Showing posts with label American history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label American history. Show all posts

Monday, January 2, 2023

Citizens of London- A Book Review

 Citizens of London

The Americans Who Stood With Britain in its Darkest, Finest Hour


By Lynne Olson


Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton


Lynne Olson tells the exciting story of three Americans in Britain's wore torn capitol whose passionate embrace of the British solitary stand against the Nazis served as a catalyst that would eventually link America and Britain in an incredibly close fighting force against the enemy. Olson’s masterful presentation reveals how three different men— George Winant, Edward Murrow, and Averell Harriman—interacted with Churchill, Roosevelt, and a cast of other Anglo-American leaders on the world stage between 1939 and 1945. As she describes these relationships following the course of the war, we learn the crucial role of close connections and trust in the arduous melding of an international allied force to defeat the axis powers.

The three men are different. Winant is a respected diplomat with an amazing ability to empathize with, and gain the respect of, British leaders as well as the exhausted working class who were the backbone of survival whilst younger Brits were flung into battles around the world. Murrow is the authoritative American voice who brought the London Blitz to the living rooms of America. Later he became the trusted voice of America’s entry into the global conflict and the ultimate path to victory. Harriman was a businessman who inserted himself into key leadership positions in London, Moscow, and elsewhere.

As a psychologist, I appreciate Olson’s exploration of interpersonal relationships and romantic attachments that bind people together in ways only possible for people willing to immerse themselves in another culture. Each man had a sense of purpose and an awareness of what needed to be done if democracy was to survive the onslaught of the dictators. But Olson isn’t just focused on the external tensions of their assigned work and personal relationships. She looks at the toll of war on their minds and bodies where snubs hurt, stress saps intrapersonal resources, depression mixes with exhaustion, and adjusting to postwar life is far from an easy task.



Olson, L. (2011). Citizens of London:  The Americans who stood with Britain in its darkest, finest hour. New York: Random House.

Available from AMAZON

Geoffrey W. Sutton is a retired psychologist and Emeritus Professor of Psychology. website

Publications on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

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Monday, November 21, 2022

Elizebeth The Code Smasher – A Review


The Woman Who Smashed Codes

   A True Story of Love, Spies, 
   and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies


   Jason Fagone


Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton

Elizebeth Smith (1892-1980) is the woman who smashed the codes of Nazis in World War II. Her story, told by Jason Fagone, reads like one of the best mystery novels. I recommend The Woman Who Smashed Codes to anyone interested in the contribution of women to science and democracy. And to anyone interested in the intriguing world of spies, the foundations of Western intelligence agencies, or World War II.

 Elizebeth (spelt with an “e” not an “a”) was often overshadowed by her high profile husband, William Friedman, the dean of American Cryptology. Elizebeth is an American Hero--this book tells her story.

Elizebeth Smith of Huntington Indiana began her professional career as a Quaker schoolteacher. She, and her husband to be, were hired by the wealthy supporter of scientific investigations, George Fabyan to work at Riverbank Laboratories on suspected hidden messages by Francis Bacon in the works of William Shakespeare. Elizebeth and William worked together, married, and moved on from the Shakespeare project to establish a Department of Codes and Ciphers, which contracted with the US government to crack World War I messages.

After the couple left Riverbank, Elizebeth cracked smuggler’s codes during the prohibition era. She headed the unit at the Coast Guard, which became part of the US Navy. Her unit was responsible for breaking the codes of the expanding Nazi network in South America. Her department later coordinated work with the British efforts at Bletchley Park.

The couple raised two children. After the war, Elizebeth spent many years caring for her husband who struggled with depression and a series of heart attacks. He died in 1969 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. She lived to age 88 and died in New Jersey. Her ashes were taken to her husband’s grave.

Cite this review

Sutton, G. W. (2022, November 21). Elizebeth the code smasher. Interdisciplinary Journal of Book Reviews. Retrieved from


Fagone, J. (2018). The woman who smashed codes. San Francisco: Dey St. 

