Robin DiAngelo: False Prophet, or Faulty Philosopher? | with Jonathan Church

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2y May 31, 2019

Podcast version: http://bit.ly/2HOG5RV

Jonathan Church is an economist and critical thinker. Find his articles on Whiteness, Whiteness Studies, Robin DiAngelo, and White Fragility on Areo Magazine here:


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From "White Fragility Theory Mistakes Correlation for Causation" byJonathan Church

As I have noted before, Robin DiAngelo, the sociologist and critical race theorist who authored the bestselling book White Fragility, does not hold the “presumed neutrality of White European enlightenment epistemology” in high regard. She notes that her work is motivated in part by a subversive campaign that seeks the “decolonization” of modern universities and an interrogation of whiteness as manifested in the “presumed neutrality” of Enlightenment epistemology. As I have also noted, when she invokes “Emile Durkheim’s research questioning the infallibility of the scientific method”—a pillar of the Enlightenment—she does not appear to realize that scientists do not think of the scientific method as a Holy Grail of truth. In fact, one of the strengths of the scientific method is its emphasis on methodological rigor as a robust defense against any presumption of infallibility.

But it might come as a surprise to DiAngelo that it is the paradigmatic Enlightenment philosopher David Hume who gave us what is perhaps the greatest reason to doubt the supposed “infallibility of the scientific method.” Hume’s analysis of our understanding of causality was so incisive that it has stimulated debate among philosophers about the limits of knowledge ever since. As for white fragility, Hume’s empiricist skepticism also gives us serious reason to doubt the presumption of infallibility.

In the first chapter of her bestselling book on “why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism,” DiAngelo writes: “[w]hen I talk to white people about racism, their responses are so predictable I sometimes feel as though we are reciting lines from a shared script,” and “on some level,” she continues, “we are, because we are actors in a shared culture,” and “[a] significant aspect of the white script derives from our seeing ourselves as both objective and unique.” She insists, however, that this script will lead us astray if we want to understand racism: “we have to begin to understand why we cannot fully be either; we must understand the forces of socialization.”

DiAngelo posits that “[w]e make sense of perceptions and experiences through our particular cultural lens,” which is “neither universal nor objective, and without it, a person could not function in any human society.” But “exploring these [cultural] frameworks can be particularly challenging in Western culture precisely because of two key Western ideologies: individualism [which she says is the belief that ‘we are each unique and stand apart from others, even those within our social groups’] and objectivity [which she describes as the belief that ‘it is possible to be free of all bias’].” These two “ideologies” conspire to “make it very difficult for white people to explore the collective aspects of the white experience.”

She thus challenges the idea of individualism as an impediment to appreciating how groups and group identity (e.g. rich and poor, able-bodied and disabled, heterosexual and gay) matter. Groups matter because we are “socialized into these groups collectively”: “watching and comparing ourselves to others,” while receiving “the same messages about what these groups mean, why being in one group is a different experience from being in another,” as filtered through the cultural media of “television, movies, news items, song lyrics, magazines, textbooks, schools, religion, literature, stories, jokes, traditions and practices, history, and so on.” In addition, she says, we are taught to “know that it is ‘better’ to be in one of these groups than to be in its opposite—for example, to be young rather than old, able-bodied rather than have a disability, rich rather than poor....”

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