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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 12: Common Patterns of Well-Meaning White People

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COMMON PATTERNS OF WELL-MEANING WHITE PEOPLE

My town is not racially diverse at all so I would say that I never really focused on my own race at all. My family, school, and neighbors have all given messages of tolerance regarding race when I was growing up, and I was taught to treat everyone equally. I was taught to always be sensitive to race by using P.C. terms when speaking about race. (ASR)

Although we are taught to see ourselves as individuals, we are socialized collectively. This collective socialization results in predictable group patterns of engagement. For over 15 years I have led white people in discussions of race, allowing me an exceptional opportunity to observe some of these patterns. This chapter explores some of the most common.

Guilt

Guilt is a common response for whites when they begin to take racism seriously. White guilt can be a general reaction to the realization that racism is a system from which they benefit while others suffer. White guilt can also be a response to a more specific incident; perhaps a white person has been given feedback (or has realized independently) that they have just said or done something with a racist impact. Guilt is, of course, a normal response and in and of itself is not ← 223 | 224 → problematic. However, it is what we do with the guilt that matters. We can use our guilt to avoid...

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