    Available on AMAZON.

Related Posts

Women and World War II

A Woman of No Importance

The Light of Days

 Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

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Saturday, March 27, 2021

JESUS AND JOHN WAYNE - A book review




How White Evangelicals       

Corrupted a Faith and

Fractured a Nation


   Kristin Kobes Du Mez

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton


Kristin Kobes Du Mez begins and ends her assault on militaristic white American evangelical men with their contemporary sociopolitical leader, former president, Donald Trump.

In the Introduction we learn the short doctrinal list of what it means to be a Bible-believing evangelical, but the author posits that American evangelicals are more than a set of theological statements. Instead, since the early 1900s they have embraced a John Wayne view of what it means to be a Christian man—a powerful warrior for country and God—a man who leads his troops into battle to uphold the values of God’s chosen people, the Americans.

It was the title, Jesus and John Wayne, that was off-putting. I didn’t grow up with John Wayne films or a love of American westerns. I was after all British and even after living in America, we were more likely to watch sitcoms on TV rather than see Westerns in the movies. But my Canadian friend, Martin Mittlestadt, kept mentioning Jesus and John Wayne. I’m glad he did. Here’s my review.


As we follow the evangelical troops through history—mostly the last 50 years—we learn about the power of high-profile white men whose vision of American Christianity has dictated the distinctive roles that ordinary evangelical Christian men and women should play if they want to make America great. According to Du Mez, the current state of Christian America has been long in the making.

We saddle up in Chapter 1 when Americans are off to fight in World War I for God and country bolstered by the powerful voice of Billy Sunday and his contempt for pacifists. After a few more pages, we learn that a group of fundamentalists (her label) formed the National Association of Evangelicals in 1942. America was of course at war battling evil empires, which fits well with the image of what makes America Great. So far, I don’t see a problem. We British were fighters too and American troops and fire power saved the day. What’s not to like?

Soon, evangelicals would embrace a handsome “All-American” man, Billy Graham, as an unofficial leader. His rise to prominence was fuelled by the media and the conversion of cowboy Stuart Hamblen. Graham supported a growing evangelical network that included Wheaton College, Fuller Seminary, the National Religious Broadcasters, Campus Crusade for Christ, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, to name a few well-known evangelical outposts.

Billy Graham hardly seemed like an extremist. True, his views on women are outdated but they weren’t unusual for the 1950s. And even looking back, he hardly seems like an aggressive religious bully. I’m not riding with the same posse yet.

Graham’s entry into politics had a rough start with President Truman, but he encouraged WWII hero Dwight D. Eisenhower to run for president. He did. And Ike invited Billy to help with religious support, which he did. Thus, early on, we see the link between white evangelicals and conservative politics. I get this as an important connection but, we British liked Ike too.

Our author pauses to backtrack a bit to trace the rise of John Wayne as his movies showed boys how to become swaggering men with a funny accent and led them to embrace a fierce anticommunist conservatism. Now I remember my boyhood friends trying to walk and say stuff like John Wayne did. I don’t know what they said but one old quote captures a lot of meaning:

“If everything isn’t black and white, I say, ‘Why the hell not?’”

Du Mez brings Jesus and John Wayne together in a quote from Baptist Alan Bean:

“The unspoken mantra of post-war evangelicalism was simple: Jesus can save your soul; but John Wayne will save your ass.”


We’re in the 1970s now and learning about women.

Marabel Morgan writes a bestseller defining evangelical womanhood in The Total Woman. I remember that book, but I never read it. Apparently, evangelical women learn the secret of a happy Christian marriage, which involves treating their men like kings, catering to their needs, and admiring their masculinity. The biblical fix for marital strife: wives living in submission to their husbands—including sex. My wife says she had a hard time with the old traditional marriage vows in 1973—that bit about “to obey.” Anyway, we pledged our troths and we're still married.


