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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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Antiracist Education: An educational approach that goes beyond tolerating or celebrating racial diversity and addresses racism as a system of unequal power between whites and people of color.

Aversive Racism: Forms of racism that allow well-meaning white people to maintain a positive (“not racist”) self-image while still perpetuating racism.

Binary: An either/or construct that positions a social dynamic into two distinct and mutually exclusive categories.

Cisgender: The term for people whose sex assignment at birth and subsequent socialization are the same as their gender identity. The majority of people are cisgender.

Colorblind Racism: Pretending that we don’t notice race or that race has no meaning. This pretense denies racism and thus holds it in place.

Danger Discourse: The specific form of racetalk that positions African Americans as inherently dangerous.

Discourse: The academic term for meaning that is communicated through language in all of its forms. Discourses include myths, narratives, explanations, words, concepts, and ideology. Discourses are not universally shared among humans; they represent a particular cultural worldview and are shared among members of a given culture. Discourse is different from ideology because it refers to all of the ways in which we communicate ideology or meaning, including verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication, symbols, and representations.

Discrimination: Unfair action toward a social group and its members that is based upon prejudice about that group. Discrimination occurs at the individual level; all humans discriminate. ← 353...

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