What is the myth of individualism? How does the individual perspective prevent people from seeing the realities of society?
The myth of individualism is the mistaken belief that everything we get is earned. Understanding societal prejudices, privileges, and luck challenges this myth.
Read more about the myth of individualism.
The Myth of Individualism
The belief in individualism is a central part of American ideology. It is the belief that individuals have full agency to shape the outcomes in their lives. According to the myth of individualism, no one faces any barriers on the way to achievement that are not of their own making.
Individualism is a comforting and validating belief—for white people, who sit atop the nation’s economic and political power structures. It tells them that their success and advantages in life are entirely the result of their own hard work, intelligence, and initiative.
But individualism sends a very different message to people of color. If powerful and successful people are powerful and successful because of their own merits as individuals, then it can only follow that powerless and unsuccessful people are in that condition because they are somehow “lesser” individuals. By its very nature, a belief in individualism renders one incapable of acknowledging the structural power disparities within society that lead to inequitable outcomes for different groups.
No One Is Objective
White beliefs in objectivity are closely related to the myth of individualism. Because white people believe that they are unique individuals unshaped by history or society, they also come to believe that their views of the world are entirely objective. If you don’t believe you’re conditioned by society or any other external forces, you can’t accept the reality of your own biases.
Being asked to confront one’s actions and beliefs as racist can be deeply upsetting to white people, because it punctures their myth of objectivity. It suggests that one does not have complete autonomy over how one thinks and acts—but, rather, that one ventures out into the world profoundly shaped by forces beyond one’s control.
———End of Preview———
Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Robin J. DiAngelo's "White Fragility" at Shortform.
Here's what you'll find in our full White Fragility summary:
- Why white people become defensive when confronted with the idea of racism
- How today's racial hiearchy began in roots centuries ago
- How we as society can gradually overcome our deep racial divides