What Does It Mean to be White? Developing White Racial Literacy by Robin DiAngelo
Lollygagger’s most excellent and comprehensive review of Robin DiAngelo’s What Does it Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy made me eager to read it for myself. I’m linking to the original review, which I will then build on. Back? Okay, let’s get started.
DiAngelo builds on concepts of racism with which we are all familiar and then talks about how being white constructs a specific racial framework through which white people see race, racism, and other precepts of culture and context. Specifically, she talks about whiteness as a racial construct, and she can do so because she herself is white and has worked in antiracism training for many years. I found this informative, because as an ally, I want to do better for my students and community.
There are two important takeaways that I personally came out with:
*The first is the definitions, in which DiAngelo unpacks bias, prejudice, racism, and oppression. It’s useful to understand why racism is systemic, and why we need to destroy the binary of bad =racist and good=not racist, because it’s never that simple. White people are so afraid of being perceived as racists, that when they do make mistakes, their fragility shows and they can become defensive. “What do you mean? I’m not racist! I have a black friend!” [tears] We need to understand the cycles of oppression that take place and how racism is a system into which we are all born and interact with differently. When we can identify how racism works, and how oppression works, we can better understand how to dismantle it thoroughly.
*The second useful component was the discussion of white silence. Something DiAngelo mentions is that white people are often silent or afraid to “connect” because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. I myself have been all-too-guilty of this and blurt out something stupid when I do say something, because I am afraid of saying the wrong thing. DiAngelo points out that if we’re just genuine and ourselves, we’re going to make mistakes, and we’re going to embarrass ourselves sometimes. BUT if we work on those mistakes, we’ll better ourselves in the long run.
This is a book worth reading, especially if you, like me, grew up surrounded by mostly white neighbors and churchgoers and schoolmates, etc. I never thought about race much until I saw the disparity in treatment between my best friend and myself. She comes from an immigrant Dominican family and is an American citizen, but because she is dark-skinned and fluent in Spanish, she is often treated as stupid or illiterate. It was highly uncomfortable to watch and forced me to realize that I needed to educate myself on race. Since I’ve become an educator, it’s a journey upon which I’ve gladly embarked, and I recommend this book to other justice-minded friends and colleagues.