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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 7: What Is Racism?

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WHAT IS RACISM?

Until about 4 years ago, literally everybody in my neighborhood was white. I’ve read and learned that most people are subconsciously at least mildly racist, they just don’t outwardly express it. But there was basically no diversity in my life until college so I’ve never really had it affect my life. (ASR)

When I was growing up and still to this day, my neighborhood was not very diverse. Race was not really talked about in school, but through friends and family I was always taught that certain races can be very stereotypical. Race does not really mean much to me. I treat everyone equally. (ASR)

What it means to me to be white. To me it means that (at least where I live) I’ll never be subjected to any negative racial stereotyping or foul words/racism. I’ll also never benefit from any affirmative action grants/school acceptance etc. … I grew up in a school system where you could count the kids who were not white Americans on your fingers. Growing up in a small town like I did also means that I do have some of the “good old boy” mentality though I do not consider myself “racist” per se. (ASR)

Racism is a form of oppression in which one racial group dominates others. In the United States, whites are the dominant group and people of color are the minoritized group. Thus in this context,...

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