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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 9: How Race Shapes the Lives of White People


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For me, I grew up in an open-minded, liberal white family and race was never an issue of any negative nature. My neighborhood was mostly white and for my elementary and middle school years I attended a parochial school, which was also mostly white. I had a very understanding family that wouldn’t raise us prejudice anyway. (ASR)

My individual neighborhood growing up was not very diverse at all. All 7 or 8 houses on my cul-de-sac were white, Christian families. Only recently did we get a bit of diversity when a young Korean family moved in about 2 years ago. I grew up in a very liberal accepting family and was always taught that everyone was equal and deserves love and kindness. I am very open to people who are “different.” (ASR)

In previous chapters I have provided some statistics to illustrate racist practices and policies. In the next two chapters I explore another aspect of racism; the unaware, unspoken, unmarked, and privileged aspects of white racial identity that lead to racist policies and practices. These aspects of white identity also ensure that I will most likely be unaware of, uninterested in, and in denial about the impact of these practices on people of color. In these chapters I explore how whites are socialized into a racist framework. My inability or unwillingness to acknowledge and challenge this socialization is key...

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