“White Fragility” – Robin Diangelo

“White Fragility” has been sitting on my bookshelf for a while. I bought it back when I finally decided to get to all the racism/anti-racism books on my “want to read” virtual bookshelf during the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. Having read a few other books on the topic in the meantime, I’ve got to say that this one wasn’t among the best. If you take a look at the photo of the book in the bottom of the review, I have been adding orange post-its every time I came across something interesting and pink ones, every time I found something off. In this case, 35% of the passages I highlighted were due to negative reasons.

To start with the positive sides first, the book did contain some interesting and useful information. I came across some parts that I haven’t read about before, such as explanations about the “white women’s tears” concept among others. I felt like the most fitting target group for this book would be white people who think that they don’t have any racist thoughts/actions etc. within them. Whether these people would actually pick up this book is another story though…

All in all, my biggest criticism would probably be the fact that sources and references were often missing. The author’s assumptions and thoughts might come across as fine within a presentation or a workshop, when putting these ideas in writing though, I would expect more research to go into the individual topics. The storyline went from being very dense, strongly focusing on facts and figures, towards very theoretical parts. This made it quite difficult to follow at times and I needed to gather up a huge amount of attention. There were multiple typos, which is a bit of a pity that they haven’t been corrected during the 2019 reprint, whereas the book was first published in 2018 (I came across 3 different ones but there might be more).

Racism cannot be absent from your friendship. No person of color whom I’ve met has said that racism isn’t at play in his or her friendships with white people.

p. 81

-> “No person that she has met” is not a really relevant number or statistic.

Many in this generation claim that the election of Barack Obama as president shows that we are postracial. These polls were conducted before the presidency of Donald Trump, but as his election has made clear, we are far from being postracial.

p. 48

-> The vague mention of “many in this generation”…. Why aren’t the polls stated? They aren’t indicated within the sources.

Every aspect of being white discussed in this chapter is shared by virtually all white people in the Western context generally and the US context specifically.

p. 51

-> Once again, an assumption and a generalisation instead of openly saying that she concentrated her research on the US, as the book ended up being EXTREMELY US-centric.

Notice that none of the following claims characterize us as falsely accused or as beyond discussion; these claims suggest openness and humility:


– Oops!


p. 142

-> I couldn’t believe that the phrase “Oops” was stated as a fitting and correct reaction upon having uttered some racist statement…

I felt appalled by some passages where it was suggested that people of color need to do even MORE work, while already being discriminated against, being motivated by the author to additionally work on understanding white people. I generally had a problem with the author being white and getting a spotlight on the topic of racism. There are so many other authors of color that would deserve more visibility. To me, a double morality was illustrated within the following phrase in the beginning of the book, as well as the one after it, following shortly:

In speaking as a white person to a primarily white audience, I am yet again centering white people and the white voice. […] So though I am centering the white voice, I am also using my insider status to challenge racism. […] I would never suggest that mine is the only voice that should be heard, only that it is one of the many pieces needed to solve the overall puzzle.

p. xi

People who do not identify as white may also find this book helpful for understanding why it is often so difficult to talk to white people about racism.

p. xi

The book’s flaws and actual racism has been mentioned in various other reviews, which confirmed the feeling that I had while reading it (Doubek, Lozada, McEvoy & McWhorter, 2020). Some passages sounded straight out shocking to me and the fact that they have been put in print. One of such below:

In my childhood, there were many people of color around me. But I knew that if I was to improve my life, I would not stay in these neighborhoods; upward mobility would take me to whiter spaces, and it has. I did not maintain those early relationship with people of color, and no one who guided me encouraged me to do so.

p. 66

-> Why put the blame on people “guiding her in her life” on not having kept up friendships with people of color?!

For example, I was invited to a retirement party of a white friend. The party was a pot-luck picnic held in a public park. […] One gathering was primarily composed of white people, and the other appeared to be all black people. […] I felt a mild sense of anxiety as I considered that I might have to enter the all-black group, then mild relief as I realized that my friend was in the other group.

p. 53

Patrick Rosal writes poignantly about the pain of being mistaken for the help at a black-tie event celebrating National Book Award winners. […] I have made this assumption myself when I have been unable to hide my surprise that the black man is the school principal or when I ask a Latinx woman kneeling in her garden if this is her home.

p. 54

I was contemplating between giving the book a rating of either 1 or 2 out of 5 stars. I feel like so many things have been done wrong within it, especially in a book that appears on so many lists for readers to educate themselves on the topic of racism. I therefore settled on 1/5 ★ as I believe that its popularity shouldn’t be spreading further. Books that I read myself, enjoyed, appreciated and would suggest to you written by authors of color and touching upon the topic of racism would be the following:

And for German readers:

As I’ll be reading further ones, I’ll be extending this list.

“White Fragility” – Robin Diangelo

★☆☆☆☆ (1/5)

Edition: ISBN 978-0-141-99056-9
Penguin Books, 2019 (Originally published in 2018)


Doubek, J. (2020): “Linguist John McWhorter Says ‘White Fragility’ Is Condescending Toward Black People”. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2020/07/20/892943728/professor-criticizes-book-white-fragility-as-dehumanizing-to-black-people/. Accessed on: 14/03/2023.

Lozada, C. (2020): “White fragility is real. But ‘White Fragility’ is flawed.” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/06/18/white-fragility-is-real-white-fragility-is-flawed/. Accessed on: 14/03/2023.

McEvoy, J. (2020): “Sales Of ‘White Fragility’—And Other Anti-Racism Books—Jumped Over 2000% After Protests Began”. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jemimamcevoy/2020/07/22/sales-of-white-fragility-and-other-anti-racism-books-jumped-over-2000-after-protests-began/. Accessed on: 14/03/2023.

McWhorter, J. (2020): “The Dehumanizing Condescension of White Fragility“. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/07/dehumanizing-condescension-white-fragility/614146/. Accessed on: 14/03/2023.

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