Posted on June 15, 2021

Two Entrepreneurs Have Built a Business Dredging up White Women’s Shame

Molly Fischer, The Cut, May 27, 2021

Were White Fragility to be adapted as reality TV, the result might look something like this: A collection of affluent white women, equipped with varying degrees of vanity and self-delusion, gather at a well-appointed dinner table. There, they face down a pair of unsparing judges prepared to see right through them. Who’s racist? Time to find out. White wine flows; white women admit shameful secrets. They get squirmy; they get angry; they turn on each other. If one of them starts to cry, she has to leave. She will find tissues in the designated crying room.

The Bravo version of Robin DiAngelo, in other words, might look a bit like Race2Dinner. Begun in 2019 by Regina Jackson and Saira Rao, Race2Dinner gathers groups of eight white women at the home of a white host, where Jackson and Rao facilitate a discussion about race over dinner. Early in the evening, for example, they will often ask the white women whether they would prefer to trade places with Jackson (who is Black) or Rao (who is Indian American). The women will almost uniformly choose Rao. {snip} The idea is to bring such submerged racial judgments to light, however uncomfortable this might make the white women. Jackson and Rao ask guests to describe racist things they’ve recently done and press them on any evasions. Often the examples that emerge involve silence: failing to speak up or intervene. Sometimes they consist of thoughts or feelings: assuming that the Black teens pulled over in a white neighborhood must have been doing something wrong. Sometimes the guests struggle to think of what to say. “Not knowing is classic white behavior,” Rao told me. “You don’t know, because it would ruin your entire image of being the perfect, nice white lady. I’m sure you’re intimately familiar with this, being a white woman.”

Race2Dinner participants sign up for something that promises to be painful, unsightly, and yet transformative, like a chemical peel for the soul. “Interested in hosting a dinner?” asks the Race2Dinner website in red text superimposed on a shattered china plate. “Click here to smash your white fragility.” {snip}

When they first started out, they charged $2,500 per dinner, to be covered by the host or divided among her guests.

“That’s peanuts,” Jackson told me when we spoke over Zoom. “People pay more than that to go to a yoga conference.”


Their business model, unsurprisingly, attracted attention. In February 2020, a Guardian article on their dinners made the rounds online, inspiring umbrage and hilarity across the political spectrum. “White Women Paying $2.5K for a Dinner to Learn How They’re Racist,” read the headline on a New York Post rehash of the report, cutting right to the chase. Jackson and Rao, meanwhile, received an influx of new inquiries about their service and signed a deal to write a book called White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How to Do Better. They also raised the fee for each dinner to $5,000.

While the pandemic scuttled planning for events in San Francisco, New York, and D.C., a new wave of interest soon arrived amid the protests that followed George Floyd’s murder. Lisa Bond serves as Race2-Dinner’s “resident white woman”; Jackson and Rao hired her to help organize events after she hosted her own dinner two years ago. (Bond had initially balked at the cost, but after seeing a post from Rao and Jackson about how many white women balked at the cost, she resolved not to be like the others.) Last summer, Bond said, she fielded some 300 emails in a three-month period and had nearly 100 follow-up phone calls of 30 or 45 minutes each. Of those, three women proceeded to book an event. {snip}

{snip} Following the 2016 election, Rao had grown frustrated with the reluctance of her mostly white friends to talk about race. Jackson, who’d spent her career at AT&T before starting a real-estate business, appreciated Rao’s willingness to speak frankly even when it made white people upset. The two became friends. Race2Dinner took shape after a white friend of Jackson’s — a former friend, Jackson stresses now — told her that she was “done with Saira” because of the way Rao talked about white people. The friend was hoping that Jackson could help arrange for her to have lunch with Rao and discuss this in person. Rao agreed to a meeting on the condition that Jackson would join her and that the woman would invite a group of her white friends. This was effectively the first Race2Dinner.


Since last summer, in Jackson and Rao’s view, things have and have not changed among their customers. “There’s more acknowledgment of, Yes, we create this, and, Yes, we need to engage,” Jackson said. {snip}


One of the past year’s few in-person dinners took place three days after the attack on the Capitol. Rao said that one woman — “the only woman in the group who seemed remotely willing to do this work, period” — had a question at the end of the evening. She looked at Jackson, and she looked at Rao, “and she goes, ‘Do you see any difference between us and the people that stormed the Capitol?’ And we both said, ‘No.’ ” The assembled women, a group of Colorado business and nonprofit leaders, “lost their entire minds,” Rao recalled. “So this notion of not all white people, not all white women — that is completely unchanged.”

Even so, they had some sense their message is being heard. Often Jackson and Rao receive emails and texts from former guests: They were walking down the street, they report, and they didn’t cross when they saw a Black man coming. They were at a dinner party, and someone said something about a “ghetto” school, and they pointed out that it was a racist thing to say. {snip}


For white women who wish to continue the work begun at Race2Dinner (and for those who might not wish to attend), they have launched a new program called Race2-Community. An eight-week seminar led by Bond, it costs $750 and focuses on whiteness specifically. “The actual work is for you to deconstruct the things within you: whiteness,” Rao said.{snip}