Du Mez takes us on a rough ride through the manifest destiny of evangelical history. Story after story reveals generation after generation of white evangelical men preaching a gospel of male headship in the home, in the pulpit, and in society. Of course, men as preachers is normal in church, where men have ruled for nearly 2,000 years.

Here’s the genealogy in the gospel according to Du Mez. In the beginning, God called Billy Graham and he begot Franklin who lived as a fundamentalist leader unto the present. Jerry Falwell begot Jerry Falwell who declined in influence after Jesus and John Wayne was published. James Dobson dared to discipline and created a family-values empire characterized by strong men, disciplined children, and loving wives. Bill Gothard begat a decades-long ministry promoting men as leaders in a god-to-man chain of command. By the 1980s, Tim and Beverly LaHaye joined with Jerry Falwell and they created the foundations for the Religious Right. The Moral Majority was born at the end of the 70s in time to support the highly popular Hollywood Cowboy, Ronald Reagan and the Christian conference warrior favourite, Oliver North.

And that’s not all. Some golden oldies from the 80s were: Phyllis Schlafly, R. J. Rushdoony, Howard Phillips, Gary North, Pat Robertson (God told him to run for president), D. James Kennedy, Tony Perkins, Bill Bright, Ken Starr, Michael Farris, Jesse Helms, John Ashcroft, Trent Lott, Richard DeVos, Elsa Prince, Erik Prince, Wayne LaPierre, Richard Viguerie, Grover Norquist, Gary Bauer, Paul Weyrich.

This is the era of the televangelists and their sex scandals: Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Marvin Gorman. These evangelicals happen to be Pentecostals--a group I have studied a lot. I guess their moral failures required a mention. Perhaps Du Mez wants us to see a preview of evangelicals gone wild, which will come later.

You might recall that the Clintons weren’t the kind of Christians loved by the evangelical juggernaut. But Bill does provide justification for the Religious Right to call attention to the need for men of character when choosing a president. You can tell Du Mez is setting us up for a “go-figure” moment with The Donald.

In the 1990s, the Christian culture war gets some powerful support from the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and the cast at Fox News. Bill McCartney kicks off Promise Keepers and a revival of Christian manhood. On the clergy front, John Piper and Wayne Grudem explain “complementarianism”—that’s God’s design for the two sexes who are equal before God but different when in comes to their gender roles. (In case you didn't know, evangelicals generally believe God created only two sexes and each matches their gender.)

Another component of the evangelical good news is that God has given his people sex to enjoy. So, sex evangelists Josh McDowell and Josh Harris become popular. Sex also gets a boost from the likes of Mark Driscoll on Mars. Stay tuned, the purity ball will get tarnished by the end of the book.

Through the decades, high profile white evangelical men have one target or another to galvanize the troops’ hunger for an enemy worthy of righteous anger and godly hate. You know the phrase, “hate the sin” to which some add, “and love the sinner.” Two persistent top ranked sins are abortion and same-sex relationships. These two sins have stood the test of time when it comes to defining features of who is an American evangelical.

Somewhere along the line, anti-abortion becomes pro-life. And, in one form or another, the evangelicals in this litany will remind America about homosexuality—it’s a word with considerable purchase unlike the preferred letters LGBTQ+. Du Mez repeats the abortion and homosexual issues, perhaps because they occur so frequently in the ongoing culture war, which has not yet ended. By my Kindle count of her book, abortion = 51 and homosexual = 32 occurrences.

After 911, Islam replaced communism as the major threat to Christian America. Socialism is in there somewhere too but Du Mez doesn’t make much of the socialism taunt.

The evangelicals are rocked by the election of president Barack Obama—no surprise there.

All this history leads up to the red-capped Donald Trump 2016 election triumph for white evangelical Christians. Du Mez traces his rise in the primaries and the powerful defences evangelical leaders deliver to cover outlandish comments and hypermasculine sex-infused juicy stories in the media. We are reminded that 81% of white evangelical voters carried Trump into the White House. What about his immorality…his foul mouth, divorces, and Stormy’s sex? Du Mez recaps the evangelical defence. I refer to John Wayne: 

“Never apologize and never explain – it’s a sign of weakness.”

