Robin DiAngelo Is Very Disappointed in the White People Making Her Rich
We are, especially here in Brooklyn, living in Robin DiAngelo’s world. And yet she seems so unhappy about it.
The five-minute walk to my neighborhood bookstore to buy DiAngelo’s new book Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm is filled with totems signaling the continued ascendancy of the self-styled anti-racist movement.
A window on my block bears the hand-scrawled sign “INACTION = CONSENT,” a Manichean formulation that DiAngelo echoes throughout her follow-up to the 2018 smash hit White Fragility (“if we are not actively challenging those [racist] structures, we are supporting them,” etc.). The storefront of my local State Assembly representative’s office displays not one but three Black Lives Matter signs. Across the street, the fence of my youngest’s elementary school is festooned with student art condemning discrimination and celebrating diversity. That school recently shrunk its zone (my house, 150 feet away, is no longer in it) and changed admissions policies in an effort to “disrupt zones of exclusion.” And just past the bookstore is my eldest’s much more diverse middle school, more famously known now as the subject of the New York Times podcast Nice White Parents, whose sardonic, guilt-encouraging title likely influenced DiAngelo’s latest.
This movement’s journey from obscurity to ubiquity has been neck-snappingly brief—and measurably lucrative for its leading lights. “My average fee for an event in 2018 was $6,200,” DiAngelo writes on her website’s “Accountability” page. “In 2019, it was $9,200. In 2020 (as of August), it has been $14,000.” In the book, she adds that she gives presentations on “whiteness and white fragility” on a “weekly basis.”
Taking those numbers at face value, that’s $728,000 a year just from speeches and workshops, to say nothing of book royalties and whatever the University of Washington is paying her. By most every yardstick, DiAngelo has achieved runaway success, lodging herself firmly in the top-earning 1 percent of the world’s richest country.
But Nice Racism is an unrelentingly sour book, depicting the fight against systemic oppression as a joyless, never-ending slog through minefields of potential missteps, while relying to a comical degree on DiAngelo’s exasperated encounters with people who have the temerity to disagree with her approach.
That latter description may sound uncharitable, but it’s not. In a chapter titled “We Aren’t Actually All That Nice,” DiAngelo belatedly berates a (white male) London cab driver for telling her that he was sick of being called a racist and that he feared a group of black men who hung around his neighborhood. “Also worthy of note was his typical white lack of racial curiosity or humility about the limits of his knowledge,” she snipped. “He had the author of a New York Times best-selling book who was in town to do interviews for the BBC in his cab, and he did not ask a single question about my thoughts on the matter.” The nerve!
If you are a white person who has challenged DiAngelo in one of her seminars the past couple of years, you are probably in this book. There’s “Sue and Bob,” who reacted to her eight-point talk on “What’s Problematic About Individualism?” by telling her that, no, they prefer treating people as individual human beings. “How could Sue and Bob have missed that forty-five minute presentation?” she huffed. “I was left wondering, yet again, what happens cognitively for so many white people in anti-racism education efforts that prevents them from actually hearing what is being presented.”
There was “Dav
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