Robin DiAngelo, the white author of a bestselling “antiracism” book, balked at a request to accept a reduced speaking fee from a public university amid the coronavirus pandemic, insisting that her $12,750 rate was already a bargain.
DiAngelo agreed in early 2020 to be the keynote speaker at the University of Wisconsin’s annual Diversity Forum, which takes place in October. When the university alerted her in July that the event was transitioning to a virtual format due to the coronavirus pandemic and asked whether she would accept $10,000 for the gig, DiAngelo declined.
“15k is already below her current rates for virtual events, and we’ve agreed to discount that price by 15 percent,” DiAngelo’s assistant told the university. DiAngelo was paid $12,750 and delivered a prerecorded keynote for the event, according to the emails, which were obtained through an open records request .
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The university’s request came amid the widespread protests following the death of George Floyd and as students began to question why DiAngelo, a white woman, was being given the most prominent speaking slot at Wisconsin’s Diversity Forum.
“In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the worldwide protests, it seems one thing is overwhelmingly agreed upon by people seeking equity—that now is the time to elevate people of color’s voices,” a student argued in an email to DiAngelo, which was shared with the university. “On that note, I was wondering if you could share why such a prestigious speaking spot should be saved for you rather than a person of color.”
DiAngelo, the author of the acclaimed book White Fragility, told the university she would “completely support” a decision to move her down the event’s speaking list, adding that the student made a “good point.” The university decided to stick with DiAngelo but did ask whether she would lower her fee given the event was made virtual.
The Washington Free Beacon reported last November that DiAngelo’s payment was 70 percent larger than what was given to the event’s other keynote speaker, black author Austin Channing Brown. Neither DiAngelo nor the university responded to requests for comment on the emails.
DiAngelo, who is set to release a new antiracism book this summer titled Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm, has defended her high speaking fees. On her website’s “accountability” page, which was overhauled after a Free Beacon report on her exorbitant fees, she says charging upwards of $30,000 is “well within the standard range for a best-selling author who is in high demand.”
While DiAngelo acknowledged the merits of arguments against a white woman headlining the diversity event, she also argued that her placement made sense.
“I assume that you chose me because you are a primarily white audience and my message is primarily to white people (and you value my work :), and you made this choice before the events surrounding the killing of George Floyd,” DiAngelo wrote in a message to the university’s event coordinator.
DiAngelo’s website now has an extensive section dedicated to “the ethics of a white person being paid to do antiracist work,” in which she says critiques of her work “have been inflamed” by Free Beacon reports on her finances.
DiAngelo’s emails with the University of Wisconsin reveal further that the author was “quite distressed” to learn that Charles Lehman, a former Free Beacon staff writer, had contacted her and the school with questions about her fee for the diversity event. She praised the school’s communications director for giving brief answers and asked the university not to cooperate further.
“I was quite distressed to see this journalist’s email in my inbox again this morning,” DiAngelo wrote, adding that “the less we can engage the better and the less he has to twist our words.”
DiAngelo told the university that Lehman was “definitely not interested in racial justice.”
Brent Scher is executive editor for the Washington Free Beacon. He graduated from the University of Virginia, where he studied foreign affairs and politics. Brent is originally from New York City and now lives in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at [email protected]
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