Taibbi Missed the Point of White Fragility

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Taibbi’s critique of “White Fragility” got my dander up a bit. After I praised the book by saying I am glad that it’s the #1 bestseller I was prepared to be skewered by Taibbi’s penetrating insights. Surprisingly, I think he missed the point and at times was gratuitously and misleadingly cruel. My take on the book is the acknowledgment that racism is in the air we breathe, so we perpetuate it if we don’t recognize that. Her appeal to the reader is that they take an approach of introspection and humility. Rather than deny that we have attitudes and feelings that have accrued from growing up in this society, we should open ourselves to the painful admission of our flaws and dark side, face them and learn how to heal them.

The author is a professional in the field of race relations and her anecdotes include techniques and a support infrastructure that most of us don’t have access to. However, her descriptions are intended to model an approach of humility and self-questioning, not to prescribe techniques for others to use, and they don’t deserve Taibbi’s mockery.

As I read Taibbi’s main beef, which he refers to as Hitlerian: “White Fragility has a simple message: there is no such thing as a universal human experience, and we are defined not by our individual personalities or moral choices, but only by our racial category.” This, incredibly, seems like such a puerile observation that I almost don’t think it’s worth responding to. But I love Taibbi, so I will.

She doesn’t say that, Matt. All she says is that our culture is permeated by the artifacts of its long history of racism, and since all of us are immersed in that culture, we can’t avoid having absorbed it to some degree. Can you deny that our culture defines people by racial category, and if not, how do you propose to change that? I’m sorry to say, I think you’re being defensive.


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