In the final chapter, Du Mez leaves the presidency to focus on the demise of hypermasculine clergy. One after another, men fall from positions of authority. They are tagged for their aggressive leadership or their sexual abuse. Du Mez strips so many men of their moral robes that it seems like a sexual pandemic. They stand before us naked as their violations of women, girls, and boys appear in the media.

Du Mez concludes her cultural critique:

…understanding the catalyzing role militant Christian masculinity has played over the past half century is critical to understanding American evangelicalism today, and the nation’s fractured political landscape. Appreciating how this ideology developed over time is also essential for those who wish to dismantle it. What was once done might also be undone.


Some Thoughts

Du Mez writes in an easy-to-read style as she weaves together quotes, survey data, and historical events to show the close connection between white evangelical male leaders and Republican politics, which culminated in their greatest moment in recent history with a friend in the White House who served four years as a John Wayne-like cultural warrior for their agenda. Like knights at the proverbial round table, evangelicals finally had a king they could follow. They won a major battle and they remain in charge of vast cultural, religious, and geographic territory.

I recommend Jesus and John Wayne to anyone who wants to understand the powerful connection between militant white American evangelicals and their champion, former Bible-carrying President, Donald Trump. However, I have a few thoughts about the psychosocial implications of her work.

1.  Du Mez is a historian, and I am not. I won’t pretend to critique her work as history. However, I am aware that the biblical authors praised the ancient warriors who, credited God’s leadership as they killed the inhabitants of Canaan and reached their promised land. And thanks to the evangelical’s American president, Israel’s capital at Jerusalem was finally recognised with an embassy move. The history of the warrior God is thousands of years old. And anyone familiar with Christianity knows evangelicals believe Jesus will come again to ride a crimson tide of sinner’s blood in the final battle of humankind.

So, I think what’s missing from Du Mez castigation is an appreciation of the way fundamentalists read the same sacred text known to Du Mez. John Wayne is a crusader by another name. True, the gun is mightier than the sword. But in the hands of fundamentalists, the sacred text is a powerful two-edged sword dividing truth from error, right from wrong, good from evil. The sword cuts in two-ways.

I doubt we would have a Jesus and John Wayne moment if Christianity did not have a warrior God who, according to classic theology, never changes. 

And I doubt we would have a large militant evangelical force if American clergy learned to read the sacred text in a less fundamentalist manner.

Psychologically, fundamentalism is quite appealing. A clear-cut narrative separates good from evil, fits ancient traditions, and reduces the need for that slow cognitive effort (see Kahneman) needed to find nuances in old texts and contemporary issues. (More on the psychology of fundamentalism.) In my view, to undo the connection, Christian leaders will need to deal with the warrior God and consistently communicate more viable interpretations of the sacred text.

2.  I don’t see a lot of women in the battle. Du Mez does not ignore women’s voices. And of course, she is a woman with a strong voice. Perhaps it’s not her fault. I mean, the point is that evangelical women were good women if they submitted to a man’s authority. However, there are evangelical women, many of whom are in the Pentecostal and Charismatic tribes, who believe in equality (see pcpj position). If Du Mez revises her work, I’d suggest she consider giving more time to evangelical women who don't affirm the submissive rhetoric.

3.  My study of moral philosophy and psychology suggests the importance of emotion as vital to understanding the powerful forces at work beyond the beliefs documented in Jesus and John Wayne. Du Mez has aptly exposed the considerable downside of slavish support for the moral virtues of authority, loyalty, and that which is sacred and pure without a consideration of the importance of such virtues to a well-ordered society. Her focus on the harm done to women and society as well as the damage caused by inequality is noteworthy and should not be missed. 

