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What Does It Mean to Be White?

Developing White Racial Literacy – Revised Edition

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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 4: Defining Terms

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DEFINING TERMS

My neighborhood is pretty much dominantly white. There are some parts of my town however, that are dominantly Spanish and/or African American. Lately, my town has become much more diverse than when I was younger. The media, history, word of mouth has shown me that there is a certain sense of racism in everyone, even if it’s unintentional. Although segregation is in the past, I feel as if racism will always stick. I feel like my life is not affected by race. I grew up in an accepting household and was taught to love everyone. (ASR)

Once we understand the power and ongoing nature of socialization in our lives, we are ready to move on to the next fundamental building block of racial literacy: understanding the terms prejudice, discrimination, and racism and the key differences between them. These terms provide the overall theoretical framework for understanding what it means to be white.

In the following discussion, I am referring to social dynamics based on group memberships. In other words, we are social beings who learn to understand each other by the groups we belong to: old/young, male/female, heterosexual/gay, able bodied/person with a disability. In large part, we know what it means to be part of our own group by understanding that we are not a part of its opposite group. Thus when I discuss prejudice and discrimination, I am referring to social dynamics between groups of...

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