Robin DiAngelo holds a Bachelor’s Degree in History and Sociology from Seattle University, a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Washington (UW), and a PhD in Critical Multicultural Education & Whiteness Studies from UW as well. Since 2007, she has been an Associate Professor of Multicultural Education at Westfield State University in Massachusetts.
Arguing that “all education is political and no teacher is objective,” DiAngelo candidly declares that her “teaching agenda” is devoted to “changing the way students see themselves in relation to the world around them” – specifically, to have them engage in “critical self-reflection” that leads to “multicultural awareness” about the prevalence of “social injustice” and the degree to which racism is “embedded in the foundation of U.S. society.”
DiAngelo says that because she grew up “poor and white,” for many years she herself was largely blind to the “race privilege” she enjoyed as a white person – until introspection eventually helped her gain “deeper insight” into how a racist American society had “socialized” her “to collude with racism.”
In a lengthy 2011 essay titled “White Fragility,” DiAngelo writes that “white people in North America live in a social environment” that “protects and insulates them from race-based stress” while building “white expectations for racial comfort.” “Whiteness,” she says, refers to “the specific dimensions of racism that serve to elevate white people over people of color.” This “dominance,” DiAngelo explains, “leads to racial arrogance” and renders whites blind not only to their own “history of brutality towards people of color,” but also to the “structural inequality” that pervades society and rewards white people with all manner of “privilege.” She argues that in order to minimize whatever guilt might be sparked by a conscious awareness of these historical and ongoing injustices, whites routinely cite their own “individualism,” “hard work,” and “virtue” as the qualities that have helped them attain greater levels of financial and professional success than many blacks. “Because whites live primarily segregated lives in a white-dominated society,” adds DiAngelo, “they receive little or no authentic information about racism and are thus unprepared to think about it critically or with complexity.”
“Whites are taught to see themselves as individuals, rather than as part of a racial group,” DiAngelo elaborates in a 2015 piece titled “Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism,” because “individualism enables us to deny that racism is structured into the fabric of society. This erases our history and hides the way in which wealth has accumulated over generations and benefits us, as a group, today. It also allows us to distance ourselves from the history and actions of our group.”
“The disavowal of race as an organizing factor” in both “individual white consciousness” and “the institutions of society at large,” says DiAngelo, “is necessary to support current structures of capitalism and domination,” for “without it, the correlation between the distribution of social resources and unearned white privilege would be evident.” DiAngelo claims that “whites have no compunction about debating the knowledge of people [like herself] who have thought complexly about race,” and that they “generally feel free to dismiss these informed perspectives” rather than attempting to learn from them.
“Any white person living in the United States will develop opinions about race simply by swimming in the water of our culture,” DiAngelo avers, but “they will not be informed opinions.” “Our socialization,” she says, “renders us [whites] racially illiterate. When you add a lack of humility to that illiteracy (because we don’t know what we don’t know), you get the break-down we so often see when trying to engage white people in meaningful conversations about race.”
By DiAngelo’s telling, racism encompasses “economic, political, social, and cultural structures, actions, and beliefs” that “systematize and perpetuate an unequal distribution of privileges, resources and power between white people and people of color.” But only whites can be racist, she maintains, because “the direction of power between whites and people of color is historic, traditional, normalized, and deeply embedded in the fabric of U.S. society.”
In addition to her professorial activities, DiAngelo since the early 1990s has provided workplace training and consulting on issues of “cultural diversity and social justice, with a special focus on race relations.” Her training sessions take “an anti-racist approach” founded on the premise that “the historic and current power differentials between people of color and white people” are the result of longstanding “dynamics of internalized racism and internalized dominance.” Among DiAngelo’s clients have been the City of Seattle, the Washington State Department of Health & Human Resources, the YMCA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the UC Davis School of Nursing, the Commonwealth Corporation, and many schools, both public and private.
For additional information on Robin DiAngelo, click here.
Further Reading: “Robin DiAngelo” (LinkedIn.com); “About Me” (RobinDiAngelo.com); “Philosophy of Teaching & Courses Taught” (RobinDiAngelo.com); “White Fragility” (by Robin DiAngelo, 2011); “Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism” (by Robin DiAngelo, Huffington Post, 4-30-2015).