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When Progressives Say ‘Whiteness’ They Mean ‘White People’

whiteness ideas Robin DiAngelo

Don’t let progressive’s fool you. They aren’t talking about ideas; they’re talking about people.


American progressives are the masters of euphemism. They don’t “censor” books or plays; they “retire” them. They don’t “remove” lessons about the founding fathers from our kids’ curriculum; they “de-center” them. At every turn, they find some friendly-sounding phrase to obscure the illiberal and savage attacks they make on our culture. But one progressive euphemism stands out as uniquely dangerous: whiteness.

Whiteness is a fairly new concept, and indeed, the question of who is white is a complex and fascinating one. For some, it is simply a description of a skin tone. For others, it is a cultural construct meant to oppress non-white people. The definition has changed over time to include Catholics and Jews and Hispanics. But at the end of the day, a white person is still essentially a person of European descent.

These latter two definitions are certainly how today’s progressives view the affair. To them, white people are first and foremost the beneficiaries of centuries of systemic racism that created a culture and society that is not only inherently racist but also beyond redemption. This is why they speak so often of the need to “deconstruct” or “destroy” whiteness. They seek to remove whiteness from our institutions and policies.

They tell us things like individuality, work ethic, and perfectionism are whiteness. They tell us to change how we teach math — make is easier, more narrative, less quantifiable, so as to remove it from whiteness and give other kids a chance, as if black kids can’t understand math. They assure us we swim in whiteness, we breathe it in. It is poison, they say, and so long as it lingers in the American air, there are others that cannot breathe.

Let us set aside, for now, the merits of these specious arguments and get back to this idea of euphemisms. When progressives say they want to dismantle “whiteness,” they want you to believe they mean some complicated sociological phenomenon. They do not. They mean “white people.” They mean they want to dismantle the lives of white people. This is a critical thing to understand because if you don’t, you are already playing their game.

Over the past couple of years, and it really has just been a couple of years, the word “equity” has replaced “equality” in the progressive lexicon. This is a concept directly related to the idea of whiteness. Equality of opportunity did not require any forced punitive actions against white people. It just leveled the playing field. Equity, which requires that everyone has the same outcomes absolutely, does require forced redistribution of wealth and power away from white people. Not since Jim Crow has a significant body politic supported policies as directly based on skin color as today’s progressives.

It is not capitalism or Wersternism or the Enlightenment that progressives seek to overthrow. It is whiteness. In their view, there is something innate to white people and their legal, social, and cultural output that is fundamentally selfish and unfair, that has wrought a cold and unfair world to which only white people are heirs. When Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo talk about whiteness, they are absolutely talking about white people, full stop.

This is an unmistakable aspect of “whiteness.” It has first and foremost to do with skin color, and if you object to being so objectified, there are words for that too: “white fragility” and “white tears.” By a magical recirculation of logic, if you complain about being told that you and your culture are bad that only proves the point further.

What makes all of this so dangerous is that progressives are not railing against a system; they are railing against people. They are not demonizing a culture; they are demonizing people. This is why white people must confess their privilege. They must feel shame and contrition for the immoral nature of their pigmentation. Any clear-headed person can see what a dangerous game this is.

The antidote to progressive doublespeak is to say what they refuse to say. They do censor, they do remove, and yes, they do mean white people when they talk about who has to change and how to save our society. In this way, progressives regularly express good old-fashioned racism about white people and their ways under the guise of some broad investigation of that society. But do not be fooled. The next time you read about whiteness, the next time it is scapegoated into the cause of all that ails society, know what is being said. They truly believe the problem is white people.