Teachers across Michigan are learning “why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism” as part of a five-week “engagement book” study promoted by the Michigan Education Association teachers union.

“You are invited to a five-week, online book study on White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo,” the MEA posted under “professional development” on its website late last month. “This New York Times bestseller explores the counterproductive reactions white people have when their assumptions about race are challenged, and how these reactions maintain racial inequality.”

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The 1.5 hour Monday evening Zoom meetings are free for MEA members, and run from March 4 through April 1. They also provide 15 of the 150 State Continuing Education Clock Hours educators need to renew state issued certificates and licenses.

DiAngelo, a white academic who spent decades in diversity training, penned White Fragility in 2018 to promote her perception of systemic racism in America, which she blames largely on whites with an unconscious bias against black men.

The book dismisses efforts by whites to see past race as unhelpful in addressing racism, while criticizing concepts such as individualism, the American Dream, and objectivity. DiAngelo essentially “reduces all of humanity to two categories: white and other” and presents blacks as “sages, speaking truths that white people must cherish, and not challenge,” Kelefa Sanneh, a black columnist for The New Yorker, wrote in 2019.

White Fragility is one of several books and academic articles DiAngelo has penned on the term she coined and defined in The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy in 2011.

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“White Fragility is a state in which even a minimal challenge to the white position becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves including: argumentation, invalidation, silence, withdrawal and clams of being attacked and misunderstood,” she wrote. “These moves function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and maintain control.”

It’s a perspective the Michigan Education Association and its national affiliate, the National Education Association, believe is important for educators to convey to students, and it’s widely promoted in union communications.

Last summer, the NEA listed White Fragility among recommended reads for educators, particularly white educators, to “better understand their colleagues, students, and families they serve.”

“If you’re a White person who doesn’t know how to talk about Juneteenth – or how to address more fundamental, but sometimes uncomfortable, topics around race and racism – check out Acho’s book, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, recommended by the Michigan Education Association’s Center for Leadership and Learning,” read the union magazine, NEA Today. “Another title used in MEA’s book studies for union members? White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, which explores why White people are so bad at talking about racism.”

The support from the teachers union is a major reason why White Fragility made it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, which has prompted a variety of criticisms over the years about DiAngelo’s perspective and her work as an anti-bias corporate consultant.

Columnists from The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Independent, The Atlantic, Boston Review, and other publications have described DiAngelo’s work as “psychobabble,” “racist,” and “bizarrely disconnected from reality,” with reviews pointing out White Fragility is filled with “conjectures,” and “pseudo-intellectual horseshit.”

University of London’s Alan Sokal outlined exactly how White Fragility converts logical fallacies into “established truths” in an April 2023 article for the Journal of Philosophy of Education.

“DiAngelo rightly urges white people to be humble when reflecting upon their own racial views,” he wrote, “it is unfortunate that she fails to apply the same humility when considering her own theories.”

Black academics such as Lauren Michele Jackson, professor of African American studies at Northwestern University, have noted White Fragility is based mostly on white research, cutting to the core of the book’s premise.

“I couldn’t help but notice the relative dearth of contemporary black studies scholarship cited in White Fragility,” Jackson wrote in her 2020 review for Slate magazine.

From Jackson’s perspective: “Robin DiAngelo’s idea changed how white progressives talk about themselves – and little else.”