I suggest a broader moral sense (see The Righteous Mind) and a recognition of the depth of emotion giving rise to the powerful motivations she documents would provide a stronger basis for considering how we might undo the damage of an extremely divided society. Fundamentalist morality is broadly based on foundations or authority, loyalty, and purity, which Du Mez does not fully consider as she focuses on the morality of equality and harm.

4. The conclusion leaves us wanting a solution. Consider this quote from the conclusion:

Appreciating how this ideology developed over time is also essential for those who wish to dismantle it. What was once done might also be undone.

I agree that a cognitive appreciation of what happened is important to undoing the harmful effects of vicious rhetoric, misguided “all in” obedience to self-styled authorities who rob us of freedom even as they claim the banner of freedom, and a shameful call to uphold that which is sacred and pure while supporting immoral conduct with excuses and misplaced loyalty; however, understanding does not lead to change as any psychotherapist knows. Galvanizing action to change evangelical minds requires a strategy that recognizes the powerful role of human emotions coupled with widely promoted militant interpretations of the Bible that give rise to unrighteous minds and the concomitant violent behaviour that threatens the foundations of democracies. 

For now, it seems evangelical culture has been bifurcated. Fundamentalists have captured more and more cultural territory including evangelical colleges and universities. Many elites have escaped to find a home in progressive Christianity leaving behind an unarmed remnant to anxiously survive in no man’s land.

About Du Mez

Kristin Kobes Du Mez is a professor of history at Calvin University and the author of A New Gospel for Women. She has written for the Washington PostChristianity TodayChristian Century, and Religion & Politics, among other publications. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

About this reviewer

Geoffrey W. Sutton is a psychologist, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, and author of A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures and over 100 publications.


Du Mez, K. K. (2020). Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. Liveright: New York. AMAZON LINK

Book -- technical notes:

Introduction + 16 chapters + conclusion in 304 pages followed by acknowledgements, notes, end matter for 356 pages.

Related posts

A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures (Reviews)

The Better Angels of our Nature

Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy

The Righteous Mind

The Bible Tells Me So...

Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 

Dr. Kristin Du Mez on Jesus and John Wayne

An image I saw in a local store comes to mind.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Black Church Story and Song - A Review


The Black Church

 This is our Story.

 This is our Song.


By Louis Gates Jr.

 and others

Reviewed by

  Geoffrey W. Sutton

This 2-part special on PBS condenses some 400 years of African American Christian history into 4 hours. I add my appreciation to the praise of more popular editorials and comments who liked the presentation. The PBS page includes a variety of additional information.

I understand the criticism by those who point to people or events omitted from the narrative. I am less inclined to be critical because I have not studied "The Black Church." I understand from a search online that universities offer several courses in programs devoted to Black Church or African American church studies. A 4-hour documentary cannot possibly cover what is included in even one 30+ hour course.

I did wonder about the phrase, "The Black Church," which certainly leaves the impression that all Black Americans share the same beliefs, practices, and values. Now I see that the term is a sociological construct capturing a more or less list of features about Black American religion that developed during the 200+ years of slavery, continued during the era or segregation, and provided a source of empowerment during the movement for civil rights. Of course, the work of the Black Church is not done.

The PBS program does a good job of helping viewers learn the primary features of this sociological construct aptly presented in the subtitle about stories and songs. There is a nice balance of moving back and forth between story and song in the narrative. Appropriately, Gates interviews people who are experts in the primarily Protestant Christian stories mixed with stories of Black history--as others have said, The Black Church was an invisible church. In the history of music, we listen to spirituals and gain insight into the importance of spirituals beyond Sunday worship to daily life on plantations and during marches for freedom. As with the expert interviews commenting on  stories, we hear from Black artists about their spiritual and musical careers.

I think the video series might have explained the concept of The Black Church early on. The concept is obviously not fixed as even in the 21st century, African Americans continue to address inequality and injustice as such appear in contemporary laws, policies, and attitudes. 

