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What Does It Mean to Be White?

Developing White Racial Literacy – Revised Edition


Robin DiAngelo

What does it mean to be white in a society that proclaims race meaningless, yet is deeply divided by race? In the face of pervasive racial inequality and segregation, most white people cannot answer that question. In the second edition of this seminal text, Robin DiAngelo reveals the factors that make this question so difficult: mis-education about what racism is; ideologies such as individualism and colorblindness; segregation; and the belief that to be complicit in racism is to be an immoral person. These factors contribute to what she terms white racial illiteracy. Speaking as a white person to other white people, DiAngelo clearly and compellingly takes readers through an analysis of white socialization. Weaving research, analysis, stories, images, and familiar examples, she provides the framework needed to develop white racial literacy. She describes how race shapes the lives of white people, explains what makes racism so hard to see, identifies common white racial patterns, and speaks back to popular narratives that work to deny racism. Written as an accessible overview on white identity from an anti-racist framework, What Does It Mean to Be White? is an invaluable resource for members of diversity and anti-racism programs and study groups, and students of sociology, psychology, education, and other disciplines. This revised edition features two new chapters, including one on DiAngelo’s influential concept of white fragility. Written to be accessible both within and without academia, this revised edition also features discussion questions, an index, and a glossary.
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Chapter 1: Race in Education


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The most recent data about U.S. teachers show that despite the fact that the public school population is becoming increasingly racially diverse, more than 80% of elementary and secondary school teachers are white (U.S. Department of Education, 2012). Almost half of the schools in the United States do not have a single teacher of color on staff and therefore many students, regardless of their own race, will graduate from high school having been taught only by whites (Picower, 2009). These racial demographics are not shifting; 80% to 93% of all current teacher education students are white, and they are being instructed by a teacher education profession that is 88% white (Picower, 2009). This racial homogeneity is compounded by unabated racial segregation in schools and housing, and it may be assumed from these statistics that the majority of whites have not lived near or attended school with people of color, have had few if any teachers, friends, family members, or authority figures of color, and do not interact with people of color in any direct or equal way in their lives or in their teacher preparation programs. Yet as evidenced in many studies, while most teacher education students live their lives in racial segregation, they believe that racism is in the past, that segregation “just happens,” that they were taught to see everyone the same and therefore they don’t see color, and that being white has no particular meaning. ← 13...

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