Book Review – Nice Racism & White Fragility

I discovered these books via a radio show called Big Ideas from ABC Radio National. The author, Robin DiAngelo was being interviewed and I found what she had to say about racism fascinating! Luckily, my library has her books so I immediately reserved them and I didn’t have to wait that long either! Here are the books I’m reviewing today:

  • White Fragility – Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism – published 2018
  • Nice Racism – How progressive white people perpetuate racial harm – published 2021

I read Nice Racism first even though White Fragility was published three years prior. I found that most of the things discussed in White Fragility were sort of similar to Nice Racism but not really. Nice Racism I think is just a continuation to the discussion that DiAngelo started in White Fragility.

So what is the premise of these two books? There is a lot to unpack but basically, that insidious forms of racism and racial harm to black, Indigenous and people of colour is perpetuated not by mean people but by nice white progressives. DiAngelo outlines common white moves that perpetuate and protect daily forms of racial harm and to prove that they [white people] are not racist – here are a few:

  • Credentialing – the mere presence of a black, Indigenous and people of colour triggers this. Some examples: “I don’t see colour”; “I work in a very diverse environment”; “My best friend or partner is black”; and so on.
  • Objectifying – white tendency to overemphasize the race of people of colour. For example, asking personal questions about their racial experiences or emphasizing how beautiful or “exotic” the person of colour is and make comments about their hair, skin or size.
  • Out-woking – calling out other white people and public shaming them for their racism.

The books are written for white people in the American context but they can also be directed to the white people here in Australia. I’m not white and the more I read these two books the more it dawned on me that I have experienced some of these racial harms from white people. Not in the overt way (I have experienced those as well) but more in a passive-aggressive way and most especially in a professional setting. DiAngelo mentions that the workplace is rife with unconscious racism. Here are some examples:

  • Inequities in promotion
  • Talking over and silencing people of colour in meetings
  • Ignoring or taking credit for their ideas
  • White women weaponising their emotions so that any feelings of racial discomfort around a colleague of colour become an HR issue for their colleague
  • Gaslighting
  • Punishing people who challenge racism

White progressives avoid the blatant and the obvious and employ more subtle and insidious methods: racial insensitivity, ignorance and arrogance. Some examples are:

  • Confusing one person for another of the same racial group
  • Not taking the effort to learn someone’s name; always mispronouncing
  • Calling a black person articulate; surprised at their intelligence, credential or class status
  • Only naming the race of people who are not white when telling a story
  • Blackface/cultural appropriation in costumes or roles
  • Gossiping about the racism of other white people to people of colour to distinguish yourself as the good white person
  • And many more!

You have to read the books to find out more about breaking racism in a white supremacist country. DiAngelo recommends some basics to follow to be accountable. Here are a few:

  • Donate a percentage of your income to a racial justice organisation led by people of colour
  • Promote the work and services of black, Indigenous and people of colour
  • Develop accountability partners of colour
  • Build relationships with white people who have strong anti-racist analysis
  • Never consider your learning finished
  • Break white silence on racism

These are highly recommended books if you want to learn how to overcome systemic injustice and for racism to be recognised. Racism still matters even more so today.


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