The Black Church offers an opportunity for people like me to better appreciate their history and richness of their spirituality as well as the importance of the church to nourish them amidst a culture of repression.

Gates evokes emotion as many stories bring a smile and feelings of joy and others provoke anger at injustice and deep sorrow for painful experiences. The stories and songs make the whole presentation a moving experience.

Gates does not ignore the concerns of the church, which are also faced by white evangelicals and other Christians. Examples include sexism, genderism, and the role of social change and politics.


It is possible that some viewers would come away from the series with a stereotype of African American spirituality. So, a couple of points about diversity.

There are many Black Christians in Catholic churches. And many of these Catholics had roots in Spanish and French North America, which covered considerably more territory than the smaller British colonies on the Atlantic seaboard. Their story is different. And their story is about African Americans and their faith.

The PBS special does mention Islam, but it is not easy to see how African American Muslims fit with The Black Church story. The same may be said about African Americans in other faith traditions.


In the end, The Black Church becomes more like a metaphor for Black faith traditions. The emphasis on story and song makes a lot of sense and the examples of preaching and singing inspire. It is not just an academic treatise as Gates asks others about the nature of their faith and then makes it personal as he tells the story of his conversion in the church where it happened.

The Black Church is a two-part series. Here is an interview with Henry Louis Gates Jr. about the series.

Related Posts

Slavery and Racism

Psychology of Race and Ethnicity

Do the Shackles of Slavery Haunt Christian Moral Teaching?

Black Lives Matter - Love Your Neighbor

Overcoming Prejudice- Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Black Church book on Amazon

The Black Church video on Amazon

About Louis Gates
According to an online profile from Google Search, Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. is an American literary critic, professor, historian, filmmaker, and public intellectual who serves as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

Links to Connections

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See my Books





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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

American St Nick- Film Review

The American St Nick

   The Men Who Restored Christmas

A great Christmas story combines warmth, kindness, generosity, traditions, and a memorable event—especially one that brings hope against the backdrop of an evil empire. A true story describing how a few soldiers from the 28th Infantry Division restored Christmas for the children of Wiltz, Luxembourg ranks with the best.

In late 1944, the allies had the German soldiers on the run. By December, some men were sent to Wiltz, Luxembourg for a much needed break. The townsfolk were grateful for the liberation from five years of Nazi rule including the ban on their Christmas tradition. This year they planned to restore the celebration of Saint Nicolas (Klees’chen) on 6 December but they were at a loss for gifts and treats.

Jewish Corporal Harry Stutz meets with the local priest, Father Wolffe, and other town leaders to see what could be done. He then plans a party with help from fellow soldiers who cook doughnuts and gather donations of sweets and items sent to soldiers from family and friends. Finally, he turns to friend Corporal Richard Brookins to play the role of Saint Nicholas. A bit reluctant at first, Brookins agrees then dons the priest’s garb, a worn rope beard, and a broken staff. After a sleigh ride via Army Jeep through town, the children and their families join the soldiers at Wiltz Castle.

Alas the war was not over. The Germans initiated a final resistance effort (Battle of the Bulge). Allied bombers responded and many in Wiltz lost their lives along with much of their town.

But after the war, the joy and hope of that special day was remembered. The celebration of 1944 was recounted far and wide. After some effort, connections were made with Corporal Brookins and some others. They returned to a warm welcome by the children who never forgot. 

Last year (2014) 94-year-old Richard Brookins joined in a re-enactment—riding again in a jeep as he had 70 years ago.

I saw the story on PBS presented as The American St. Nick. There is also a book by Peter Lion, which I haven’t read. Here’s a link to more on the story at the WW II Foundation.

Resources at WW II Foundation

The Book on AMAZON

Tuesday, July 14, 2020


WHITE FRAGILITY: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

    By Robin DiAngelo

   Reviewed by

      Geoffrey W. Sutton


White Fragility is a best seller with a surge in interest during this 2020 springtime of protests against racism. The concept, white fragility, is now a part of everyday discourse—at least among those who endorse the concept. Even if you disagree with most or all of DiAngelo’s ideas, I think it worth reading or listening to if you live in, or are part of, the world where white people are, or were, oppressive in their actions toward black people.

