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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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I grew up in poverty, in a family in which no one was expected to go to college. Thus I came late to academia, graduating with a BA in Sociology at the age of 34. Unsure what I could do with my degree, I went to my college’s career center for help. After working with the career counselors for several weeks, I received a call. The counselor told me that a job announcement had just arrived for a “Diversity Trainer,” and she thought I would be a good fit. I didn’t know what a Diversity Trainer was, but the job description sounded very exciting: co-leading workshops for employees on accepting racial difference. In terms of my qualifications, I have always considered myself open-minded and progressive—I come from the West Coast, drive a Prius, and shop at natural food markets such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s (and always bring my own bags). I will admit that I have on occasion told an ethnic joke or two (but never in mixed company) and that I was often silent when others told similar jokes or made racist comments. But my silence was usually to protect the speaker from embarrassment or avoid arguments. Thus, confident that I was qualified for the diversity trainer position, I applied and received an interview.

The interview committee explained that the State’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS—the “welfare” department) had been sued for ← 1 | 2 → racial discrimination and had lost...

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