Biography & Autobiography. Multi-Cultural. Nonfiction. HTML: Debby Irving is an emerging voice in the national racial justice community. Combining her organization development skills, classroom teaching experience, and understanding of systemic racism, Irving educates and consults with individuals and organizations seeking to create racial equity at both the personal and institutional level. Irving grew up in Winchester, Massachusetts, during the socially turbulent 1960s and '70s. After a blissfully sheltered, upper-middle-class suburban childhood, she found herself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by the racial divide she observed in nearby Boston. Her career began in a variety of urban performance-art and community-based non-profits, where she repeatedly found that her best efforts to "help" caused more harm than the good she intended. Her one-step-forward-two-steps-back experience of racial understanding eventually lead her to dig deeply into her own white privilege, where she found truths she never knew existed. Waking Up White describes that journey and the lessons learned along the way. Now a racial justice educator and writer, Irving works with other white people to transform confusion into curiosity and anxiety into action. She's worked in private and public urban schools, both in the classroom and at the board level, to foster community among students, teachers, staff, and families by focusing on honest dialog that educates and connects people through shared interests and divergent backgrounds. A graduate of the Winsor School in Boston, she holds a BA from Kenyon College and an MBA from Simmons College. Waking Up White is her first book..
Debby Irving has written an enlightening, boldly honest, and refreshing narrative that describes her awakening to her own whiteness and her personal transformative journey to understand the complexity of systematic
“Racism crushes spirits, incites divisiveness, and justifies the estrangement of entire groups of individuals who, like all humans, come into the world full of goodness, with a desire to connect, and with boundless capacity to learn and grow. Unless adults understand racism, they will, as I did, unknowingly teach it to their children.”
In the first part of the book, Irving defines herself as 100% New England WASP and then spends a great amount of time describing her roots, family values, and the affluent lifestyle she had growing up. Her self-awareness of her background and ancestry were the first steps in a “racial learning journey” that required her to step out of her comfort zone and closely examine the beliefs she internalized growing up in a monocultural cocoon of whiteness. One of the major points she emphasizes in the book is that “Understanding whiteness, regardless of socio-economic class and ancestry is the key to understanding racism.” While my background differs significantly from hers, I could still relate to her naiveté and the outrage and shock she experienced when she discovered the “invisible skin of white privilege” had afforded her so many more opportunities than those of people of color.
What I appreciated most about this book is that Irving delves beyond the simplistic definition of racism as prejudice or discrimination against people because of their race and provides insight into the social construct of racism. She uses examples from history, describes the results of race-related sociological experiments, and includes anecdotes from her own life to support her claims. I admire Irving for her unabashed honesty in describing some painfully humiliating experiences in her journey toward understanding.
The last section of the book describes some steps we can all take toward creating an inclusive, multicultural environment and how we can move beyond the anxiety and ineptness we may feel when we try to talk about race. Another major point that resonated with me is how easy it is to judge another person’s experience from our own ethnocentric vantage point as opposed to taking the effort to imagine what it may be like to walk in someone else’s shoes.
The book offers lots of opportunities for self-reflection through the discussion questions posed at the end of each chapter, which encourages readers to become thoughtful and active participants in the reading process. I certainly learned a lot about my own white ethnicity and how it has impacted my understanding of racial differences and the divide that continues to separate us.
Source: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest and fair review.
The book is 46 short chapters (some as short as 3 pages) with a set of questions for reflection at the end of each. Debby recommends using a journal to write your thoughts. I think this is a book that could also be read in a group with the questions used for discussion.
I've just finished reading this book and I felt a desperate need to get through and read the whole book without engaging in the questions very much. This is a book I feel I need to read several more times (next time with a journal at hand) to really help everything sink in. There is a lot to unpack - this book is a great guide.
The author is well-off, well educated and dedicated to getting to the root of her racialized relationship with others. It took her years of searching, workshops and workplace experience to unravel the beliefs and behaviors that made her complicit in our system of racism. The wisdom she gained made here a more peaceful and competent person. We have a lot of work to do.
Irving’s book, however, is not about the horrors and injustices of racism, it is about how its effects so permeated her early life, that it was almost invisible to her, and how, while meaning well, she conformed to the norms that perpetuated it. As her experiences living in a more urban and racially mixed environment gradually awakened her to its effects and her own inability to ameliorate them because of her lack of experience, as a white person to those effects. In short chapters she recounts her awakening, and at the end of each chapter gives her fellow white readers a few questions to ponder. This gives us a chance to deepen our understanding of the experience of Americans less melanin deprived than we.