I listened to the AUDIBLE version on a trial.

 The path to white fragility in America begins a few centuries ago. DiAngelo does not dwell on the past but draws back the curtain on the historic wasteland so we have a context.


“Claiming that the past was socially better than the present is also a hallmark of white supremacy. Consider any period in the past from the perspective of people of color: 246 years of brutal enslavement; the rape of black women for the pleasure of white men and to produce more enslaved workers; the selling off of black children; the attempted genocide of Indigenous people, Indian removal acts, and reservations; indentured servitude, lynching, and mob violence; sharecropping; Chinese exclusion laws; Japanese American internment; Jim Crow laws of mandatory segregation; black codes; bans on black jury service; bans on voting; imprisoning people for unpaid work; medical sterilization and experimentation; employment discrimination; educational discrimination; inferior schools; biased laws and policing practices; redlining and subprime mortgages; mass incarceration; racist media representations; cultural erasures, attacks, and mockery; and untold and perverted historical accounts, and you can see how a romanticized past is strictly a white construct. But it is a powerful construct because it calls out to a deeply internalized sense of superiority and entitlement and the sense that any advancement for people of color is an encroachment on this entitlement.”


Naturally, DiAngelo focuses on racism in America. She’s consulted with various companies and organizations and tells tales about how white people demonstrate their fragility—crying, denying, expressing anger, and so forth. Psychologists understand tears can be a way of escaping responsibility. DiAngelo knows that too.


“Tears that are driven by white guilt are self-indulgent. When we are mired in guilt, we are narcissistic and ineffective; guilt functions as an excuse for inaction. Further, because we so seldom have authentic and sustained cross-racial relationships, our tears do not feel like solidarity to people of color we have not previously supported. Instead, our tears function as impotent reflexes that don’t lead to constructive action. We need to reflect on when we cry and when we don’t, and why. In other words, what does it take to move us? Since many of us have not learned how racism works and our role in it, our tears may come from shock and distress about what we didn’t know or recognize. For people of color, our tears demonstrate our racial insulation and privilege.”


Can immigrants like me escape? No. She tells the story of a European who claimed to have grown up in a nonracist society. She’s angry when DiAngelo confronts her. I think DiAngelo is right on two counts. First, European nations, like my own, participated in the American slave trade and racist empire building. Second, after being in the US a while, it is easy to slip into the way society operates. Racism is systemic.

I consider myself to be socially progressive. But that concept has little meaning unless the features are detailed. What I mean to say is I favour equality of opportunity for all and I believe we have a responsibility to promote this type of equality, which includes being antiracist. The trap, as I understand DiAngelo, is thinking we progressives are superior to other whites because we smugly and inaccurately believe we understand the black experience and promote ourselves rather than continuing the struggle against racism. Here’s what DiAngelo says about progressives: 

“White progressives can be the most difficult for people of color because, to the degree that we think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us as having arrived. None of our energy will go into what we need to be doing for the rest of our lives: engaging in ongoing self-awareness, continuing education, relationship building, and actual antiracist practice. White progressives do indeed uphold and perpetrate racism, but our defensiveness and certitude make it virtually impossible to explain to us how we do so.”

 Sometimes DiAngelo comes across as harsh as if she needs to hit some whites over the head. At other times she reveals a humility such as the time she made a racist comment about a black colleague’s braided hair and needed to apologize.

 DiAngelo is at her best when she tells stories to illustrate important points like receiving feedback from people of colour.


