A Christian Reading of “White Fragility” chapter 5: The Good/Bad Binary

Chapter 5 is another chapter that seems like it could have come earlier in the book. One of DiAngelo’s foundational points is that racism is systemic, not a singular event. She describes singular events as demonstrations of prejudice and discrimination. Such acts are fueled and enabled by racist attitudes, but racism is a system of oppression. Viewing racism as individual acts of hatred and discrimination allows racism to survive and thrive. Few white people commit intentional acts of malice against minorities. Since most white people do not do these bad things, they do not consider themselves racist. They are not bad, therefore they are good. If racism is an act carried out by ignorant, bigoted, old, white, Southerners; young, educated, open-minded, Northerners don’t have to worry about being racist.

Two broad categories feed into the good/bad binary. The first is color blindness. This person makes claims like:

  • I was taught to treat everyone the same
  • I don’t see color
  • Race doesn’t mean anything to me
  • Focusing on race is what divides us

The second category is color-celebrate. People with this mindset will make statements like:

  • I work in a very divers environment
  • I have people of color in my family/married a person of color/have children of color
  • I was in the military
  • I used to live in New York [the big city]
  • We don’t like how white our neighborhood is, but we had to move here for the schools.
  • I marched in the sixties
  • We adopted from…
  • I was on a mission in Africa

All of these kind of claims “exempt the person from any responsibility for or participation in the problem.” After listing these responses (and quite a few more) DiAngelo spends the rest of the chapter poking holes (effectively) in some of the most common responses she encounters.

One of her examples is cross-racial friendships. She mentions that even those with cross-racial friendships seldom discuss race. Another example that she does not mention, is the depth of such friendships. In my life, especially in high school, I had a number of relationships I would describe as cross-racial. But I never went to their house for supper, nor did they come to mine. As a Christian, I know the importance, value, and signal, of table fellowship; it was something I never pursued while growing up with African-American friends. It was something I never felt a loss over either. I was happy to share time and life in the experience we shared together- basically school related activities- but never pursued sharing in their lives as they lived them.

DiAngelo ends with a helpful paragraph about viewing racism as a continuum. I am fully on-board with the inadequacies of viewing racism as individual events of intentioned malice. Such acts are committed because of deeper forces at work in the soul of man and society. Yet I am still apprehensive with viewing racism as a system of oppression. When it is described in such ways, escape almost seems hopeless. Seeing yourself on a continuum of racism opens up possibilities of escape. When racism is a continuum, and not a good/bad binary choice, my position toward racism is more immediate. Racism as a continuum changes the question from, “Am I racist?” to, “Am I actively seeking to interrupt racism in this context?” And how will I know?

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