Having led countless white people through workshops to get us to grapple with our own identity and to recognize whiteness as non-neutral, DiAngelo has a wealth of data to draw from for this book. She deftly leads the reader through many of the self-protecting and privilege-protecting responses we have when asked to acknowledge the systems which benefit us and harm our fellow humans who have black and brown skin. DiAngelo’s academic rigor is stellar, her data set is substantial, and she’s talking to white people from the inside; she’s one of us. So the content is excellent, well-reasoned, and convincing. The prose is decidedly academic in tone though, and requires work and focus to really understand. This isn’t a good introductory book to anti-racism. (For that see, So You Wanna Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo; How To Be Less Stupid About Race, Crystal Marie Fleming; You Can’t Touch My Hair, Phoebe Robinson; The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell, W. Kamau Bell)
It’s weakness may be the dry, brittleness of its prose, but it’s unlikely that you pick this book up to marvel at its literary beauty. Its strength is its ability to shift the reader’s paradigm and in its uniqueness. There are plenty of anti-racism books that describe our racist systems, that handily debunk standard racist myths and misconceptions, that share the personal experiences of black people trying to swim and breath in racist waters covered by racist air. There are not many books that focus on the racism that is embedded in the psyches of white people. Undoing that racism can be less like reading a book for self-development and more like doing painful psychotherapy. It’s perhaps the most unpleasant and simultaneously most effective anti-racist strategy we’ve got. Unsurprisingly, doing unpleasant self-analysis is not particularly popular among white people. DiAngelo’s goal is to demystify the process so that it is less intimidating, less unpleasant, and simply normalized. She does so. (So does Layla Saad in Me and White Supremacy.)
Reading is a solitary pursuit that requires no confrontation, no face-saving, and no shame. My Dad often says that reading is the only non-confrontational way to change a mind. So read it and practice feeling defensive but doing nothing about that feeling. If you’re a white person but don’t readily recognize yourself in these pages, read it again, at your own pace, until you do. This book can change you; my recommendation is you let it.