“In my workshops, I often ask people of color, “How often have you given white people feedback on our unaware yet inevitable racism? How often has that gone well for you?” Eye-rolling, head-shaking, and outright laughter follow, along with the consensus of rarely, if ever. I then ask, “What would it be like if you could simply give us feedback, have us graciously receive it, reflect, and work to change that behavior?” Recently a man of color sighed and said, “It would be revolutionary.” I ask my fellow whites to consider the profundity of that response. It would be revolutionary if we could receive, reflect, and work to change the behavior. On the one hand, the man’s response points to how difficult and fragile we are. But on the other hand, it indicates how simple it can be to take responsibility for our racism. However, we aren’t likely to get there if we are operating from the dominant worldview that only intentionally mean people can participate in racism.”

 White Fragility can feel depressing because she gives us white people the sense that we cannot escape our dilemma. The system built by white founders looms large and insidious. She does offer some examples of how to develop an antiracist stance through education, listening, and accepting feedback. 


DiAngelo approaches her project like an apostle writing a gospel that cannot be challenged unless you want to be identified as a heretic and burned for eternity. However, she has an important point. We white people are people of privilege in the United States. That’s been clear for some time, but DiAngelo does offer additional examples of how that privilege has become covert in the wake of various laws and policies designed to address overt discrimination in employment, housing, and the like. Racism continues to exist and it can be difficult to recognize. Hence the need for books like White Fragility. 

See also the Color of Compromise


What DiAngelo misses is a critical perspective on her all-encompassing concept of white fragility. In her black-white view of American culture she misses important nuances that can evoke a rejection of the very goal she wishes to accomplish. She’s on message when she talks about white-black racist language. But she sometimes switches the conversation to write about people of colour. On the one hand, some of the attitudes and actions of white Americans toward people of colour are similar, but on the other hand, white oppression toward the descendants of American slaves is different than the oppression of Native Americans, people of colour from south of the border, and people from other ethnic groups. And we should not ignore the complexity of racism and sexism as seen in the tension between white women and black women in pursuit of the right to vote (See PBS).

 Another criticism is the fuzziness of the white fragility diagnosis. It’s like a disease every white person has. This is not unlike new clinicians who attend a workshop on ADHD and go away discovering everyone has ADHD and needs the latest medication touted by the omnipresent pharma-giants. To be sure, the concept of white fragility is somewhat useful, but it is not like a disease that one has or does not have.

 White fragility is more like a hedge of thorny vines protecting the historic domains of whites who forced people of colour to proceed carefully as they attempt to find the way toward the promise of America that all have unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In my view, we white Americans would be better off identifying and cutting the overgrowth of these racist vines and creating one broad path to equality. Each thorny vine is a behaviour pattern that when identified can be viewed on a sliding scale to assess where we are in making progress toward antiracist thoughts, feelings, verbal statements, and nonverbal behaviour. We can evaluate the possibility that we are in denial or avoiding an uncomfortable truth. We can learn how to apologize, seek forgiveness, attempt reconciliation, and take action to remove a thorny vine or create an inclusive pathway.

My last criticism is that the concept White Fragility is an offensive an errant concept not likely to win converts from those most likely in need of confronting their racial prejudices and listening to the ways whites have oppressed people of colour. DiAngelo's message is often on-point. Perhaps the title will sell many books to moderate and left-leaning Americans. The white leaders who hold the power to create America's laws, the military power to destroy the planet, and the financial wealth to own large swathes of the globe hardly seem fragile to me. But many of them, and we less powerful whites, do need to confront our racist attitudes and policies and exert whatever influence we have to create a more equitable and just society if not because we feel a moral obligation to do so, at least from the perspective of enlightened self-interest.

 Finally, my experience as a psychotherapist and a consumer of psychological science argues against the value of books alone to change behaviour. If self-help books were so powerful, many of us would be fit, healthy, wealthy, and wise. Nevertheless, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo is a good read with some useful lessons. It is also an important reminder that those of us in the majority have a responsibility to weed out the thorns that choke the flourishing of so many.

White Fragility Audio Book

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Dr. Robin DiAngelo - A short interview on White Fragility


Dr. Robin DiAngelo Discusses White Fragility on YouTube