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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 14: Popular White Narratives That Deny Racism


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In my neighborhoods it has only been white people. Ever since elementary school, I have always been taught to treat everybody equally and that just because you have a different skin color doesn’t mean that you are different or should look down on anyone. I always learned about slavery in history classes and how it was many years ago. Society has gotten much better now and society and schools are trying to teach everyone not to be prejudice. I am proud to treat everybody equal. (ASR)

My particular neighborhood was not very racially diverse but surrounding neighborhoods were. I have always been taught to treat everyone equally. Although my neighborhood was not racially diverse, my high school was. Even though it was, most of the people I hung around with are white. This is not saying I wouldn’t be friends with someone of a different race, it just happened like that. (ASR)

There are many common white narratives about racism that I have attempted to clarify throughout the previous chapters. However, given their tenacity, I want to explicitly address a few key ones here. These misconceptions limit rather than expand understanding of what racism is and how it works, and thus function to protect rather than to challenge racism. In this way they can be conceptualized as ideologies of white supremacy. ← 255 | 256 →

“Racism is in the past. I didn’t...

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