There have been a lot of disturbing poll results over the past several years, but none more than this one: According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, 57 percent of white Americans believe that discrimination against white people is “as big a problem” in America as discrimination against minorities. Several months after the survey was conducted, of course, Donald Trump went on to win the presidency by getting well over half of the white vote. In a new book called White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo examines how a large chunk of white America got to a place where it is constantly feeling besieged and victimized, and why she thinks even white progressives are so unwilling—or unable—to acknowledge their own racism.
I spoke recently by phone with DiAngelo, a lecturer affiliated with the University of Washington who has been conducting workshops about diversity and racism for two decades. During the course of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed racism on the left, whether there is value in scolding people for their bigotry, and whether the word racist should only apply to people who intend to discriminate.