White Fragility KafkaTrap: Ms. DiAngelo, are you too fragile to admit your racism?
WASHINGTON: A recent book, White Fragility, seeks to prove who you are. Are you a racist? Be careful how you answer. “Yes” is an admission that you’re a racist; “no” is proof. That question is a “kafkatrap”.
Caught in a kafkatrap
Named for Franz Kafka, it describes the situation of Josef K., a man prosecuted for an unnamed crime on the basis of unseen evidence and for which there is no possible defense. The accusation itself is the proof. Eric Raymond coined the term “kafkatrapping” in 2010. He calls it “a form of argument that is so fallacious and manipulative that those subjected to it are entitled to reject it based entirely on the form of the argument, without reference to whatever particular sin or thoughtcrime is being alleged.”
“You’re a racist.”
“No, I’m not.”
“That’s proof that you’re a racist.”
Raymond calls that a Model A kafkatrap. The only response it deserves is, “Kiss my ***.”
The point of a kafkatrap (alternately “Kafka trap”) is not to discover the truth, persuade or present evidence. The point is to humiliate and ultimately destroy your opponent. And it’s a favored rhetorical device of race “theorists”.
Burn her, she’s a racist!
Prof. Robin DiAngelo has struck gold with this kafkatrap. Her book White Fragility is a New York Times bestseller. In it, DiAngelo delivers seminars that supposedly help promote racial inclusion and diversity. She charges $35,000 for two hours or $40,000 for a half-day seminar with workshops.
DiAngelo doesn’t define racism as something you do. She defines it as a system from which you – if you’re white – automatically benefit. Ms. DiAngelo has made a career of benefitting from being a white expert on racism.
She writes on her website:
“I grew up poor and white. While my class oppression has been relatively visible to me, my race privilege has not. In my efforts to uncover how race has shaped my life, I have gained deeper insight by placing race in the center of my analysis and asking how each of my other group locations have socialized me to collude with racism.
In so doing, I have been able to address in greater depth my multiple locations and how they function together to hold racism in place. I now make the distinction that I grew up poor and white, for my experience of poverty would have been different had I not been white”
Racism is systemic, not a matter of individual behavior. But within this system of racism, the behavior is either racist or anti-racist.
If your behavior undermines or attacks systems of white oppression, it is anti-racist. Otherwise, it is racist.
Under this framework, we arrive naturally at a kafkatrap. To deny your racism is evidence of racism. Your denial ignores the benefits that you, as a white person, receive from the pervasive system of racism in which you live. It doesn’t matter that you don’t use this (novel) definition of the word. The old definition of “racism” is itself racist.
That definition is designed to absolve white people who benefit from racism from blame for a racist system.
Do you disagree with that redefinition of racism? Do you demand a definition of racism that allows for a defense against the charge? That demand is racist. Furthermore, to question this new definition of racism – to question the existence of pervasive, systemic racism – is also racist.
Proving that you aren’t a racist
If you want to be perceived as anti-racist – something that many corporate heads and business owners earnestly desire – then a quick and easy way is to institute diversity training in your workplace. The diversity, equity, and inclusion industry is worth about $8 billion per year. You can purchase courses and seminars from Cornell University and other schools. Or from private companies like DiAngelo’s, with training online or in person.
If businesses care about the bottom line, they must believe that these courses are worth the money. Most have done their due diligence to purchase the most cost-effective training available. Mustn’t they?
No, they musn’t.
They say that no one is more easily conned than a con man. Universities – among the biggest con artists in the diversity business – are suckers for diversity training. But large firms are also solidly on the bandwagon. And their stockholders would be shocked – shocked! – to learn that they’re buying snake oil.
Diversity training doesn’t work. The evidence says that it doesn’t. But in the world of postmodern theory and critical race theory, no one needs evidence.
Proof? Who needs proof?
In the natural sciences, and even in the social sciences, “theory” describes a set of ideas or models that produce testable hypotheses. Einstein’s theory of gravity – General Relativity – predicted that mass would bend space, and thus bend the path of a beam of light. During a solar eclipse in the early 20th century, astronomers looked at the apparent position of a star with a line of sight close to the surface of the sun. If that star had been exactly where it was supposed to be, Einstein’s theory would have been proved wrong.
But it was shifted by the amount the theory predicted.
General Relativity wasn’t proved correct, but the evidence didn’t falsify it, either. And in the century since then, its predictions have only been confirmed.
So, what falsifiable predictions are made by postmodern theory? Just as postmodernists have redefined “race”, they seem to have redefined “theory”. They’re blithely unconcerned with falsification.
As it is, DiAngelo explains that the failure of diversity, equity, and inclusion training to increase diversity, equity, or inclusion is further evidence that the training is needed. Its failure shows that not only are white people racist and fragile and resistant to training, they also have no endurance. Some of them want to do better, but they have little stamina.
So they need more training. In fact, they need a lifetime of training supported by a stream of training materials that she will happily provide.
Your race and your racism define you
To revisit the above dialogue:
“You’re a racist.”
“No I’m not.”
“Your denial is proof of your racism.”
“I’ve done nothing to harm minorities.”
“Racism isn’t what you’ve done, it’s what you are; it’s a system that you benefit from because of your whiteness. Your actions are either racist or anti-racist, and if you aren’t actively fighting the white power structure/American institutions/privilege, you’re actions aren’t anti-racist, so they’re racist.”
“But that’s a redefinition of ‘racist’.”
“Your old definition was racist, so we’ve redefined it. Educate yourself. Don’t ask a minority for help, though; they’re not there to educate you.”
“Can I ask a white person to educate me?”
“Sure, I’m happy to help. I’ve got a two-hour seminar for $35,000.”
“I can’t afford that.”
“Buy my book and internalize it, or you’re a racist.”
There are no witches here!
To be fair to corporate chiefs and university presidents, buying ineffective training isn’t actually worthless. Defending and settling lawsuits for gender and racial harassment and discrimination is expensive. Proof that you are providing training to your employees on diversity and inclusion can help insulate your enterprise from lawsuits. If the world believes in witches, people who don’t believe in witchcraft will still find it useful to show that they try hard not to hire witches.
Otherwise, the mob might come for them. And mobs don’t think and they have no reason or compassion or sense of fairness.
The postmodern approach to race has metastasized from universities to the news media and businesses. It also has traction in a number of local governments. Though still a minority view, it is increasingly potent, vicious, and destructive. In practice, it puts people subjected to training in the position of those forced to attend Maoist self-criticism sessions and re-education camps.
The only way out is to confess your crimes. Consider the case of Seattle’s “race and social justice” curriculum for the city’s 10,000 employees.
By her own standards, we would have to conclude that DiAngelo is a racist. She profits from a reasonable desire for racial justice without providing any. That is, she profits from supposed systemic racism and mechanisms of white privilege without making the world even slightly better for minorities, not even by hefty donations to minority scholarships or health clinics serving the poor.
In a world where everything is either racist or anti-racist, is that not the very essence of racism?
Where the racists are
For more on the racist nature of DiAngelo’s work – using the word “racist” here in the traditional, not postmodern sense of the word – consider this interview with John McWhorter, a linguist and associate professor of English at Columbia University. And not incidentally, a black man. DiAngelo would discount that as irrelevant. We should listen to black people on race unless they disagree with the orthodoxy in which case they’ve merely internalized racism and need to shut up and educate themselves. But here it is.
So, are you a racist?