The Grift That Keeps on Grifting

REVIEW: 'Nice Racism' by Robin DiAngelo

July 18, 2021

White progressives are the worst.

So argues Robin DiAngelo in Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm, the progressive white author's mildly anticipated follow up to her 2018 smash hit, White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.

On this particular issue, at least, it's hard to question DiAngelo's expertise. "On a weekly basis, I speak to groups of mostly white people and give a presentation on whiteness and white fragility," she boasts. You'll have to visit the "Accountability" page on her website to find out how much she gets paid to do this. (You can also find her defensive non-denial of the Washington Free Beacon's extensive reporting on the matter.)

DiAngelo claims to earn an average fee of $14,000 per engagement, which includes pro bono work as well as corporate gigs that run "upwards of $30,000." At a rate of one event per week, that works out to $728,000 in annual compensation on the speaking circuit alone. That's on top of the estimated $2 million in royalties she pocketed thanks to the success of White Fragility. It's decent work if you can get it, though DiAngelo might not agree. "We need to recognize racial equity as a field requiring a high level of skill and expertise that should be compensated," she implores.

Nice Racism is DiAngelo's best effort to double down on the lucrative schtick. The author's target audience and chief benefactors, white progressives, are chastised for their insufficient devotion to the cause of racial equity. The beatings will continue until morale improves, and profits increase. Even the most well-intentioned white progressives, DiAngelo scolds, are responsible for "the most daily harm to Black, Indigenous, and other radicalized people" in ways that are "less obvious" but also "more insidious."

Like a seasoned huckster peddling "deluxe antiracism kits" in hotel conference rooms, the author attempts to shame white progressives into signing up for a lifetime membership in her post-religious cult. To attain what DiAngelo describes as "critical racial consciousness," one must first accept that it is impossible to attain. "The sad irony is that the moment we believe we 'get it' is not the moment our journey to racial enlightenment comes to an end," she writes. "'Getting it' should immediately engender humility in recognition of how much we don't—and likely never will—completely know."

The pursuit of racial enlightenment will inevitably require a "lifelong commitment" and "continual education" through "books, films, discussions, conferences, community groups, workbooks, and activism." Don't have the time or the money or the psychological defects to make that commitment? Well, the author warns, "there is simply no excuse" for refusing to invest in a thorough examination of the "deep racial resentment roiling just under the surface for many white people." It can be treated, but never cured, and it's going to cost you. Hours upon hours. Dollars upon dollars. A grift that keeps on grifting.

DiAngelo knows her audience. She correctly condemns white progressives for their brazen self-righteousness, and their incessant "woke" signaling, which is almost entirely performative. White progressives, she writes, often treat diversity as "a kind of consumer product that can be purchased and controlled." (See also: practically every major American corporation.) The people who bought White Fragility, even the ones who actually read it, are some of the worst offenders. That's because "good intentions" play an especially prominent role in perpetuating white supremacy.

"Involvement in antiracism efforts can become 'stylish' for white people, something cool that provides intense feelings and entertaining insights to be consumed in manageable doses," DiAngelo observes, astutely. "People become conversant with the terminology, but in practice the terms are almost meaningless." As the author makes clear, the road to enlightenment is not a "manageable" endeavor. It's a treacherous haul, a ceaseless burden, "painful" yet "exciting."

Speaking of meaningless, the following is a passage from Nice Racism. After reading it, you might even sympathize with the white progressives who remain skeptical about devoting their lives to "affinity groups" and "accountability partners," shaming themselves for having visited a developing country without fostering an "ongoing relationship with the local population" or engaging in "critical thinking about the colonialist dynamics," or learning the difference between "color-deny" and "color-celebrate" white credentialing:

Radical relationally is anathema to white supremacy and the patriarchy it issued from, and can ameliorate the effects of racial weathering while building the coalitions necessary for systemic change. Hence, radical relationships are central to abolitionist organizing, among other forms of liberatory praxis.

Much of the text echoes this progressive Mad Libs vibe. DiAngelo reinforces her expertise by citing a litany of expert sources, including a "critical race scholar," a "social justice consultant," a "professor of educational leadership," and a "racial trauma specialist" whose "revolutionary work on how white supremacy is stored in the body has had a profound influence on me." Nice Racism is without a doubt the most self-important literary work to contain the phrase, "As Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted...."

Intentionally or not, DiAngelo offers some hilarious accounts that would be dismissed as too good for fiction. For example, many of the anonymous white progressives DiAngelo singles out for rhetorical thrashing are beyond parody. There is "David," a white man who said he identified as a person of color because "he recently returned from a few months living with [an Indigenous] tribe, and they accepted him as a member of their community and consider him a member of their family." Later on, she recounts a white man who emailed her to "let me know that although he was white in this life, he had lived countless previous lives of various races and therefore he understood the Black experience." [emphasis in original]

Then there are Robin DiAngelo's personal anecdotes, or confessions rather, of her own sins in the service of white supremacy, such as the time she had dinner with a black couple and couldn't stop talking about all the ways her family members were racist idiots and how much she opposed racism and loved black people. "Imagine what a depressing evening that was for them." Yes, we can imagine.

Some stories aren't meant to be taken as confessions, but they are just as revelatory and embarrassing, such as the time DiAngelo got into an argument about racism with a London cab driver who displayed a "typical white lack of racial curiosity or humility about the limits of his knowledge." His worst offense? Refusing to avail himself of her expertise. "He had the author of a New York Times bestselling 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," DiAngelo huffs, and she has a point. Her thoughts on the matter are typically billed at a rate of $233 per minute.

The London cabbie is not alone. Nice Racism sold just 3,500 copies in its first week of publication and barely made the New York Times bestseller list. Maybe that just proves DiAngelo's point that white progressives are a bunch of fair-weather allies who refuse to "do the work" because they only care about racial injustice when a Republican is president. Maybe it's a sign that saner minds will ultimately prevail. Even The Guardian couldn't muster much praise for the book, slamming the author's "typically condescending" critiques and annoying inflection as an "omniscient narrator of antiracist truth."

It's bound to get on people's nerves, especially when the racial enlightenment guru keeps insisting that every belief a well-intentioned individual might hold—the existence of "objectivity," for example—every action they might take—smiling at a black person in Whole Foods, or merely "seeking community without a structural analysis of racism"—is perpetuating white supremacy. Spiritualism is bizarrely singled out in an entire chapter for daring to profess that "true transformation can occur" without bullying participants into "confronting their own whiteness." Grift recognizes grift, perhaps, and doesn't like the competition.

According to DiAngelo's exhausting worldview, white people shouldn't be allowed to be friends with a non-white person until they've "done some work on their own racial identity." Even then, only about "one in ten" will ever be deserving of a non-white person's trust. That might explain why DiAngelo's agent, editor, and publicist are all white. On the other hand, it might explain nothing. Perhaps she's just another white progressive shouting down at her moral inferiors, selling grievance and self-loathing for a hefty fee.

They really are the worst.

Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm
by Robin DiAngelo
Beacon Press, 224 pp., $24.95

Published under: Racism , Robin DiAngelo