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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 10: What Makes Racism So Hard for Whites to See?


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I am white. My neighborhood and town growing up was (pretty much) all white. Therefore race wasn’t discussed much or wasn’t that much of an issue growing up because there really wasn’t any diversity. (ASR)

I mostly lived in all-white neighborhoods. We are all equal, regardless of what we look like, because at the end of the day we are all human. Until we can learn to see our differences as unique characteristics and not defining qualities, it will continue to be an issue. Honestly, I cannot see specifically how my race has shaped my life. I personally see myself as an individual, not a white female in her early 20s. My race exists, but it does not define who I am, it merely adds to the description. (ASR)

The vast majority of whites cannot answer the question “How has race shaped your life?” beyond the most superficial of platitudes. So what makes racism so difficult for whites to see?

The Racist = Bad/Not Racist = Good Binary

In Chapter 2, I introduced the concept of the racist = bad not racist = good binary (see Figure 2) and how it sets whites up to feel personally accused and defensive about the suggestion of any association with racism; we hear these suggestions as unfair accusations that we are fundamentally bad or immoral people. ← 193 | 194 →

This binary...

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