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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 17: Racism and Specific Racial Groups


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· 17 ·


The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black

Second, you must never forget that i’m Black

—Pat Parker (1990)

To be completely honest, race hasn’t meant a whole lot to me in my life. My parents have always taught me that it doesn’t matter what your skin color is. What matters is the kind of person you are. I grew up in a neighborhood that was filled with middle class families, most of which were white. One of my best friends on the street is milado [sic] (I’m not sure if this is politically correct?) and the other was Caucasian. In my eyes, we are all just people with beating hearts. (ASR)

Throughout this book I have been discussing race in general terms: white people and people of color. For the purposes of challenging many problematic dynamics of racism, such as individualism and color-blindness, it is important for us as white people to be able to suspend our focus on ourselves as unique and/or outside of race and intentionally focus on our collective racial experience. Exploring our group identity interrupts a key privilege of dominance—the ability to see oneself as a unique individual, outside of the forces of socialization. Therefore, discussing white people in general terms may be seen as an interruption of the normal dynamics of racism. ← 299 | 300 →

However, for people...

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