Provocative lecture on white fragility highlights 22nd President and Provosts lecture series

Robin DiAngelo, PhD with grey curly hair and glasses

Provocative lecture on white fragility highlights 22nd President and Provost’s lecture series

By Aaron Marshall

Many white people have purposeful work they must do to overcome the ideology of racial supremacy in American society and become actively anti-racist, according to Dr. Robin DiAngelo, the best-selling author of White Fragility.

DiAngelo, a University of Washington education professor who coined the term “white fragility” in a 2011 academic article, spoke Wednesday night as part of the 22th Annual President and Provost's Diversity Lecture & Cultural Arts Series to nearly 2,000 people gathered virtually. Throughout her frank presentation, DiAngelo served up stark facts and visual evidence about the continued white male domination of society's leading institutions such as government, Fortune 500 corporations, higher education, Hollywood, and the media.

After showing a slide of an all-white meeting of a group of Republican Congressmen known as the Freedom Caucus seated around a conference table, DiAngelo hammered home her broader point. “To be white is to belong and to have opportunity and chance to do networking,” she said. “It's to sit at those tables without seeing anything missing from those tables.”

The author of the New York Times best-selling book exploring the counterproductive reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, DiAngelo told the crowd that “racism is a system, not an event” and that everyone in our society becomes biased against others unknowingly by media and popular culture. She said the question isn't whether a person is racist but how systemic racism in our society has shaped their views of others. “How have I been shaped by this system?” she asked. “That is a lifetime process of unpacking.”

DiAngelo said the goal should be to move one's perspective on an anti-racist scale toward less discriminatory thinking. “I have racist ideology—there's no way I could not,” she said. “I'm swimming in it.”

Serving as a moderator through a question and answer session ending the program was Dr. James L. Moore III, vice provost for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the university's Chief Diversity Officer. After the event ended, Moore said he thought DiAngelo's presentation was thought-provoking for people of all racial backgrounds. “This lecture series is really about fostering these kinds of critical discussions on race and other central topics in the diversity, equity and inclusion space,” said Moore. “Professor DiAngelo's critique has got us all thinking about how systemic racism operates and how we might dig into these important conversations past the surface level.”