11/17/2016 Peter Durantine

What It Means to be White in Racially Divided Society

White people in white-dominated American society live a superior life, compared to people of color, but they ascribe an erroneous concept to the term, "racism," Robin DiAngelo told a Franklin & Marshall College audience this week.

“There’s no reverse form of racism,” said DiAngelo, who spoke at the Nov. 17 Common Hour, a community conversation held each Thursday in the semester when classes are in session.

“Racism is a system,” DiAngelo said. "It’s backed by legal authority; it works on multiple levels; and it results in an unequal distribution of resources between white people overall and people of color overall with white people the beneficiaries of that distribution.”

DiAngelo, who spoke on the topic, “Seeing the Water: Whiteness is Daily Life,” is a former associate professor of education who is now director of equity for Sound Generations in Seattle and lecturer at the University of Washington. She is author of “What Does It Mean to be White: Developing White Racial Literacy.”

  • DiAngelo, who spoke on the topic, “Seeing the Water: Whiteness is Daily Life,” is author of “What Does It Mean to be White: Developing White Racial Literacy.” Image Credit: Deb Grove

As part of her sweeping scope of research, DiAngelo talked about white progressives in particular who see racists as being morally bad people, while those progressives are complicit in the white racism from which they have benefited for centuries.

White people are socialized from birth to death about the superiority and advantages of being white, but even the white person with the best intentions is racist, DiAngelo said. “It’s not a matter of being a bad or good person,” she said. “All children by age 3 or 4 understand it’s better to be white.”

DiAngelo said she has heard the narratives, such as “treat everyone the same,” that attempt to instill non-racist views, but she said they are shallow and superficial explanations.

“You may have been told to treat everyone the same, but not one person was taught to treat everyone the same,” she said. “It’s not humanly possible; we all judge other people.”

When she hears such narratives, DiAngelo said she considers the person uninformed about socialization and the culture, and not self-aware. “Most white people grow up in racial segregation,” she said, where the message they get is, "it’s normal and it might even be natural to be apart.”


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