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What Does It Mean to Be White?

Developing White Racial Literacy – Revised Edition

Series:

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 3: Socialization

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SOCIALIZATION

The messages I’ve received have all been from home, school, or working and are all the same, which is that race doesn’t matter. There is no way to choose or control what race you are so everyone is the same in that way, which means everyone should be treated the same. I don’t know how my race has shaped my life at all. (ASR)

My neighborhood wasn’t diverse at all. In my school of 500-plus students there was only a handful of non-white students. My family hasn’t sent me messages on race. I guess my schools have sent the message that the non-white students have behavioral problems. Overall, race doesn’t mean that much to me or my life. (ASR)

What Is Socialization?

We are born into a particular time, place, and society—into a particular culture. Culture refers to the characteristics of everyday life of a group of people who are bound together in time and place, and through shared systems of meaning. Some of these characteristics are visible and easily identified by the members of the culture (dress, food, customs, language), but the vast majority of meaning is below the surface of everyday awareness. Many educators use the metaphor of an iceberg to capture the concept of culture. The iceberg’s ← 27 | 28 → tip, which shows above the water line, can be thought of as the superficial and easily identified characteristics of culture.

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