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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 6: What Is Race?


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Race means about as much as what I had for lunch today. Sure I noticed it, and sometimes people had a different lunch. I don’t really care; it all goes the same way. Also, I am one of those people who don’t hate anyone’s lunch. Eat what you please I always say. I grew up in a three-house neighborhood in the woods. So, not much diversity. Messages I’ve received are that race doesn’t matter. Be colorblind and all that good stuff. Race means very little to me. (ASR)

I come from a small town. It’s not diverse in the slightest. Growing up the main messages I received were along the lines of: “Respect people of diverse backgrounds, meaning religion, race, etc.” All the messages were positive ones. I’m not really sure what being white has meant to my life except that I am pasty and I burn under the sun. I’m a common white guy from the hills. (ASR)

Growing up my neighborhood was not that diverse at all, basically almost everyone was white with no other backgrounds. I honestly don’t think about my racial group too much. I try not to discriminate against people of another race. (ASR)

Now that we have a framework for understanding how oppression works, we can focus on the form of oppression that is the topic of this book: racism. We begin with the very idea of...

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