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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 15: Stop Telling That Story! Danger Discourse and the White Racial Frame


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I am a white professor. I teach in a program that is 97 percent white. We are located 10 miles away from Springfield, MA, a city that is approximately 57 percent black and Latino. I am walking down the hallway towards the classroom where I am teaching a course titled “Schools in Society.” In this course, we take an institutional perspective on schools as primary sites of socialization and explore the role that schools play in the maintenance and reproduction of social inequality. On the second day of class, during an introductory exercise wherein students share aspects of their frames of reference, a student shares that she and her boyfriend had been “mugged by a black man in Springfield.” I am dismayed that she chooses to tell us this, and that she doesn’t follow it with any point or connection, but don’t see how I can challenge her story so early in the course. Now, 8 weeks later, we have finished reading James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me and are halfway though Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Era of Colorblindness. My students have responded very well to both texts and I am feeling hopeful that they are beginning to understand the multidimensional nature of racism and how it is structured into society. As I walk towards the classroom, a group of students is sitting in...

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