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White privilege lecture tells students white people ‘dangerous’ if they don’t see race

BOSTON — During a guest lecture at Boston University on Monday, University of Washington Professor Robin DiAngelo told the audience a “dangerous white person” sees people as individuals rather than by skin color.

DiAngelo, whose main field of work is “whiteness studies,” added that those who say they were taught to treat everyone the same deny black people of their reality, she said.

In making the claim, DiAngelo said she was lifting the terminology from her frequent co-facilitator at speaking engagements, black scholar Erin Trent Johnson.

DiAngelo’s comments were couched during a section of her talk titled “What Does It Mean To Be White” that discussed colorblindness and those who say “I was taught to treat everyone the same, or some version of that.”

“If you are being honest, you’ve probably said it,” she told the audience, then added that in reality no one in the room was taught to treat everyone the same. “Your parents could lecture you to do it [but] you don’t do it, you can’t do it, there is no human objectivity.”

She said when she hears people talk about treating everyone the same, it tells her “this person doesn’t understand basic socialization. This person doesn’t understand culture. This person is not self-aware.”

“And I need to give a heads up to the white people in the room,” DiAngelo said. “When people of color hear us say this, they’re generally not thinking, ‘Alright, I’m talking to a woke white person right now.’ Usually some version of eye-rolling is going on, and a wall is going up.”

“My friend Erin Trent Johnson … she says, ‘When I hear a white person say this, what I am thinking is: ‘This is a dangerous white person. This is a white person who is going to need to deny my reality.’”

DiAngelo’s sentiments stand in stark contrast to a famous alumnus of school, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who earned his PhD in theology from Boston University and famously pronounced that he had a dream that his four children “will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

But DiAngelo placed a great emphasis on racial identity throughout the lecture, and dedicated a significant portion of her introduction to acknowledging the fact that she herself is a white person.

“I want to be clear that as I stand up here with authority and a voice on this topic, I’m reinforcing whiteness and the centrality of the white view,” she said. “I’d like to be a little less white, which means a little less oppressive, oblivious, defensive, ignorant and arrogant.”

She also stated she was “going to admit to things white people never admit to” and because of “implicit bias,” the white people in the room will be more inclined to listen to her.

She discussed how racism is systemic in the media, the family, religion, education, economics, language, and criminal justice. The common definition of racism as “an individual who consciously does not like people based on race and is intentionally mean to them” allegedly protects this system of racism.

She also talked about the rampant sexism this country faces. One slide of her presentation demonstrated that the majority of politicians, directors, and police officers are male, and that it is sexist for one to suggest that maybe men “just happen to be” more inclined to go into these fields of work.

“We live in a patriarchy,” she affirmed, and even asserted her own husband is a product of the patriarchy.

She encouraged the audience to think in terms of race, and not the character of individual people, because all white people are racist to some degree, no matter what.

DiAngelo is a frequent guest speaker at campuses across the nation, coined the term “white fragility,” and recently wrote a book on the subject titled “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.”

MORE: Inventor of ‘white fragility’: Whites must stop becoming teachers 

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About the Author
Diana Soriano -- Boston University