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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 8: “New” Racism

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“NEW” RACISM

I grew up in pretty much an all-white neighborhood. Every part of my life growing up told me that race is obsolete; it does not matter. Therefore, by being told this many times, I have taken away that everyone is equal and the way you look or the color of your skin does not matter. (ASR)

The town and neighborhood that I grew up in had basically no diversity. I would say 95% of the population in my town is Caucasian. However, my school and family have taught me never to look at someone differently just because of their race. I’ve believed in this all my life, so to me there is no difference how I am towards people based on their race. I try hard every day to live in a nice respectful manner to give my race a good name. (ASR)

Upon the election of the first biracial president of the United States, pundits declared that society was now “post-racial.” This meant, presumably, that racism is in the past and race no longer has significance in our lives. This is a common dominant group narrative when there is a milestone in inter-group dynamics. I imagine that when women were granted the right to vote, sexism was declared dead; when civil rights legislation was passed, racism was declared dead (again); when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, ableism was pronounced dead, and so on....

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