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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 16: A Note on White Silence


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To me being white means no more to me than if I was any other race. This is what I was taught all through school. I have been taught not to be judgmental. Although I did grow up in an almost completely white-population town, I have never felt any sense of racism apparent in myself or my peers. However, the older generation where I grew up did seem to be a little judgmental and particular to their own race. Growing up I just chose to ignore things said/taught to do with race from these people. (ASR)

My colleague and I are facilitating a workshop. She has just made a presentation on the impact of racism on people of color. She leads the participants of color in a follow-up discussion. Now she turns and asks the white participants for their thoughts. She explains how important it is in terms of trust building for the people of color to hear what the white participants gained from the discussion. She’d also like the chance to clarify any misunderstanding. No white participants respond. She tries again, explaining that she and the participants of color have made themselves vulnerable by exposing the pain of racism, and that it is important for them to know how they have been heard. One white participant speaks up and shares her thoughts. My co-facilitator thanks her and asks to hear from a few more...

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