange to see so much ire for this book because the intended audience is largely not for most of those folks but people who claim to be racial progressive and want to understand more about how complicated that can actually be because of things like history, culture, institutions, and personal understandings (or misunderstandings) about how we come to our believes and the differences between impact and intent.  So DiAngelo has a lot of pitfalls to navigate in trying to be an accessible voice to engage white people on what racist acts look like. 

On the whole, she does a good job. She draws out some of the challenges and assumptions that embed white identity, interweaves direct and indirect experiences, including references the validate her evidence, and actively uplifts BIPOC voices to avoid centering herself too much.  She also spends time demonstrating how she, herself, also navigates her internalized racism and some of the mistakes she has made.  One of the strengths of her work is how she provides scenario after scenario presenting that chasm between intent and impact.  But further, she often finds a way of reframing arguments white folks might bring up by shifting the focus from them trying to justify themselves into understanding how the justifications still don't help to address the racialized power of the situation. Additionally, I appreciate that she also digs in further to what it means to actually attempt to cultivate a life that includes voices different and even disruptive to white progressive enclaves. She challenges her readers to really think about what it would mean to create space and opportunity that aren't just tokenistic gestures.  

And yet, I can still see that there can be an element to her work that feels too much like "look, this is how you do it" or "See, I'm doing this well."  She calls these out and also speaks to the challenge that as someone with decades of experience and research in this area, it's a delicate balance--but it still feels that way. It makes me think if there would have been other ways to include others in the book besides name-dropping--such as a co-authored book that included the ways that she and someone else navigated their differences.  But in the final analysis, it's a good book directed at a specific audience aiming to help lift the conversation from introspection to more accountable actions.

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