Last week, we began a robust conversation about Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. With the wide range of responses we’ve received, it has only become clearer that engaging with this popular secular book is vital, particularly as we continue to face social and political unrest surrounding issues of race. As we have reached the conclusion of part one, we are taking a moment to pause and reflect on all of the contributions we’ve had thus far.
We began our series with higher education professional and author Allison Ash, with her article “White Fragility: Why this Book is Important for Evangelicals.” Ash provided a very favorable review of White Fragility, with some important caveats. Firstly, White Fragility is a book written for white people, specifically those who are at all invested in furthering racial justice and reconciliation. Its primary contribution is helping white people identify and describe white supremacy and to equip those same people to understand and overcome the difficulty that often arises when talking about these issues. Ash also presented a brief history of the complicity and often perpetration of racism within the Christian church. However, Ash considers White Fragility to be primarily a means to examine white supremacy as it exists today, something the white evangelical church has failed to do. Her hope for the way forward is that white evangelicals will glean the truth about racial trauma to then be empowered to provide hope through a gospel lens.
Next, we summarized a recent book review by George Yancey. Yancey is a professor of sociology at Baylor University. His take on White Fragility was far less positive. While Yancey agreed with DiAngelo’s basic assumptions of systemic racism and that whites do get defensive, he posits that the concepts and tactics DiAngelo employed were more harmful than good. Furthermore, Yancey argues the theory she presented has no empirical founding, as she does not provide evidence for even her most base claim: that there is a unique fragility about white people when it comes to talking about race. We concluded our summary with a brief introduction to Yancey’s counter-solution called the “Mutual Accountability Model,” which poses win-win solutions for all instead of isolated groups. (Yancy is writing more for the symposium this week.)
Florida-based church planter Danny Slavich offered an even-handed review that examined both the best and the worst of the book through a theological lens. Slavich walks readers through a few primary questions: why is the book so popular and so controversial, and what are the helpful and problematic aspects of it? Slavich is in favor of an enlivened theological vision that allows Christian readers to learn about the racial realities DiAngelo describes while remaining firm in biblical truth about the nature if the human heart. White Fragility is not a Christian book, so of course it is based on nonbiblical assumptions, yet when it is examined through the eyes of Scripture, it can still help us to see areas we need to address.
Neil Shenvi followed this review with a slightly different approach then most of our contributors. Instead of dealing directly with White Fragility, Shenvi provides an examination of the worldview from which it was written. Shenvi’s intent is to better prepare Christian readers to interpret DiAngelo’s book without unknowingly absorbing her framework. He offers a brief examination into DiAngelo’s views on interlocking systems of oppression, subjective knowledge, and race through providing a fuller-bodied look into DiAngelo’s previous work. Shenvi concludes with a suggestion to read the book, even if it is only read to better understand our present culture.
Our final contributor for part one was William Murrell, dean of Every Nation Seminary, offered a theological critique of DiAngelo’s White Fragility. Similarly to a few of our other contributors, Murrell notes that DiAngelo’s assumptions are incompatible with a Christian worldview. More specifically, she presents a deficient doctrine of both sin and redemption. DiAngelo’s conception of racism blames its existence on society, not the sinful nature of humankind, and offers no hope of true redemption, only an alleviated sense of guilt. According to Murrell, Christianity offers insight into the true cause behind racism as well as the hope that these issues can not only be lessened, but overcome. (Note: William Murrell sent his review to me a few weeks ago, planning to send that to the leaders of the Every Nation movement. I asked him to let me build a symposium around it, and he graciously did.)
We look forward to beginning part two of our White Fragility series tomorrow. We will be hearing from several authors as they respond to the praise and criticism raised by our first-round contributors.
Our part two contributors include:
- Sheila Caldwell is the Chief Intercultural Engagement Officer at Wheaton College, IL. She received a M.A. from Argosy University and a Ph.D. in education from the University of Georgia.
- Daniel Yang is the Director of the Send Institute, an institute of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He was trained as a church planter and holds and M.Div. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is working on a PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
- John Richards Jr. is the pastor of assimilation at Saint Mark Baptist Church. He is a graduate of the Howard University School of Law and Fuller Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing his PhD.
- George Yancey will write a new article in part two.
Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. Sitara Roden and The Exchange Team contributed to this article.