Robin DiAngelo coined the term "white fragility" over 6 years ago to describe what she sees as white people's immediate defensiveness when confronted with their own latent biases.
Now, in her new book (titled unsurprisingly "White Fragility"), she argues that the most delicate of white people, and the ones least comfortable admitting their prejudices, are white progressives.
Speaking as a white liberal herself, DiAngelo, a scholar of "whiteness studies" at the University of Washington, writes “that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color.”
Their stances against racism, she argues, are mostly just moral posturing, meant to be visible and lauded, more than to effect real change.
All the while, by promoting the idea of a race-blind society, they only veil endemic racial inequity and exonerate themselves of their culpability.
"Now breathe," she addresses her white readers, kindly reassuring them that she's not issuing a blanket accusation that all whites are racist, in the sense that they consciously harbor ill will towards other races.
Rather, she accuses whites of benefitting from their privilege, whether they like to admit it or not, and doing nothing, whether they're aware of it or not, to challenge this status quo.
“The most effective adaptation of racism over time, is the idea that racism is conscious bias held by mean people," writes DiAngelo.
Like many other critical-discourse academics, DiAngelo attacks Enlightenment precepts such as "objectivity." Truth, according to postmodern scholarship, cannot be possessed beyond the personal position. The very presumption that there is a "neutral" perspective to reality is, per DiAngelo, as fallacious as white people's belief in the "racial-lessness" of whiteness.
"Individualism," too, is an Enlightenment social construct suffering from the same innate problem. To be judged as an individual -- transparently, without the color of your skin or your gender showing on you first -- is the privilege of the white man, she claims.
DiAngelo's line of argument, echoing the thought of writers from Michel Foucault to critical legal scholar Patricia Williams, concludes that everything -- society, our worldview, our perception of self -- is subject to power struggles between groups.
Individuality, truth, and justice, are therefore merely the fiction of white men seeking to justify their conquest and ongoing hold on power.
The dangers of such a worldview -- as have been pointed out by critics of postmodernism, like Judge Richard Posner and British mathematician Alan Sokal -- is that it defines society as a zero-sum game between groups.
For if there's no epistemic common ground between variegated groups, and if even the conscious strive to overcome racism is itself a mask over unconscious racism, how can people of diverse ethnicities ever hope to achieve equality?
More frighteningly, if power struggle is the only available language, why would they even want to?
Adaam James is a senior editor at Pluralist.