The Highlighter #209: The Limits of White Fragility

Hi there, loyal readers, and happy Thursday! Last week’s edition was one of the most popular ever. Thank you for opening it, reading the blurbs and articles, sending me your thoughts, sharing the issue with your friends and family, and encouraging folks to subscribe.

You’re going to like today’s issue, too. I’ve organized the articles in pairs, meant to be read together, if you have time. The lead article, a critique of Robin DiAngelo’s work on white fragility, goes well with a surprising profile of Justice Clarence Thomas. (Trust me.) After the photo break, you’ll find that the video on the teacher shortage in Chicago complements a piece on the housing crisis in California. Please let me know what you think of these article pairings!

+ One more thing: I continue to think about The 1619 Project, and I’d like to make a space to discuss it more formally. If you’re interested in taking a deeper dive, email me.

The Limits of White Fragility

If you’re a white progressive and you haven’t read White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo, consider yourself woefully behind the times. (No judgment.) Published last year, the book explores what happens when white people are made to consider the impact of their race. Some get angry, some clam up, some cry, some perform. No matter the behavior, the response is to return to the racist status quo. To break this cycle, Dr. DiAngelo leads “Seeing the Racial Waters,” a workshop designed to help participants understand and interrupt their white fragility.

Lauren Michele Jackson, author of the forthcoming book, White Negroes, which focuses on cultural appropriation, has respect for Dr. DiAngelo’s scholarship but disagrees with her practice. Like Ijeoma Oluo, Dr. Jackson questions the point of workshops, even when white people are seemingly “saying the right things.” She writes: “Agreement and enthusiasm can stall conversation just as well as aggression, withdrawal, and tears.” Maybe what’s happening in America, Dr. Jackson suggests, is that white progressives are just getting better at concealing their racism. (22 min)

+ Want to read this article with my annotations? So glad you asked. Also, I’d like to thank my colleague Delency for sharing this piece.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas And His Radical Vision of Race

Before he became the longest-serving justice on the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas revered Malcolm X, devoured Richard Wright, championed the Black Panthers, protested the Vietnam War, and fought for Bobby Seale and Angela Davis. Who knew? This outstanding profile by Corey Robin reframes Justice Thomas as an advocate for Black self-determination, condemning white progressives and regarding integration and affirmative action as continuations of Jim Crow and white supremacy. (22 min)

America’s Newest Outsourced Job: Public School Teachers

The teacher shortage is real — and getting worse. Districts across the country are pulling out all the stops. They’re issuing emergency credentials, doling out signing bonuses, eliminating the basic skills test, founding residency programs, and raising pay. In Chicago, where 700 teaching positions remain unfilled, they’re taking the next step: recruiting teachers from the Philippines. This video is equal parts inspiring and dispiriting. (10 min)

California Can’t Solve Its Housing Crisis

Ask a Californian, and they’ll say, “Of course I want more affordable housing” — that is, until you talk specifics. Make more units, but not near my house. Let people sleep in their cars, but not park in this lot. Reduce homelessness, but don’t build navigation centers. Raise money, but lower my taxes. This article, which explains the rise and fall of SB 50, offers yet another glimpse of a rich and inequitable state that cannot get its act together. (17 min)

+ Reader Annotations: Loyal reader and VIP Philippe texted in his appreciation of “Dear White Teacher,” which was last week’s most popular article. If you want to talk with Philippe about it, please let me know. (I haven’t asked him, but he’s a good guy; I’m sure he’ll say yes.)

Last week’s doomsday article, “The Proliferation of Plastic,” caught the attention of loyal reader Kati, who commented, “It’s pretty much all I think about now. It’s all my friends and I talk about at get-togethers.” I’m in your camp, Kati: I’ve found myself sharing startling statistics with friends — especially the ones about how nearly all “recyclable” plastic isn’t recycled.

Keep these annotations coming, loyal readers! This newsletter is better when all 530+ of us read and think and share our thoughts.

Look at all the reading you’ve done! Too bad you’ve reached the end of this week’s issue of The Highlighter. Use the thumbs 👍🏻 below to tell me what you thought. Or hit reply and send me a quick message. Also, let’s please welcome our 8 new subscribers Gena, Will, Kim, Aaron, Loretta, Ashley, Jana, and Jenna. Hope the newsletter is a good match for you! If you like The Highlighter, please help it grow and get better. I appreciate your support. Here are a few ways you can help:

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