Robin DiAngelo is a great American capitalist marketing genius, up there with the inventor of the pet rock or the people who figured out how to brand water.
You, there. Yes, you, white person. Ever attended a wedding at which only white people were present? How about an all-white funeral? Ever watched as a black person mopped the floor? You, I’m afraid, are racist.
Lists of billionaires? Racist. Lists of top-grossing movies? Racist. Unselected Jeopardy categories? Racist. Today’s successor to the Ludovico technique has been ingeniously engineered by the White Fragility author, and America’s Race Whisperer, Robin DiAngelo. DiAngelo is a white lady who has gotten very, very rich speaking to litigation-averse corporations, campus groups, self-flagellating white progressives, and black allies joining the cause of white guilt, which is apparently like the rain in Blade Runner, a mephitic poison that is forever soaking everyone to the bone.
People have been mocking DiAngelo. We should be in awe of her instead. She’s the absolute master of this, a P. T. Barnum for our time. As detailed in a New York Times Magazine piece (from which the six examples I mentioned above are drawn), DiAngelo is a great American capitalist marketing genius, up there with the inventor of the pet rock or the people who figured out how to get rich by creating prestige brands of water. Like them, she didn’t invent anything useful, didn’t do any noteworthy work whatsoever. She simply exploited an opportunity. Someday there will be a wing devoted to her in the Marketers’ Hall of Fame. No, they’ll rename the whole institution for her. She’s that good.
Sure, what DiAngelo is selling is so toxic to society that what she has done is the 21st-century equivalent of inventing the Marlboro Man, but we all play the hand we’re dealt, or to put it more bluntly, why shouldn’t she profit from people’s stupidity? There’s a racist born every minute, which means that one minute after that, their parents turn into suckers who feel the need to buy an anti-racist baby book, or otherwise add their dollars to the gross sales of the anti-racism business. This is America: We show our love for an idea by showering our dollars on it.
In the Times Magazine profile, which was over a year in the making, DiAngelo proves to be a dazzlingly contemporary cross between a charismatic religious leader and a therapist. Does a televangelist ever tell you that you are without sin and no longer need to listen to his appeals? Not if he wants to keep up the payments on his fleet of Jaguars. Does a therapist ever tell you you’re cured? Not likely, although your therapist, or even your televangelist, probably didn’t get into the field as a pure business proposition. The genius of DiAngelo is that, as an author/consultant, she doesn’t even work in an industry tied to any traditional notion of medical or religious ethics. There’s no association or board or synod judging her against some predetermined code of conduct. She is merely an entrepreneur, her own splendid money-making machine. “Internalized white superiority is seeping out of my pores,” she tells her parishioners, setting an example by confessing and encouraging others to do the same. Listeners are in the same position as accused witches in Salem; you can’t prove you’re not a witch, just as you can’t prove you’re not a racist. If you don’t confess to being a racist right away, that marks you as a clandestine racist — the most insidious kind. Not being a racist is, of course, not an option, not if you’re white. She makes no attempt to establish empirical truth about any of these propositions — DiAngelo’s pitch is all about anecdotal evidence, feelings. “From whose subjectivity does the ideal of objectivity come?” she often asks, neatly suggesting in a single phrase both that there is no truth and that ad hominem disparagement should settle all questions.
DiAngelo’s ministerial mode is refreshingly old-school, harking back to the days when religion meant stern warnings about sin and damnation instead of Lite-FM affirmation, and (not coincidentally) America’s pews were full every week. Secular folk who have wandered far from any church didn’t know that what they really craved was a good and righteous tongue-lashing. DiAngelo gives it to them, breathing hot fire at the frightened Church of Guilt parishioners who pay upfront for their chastisement.
Black folk come along too, equally transfixed by DiAngelo’s gonzo lesson on how racism is behind everything. How reassuring it must be, for her black parishioners, to be told a comprehensive story of white supremacy as the root of all evils. Didn’t get that job? It must have been racism. Didn’t finish school? Racism. Been in trouble with the law? Racism, obviously. Thanks for listening, your credit card will be billed for $65 to $160, a white lady just got a little bit richer, come again next month to hear more about white iniquity! In an amusing sidebar in the Times Magazine piece, a black father at a different race-reeducation seminar (not one of DiAngelo’s) is asked to explain disparate educational outcomes and begins to suggest that culture in the home might play a part. This fellow — himself a racial-equity coach by trade! — is immediately cut off and told that racism is the only explanation that can be discussed.
Twenty years ago, no one would have taken you seriously if you argued that white supremacy was the source of all our ills, but DiAngelo is the personification of the moment. She was making up to $150,000 a month, on eight to ten gigs, even before the George Floyd killing. That is not counting book sales, which are prodigious. Her phone won’t stop ringing. We can’t bring back Floyd, but we can pay DiAngelo to tell us we’re complicit. Never mind that cops are just as likely to shoot white suspects as blacks — that’s not a business model. “Cops are sinners” is a niche idea. “White people are sinners” — that’s the blockbuster hook. That’s where the money is. All DiAngelo needed to become the Steven Spielberg of white-guilt performance was for all of the media to decide overnight to pour their energies into promoting the existence of white supremacy.
Is hiring DiAngelo to educate/browbeat your team likely to make anything better in any way? It’s hard to see how. People who consider themselves victims of racism will emerge angrier than before. People who don’t believe they are racist will feel resentment at being forced to sit through an attack session. People who fear they are racist will come out guiltier and more self-hating than before, will feel more powerfully than ever before that daily existence is a stroll through a minefield. All of these are negative, destructive feelings. DiAngelo and her fellow hucksters make the world more divided, surlier, less at ease. As recently as 2013, two-thirds of blacks and nearly three-quarters of whites thought race relations between blacks and whites were good. Will we ever experience such a moment again? I doubt it. There’s too much money to be made.