Author: Debby Irving
Publisher: Elephant Press Room
Publishing Date: 2014
Waking Up White is the book Irving wishes someone had handed her decades ago. By sharing her sometimes cringe-worthy struggle to understand racism and racial tensions, she offers a fresh perspective on bias, stereotypes, manners, and tolerance. As Irving unpacks her own long-held beliefs about colorblindness, being a good person, and wanting to help people of color, she reveals how each of these well-intentioned mindsets actually perpetuated her ill-conceived ideas about race. She also explains why and how she's changed the way she talks about racism, works in racially mixed groups, and understands the antiracism movement as a whole. Exercises at the end of each chapter prompt readers to explore their own racialized ideas. Waking Up White's personal narrative is designed to work well as a rapid read, a book group book, or support reading for courses exploring racial and cultural issues.
Other works by author:
I don't think the author has written any other works. This is her first book.
Background by author:
About Debby Irving
Debby is a white woman, raised 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 Boston. From 1984 to 2009 her work in urban neighborhoods and schools left her feeling helpless. Why did people live so differently along racial lines? Why were student outcomes so divergent? Why did she get so jumpy when talking to a person of color? Where did the fear of saying something stupid or offensive come from, and why couldn’t she make it go away? The more she tried to understand racial dynamics, the more confused she became. “I knew there was an elephant in the room,” she writes, “I just didn’t know it was me!”
In 2009, a course at Wheelock College, Racial and Cultural Identity, shook her awake with the realization that she’d missed step #1: examining the way being a member of the “normal” race had interfered with her attempts to understand racism. Waking Up White is the story of her two-steps-forward-one-step back journey away from racial ignorance.
Debby has worked since the 1980s to foster diversity, inclusiveness, and community-building. As general manager of Boston’s Dance Umbrella and later First Night, she developed both a passion for cross-cultural collaborations and an awareness of the complexities inherent in cross-cultural relationships. She has worked in public and private schools as a classroom teacher, board member, and parent. A graduate of theWinsor School in Boston, she holds a BA from Kenyon College and an MBA from Simmons College. Now a Cambridge-based racial justice educator and writer, Debby supports other white people grappling with the impact whiteness can have on perception, problem solving, and engaging in racial justice work.
"No one alive today created this mess, but everyone alive today has the power to work on undoing it. Four hundred years since its inception, American racism is all twisted up in our cultural fabric. But there's a loophole: people are not born racist. Racism is taught, and racism is learned. Understanding how and why our beliefs developed along racial lines holds the promise of healing, liberation, and the unleashing of America's vast human potential." (xiii)
"The way I understood it, race was for other people, brown-and black-skinned people. Don't get me wrong-if you put a census form in my hand, I would know to check "white" or "Caucasian." It's more than I thought all those other categories, like Asian, African American, American Indian, and Latino, were the real races. I thought white was the raceless race-just plain, normal, the one against which all others were measured." (xi)
Summary of content:
People, no matter who they are or where they come from, are taught to somehow treat white as superior against which everything is measured. White is thought of as the norm, the ordinary, while those that aren't white are seen as somehow different and in some cases exotic. In truth though, white is a race, but a race that is ashamed to admit that they're a race, and the book points out how white is a race as well as the perpetuation of white privilege syndrome.
"Self-examination and the courage to admit to bias and unhelpful inherited behaviors may be our greatest tools for change. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable enough to expose our ignorance and insecurities takes courage. And love. I believe the most loving thing a person, or a group of people, can do for another is to examine the ways in which their own insecurities and assumptions interfere with others' ability to thrive. Please join me in opening your heart and mind to the possibility that you-yes, even well-intentioned you-have room to change and grow, so that you can work with people of all colors and ethnicities to co-create communities that can unite, strengthen, and prosper." (249)
The book is divided into nine sections and has 46 chapters plus about over 250 pages. I will take a section and one random chapter from each chapter.
*Childhood in white
**Race versus class
*Midlife Wake-up calls
*Why Didn't I wake up sooner?
**The Whole Story
*Rethinking Key Concepts
**My Good Luck
*Twenty-five Years of Tossing and Turning
*Leaving My Comfort Zone
**The Dominant White Culture
*Reclaiming my humanity
Why its interesting and informative
In many ways the book has opened my eyes even more than before. I came here as a 1.5 generation, and just to make things even more bumpy, I am a white ethnic who has an "exotic" name and who never really felt belonged. I often felt conflicted and uncertain about the role I inhabit because although my skin has white color, my insides are not white, and my experiences are not typical white. I think I must have grown a sense of racism even as a teen. I recall describing an African-American boy as brown colored instead of using the word "black," and I recall watching an International student struggling with bills, illegally working as well as trying to stay strong when he is far away from his family. More than anything, I think the book has somehow confirmed what I knew.
What is the best way to get people to listen to your thoughts and ideas? From personal experience, if you try to shove something down their throat, or if you try to shame them without even bothering to acknowledge their experiences and why they are the way they are, then you're guaranteed to have lost that potential ally who could support you, and, even worse, you set yourself up for being constantly ignored by that individual. In other words, the road becomes closed. Perhaps that is the reason I majored in history, to go beyond the narrow narrative that I was taught because I know there is much more than simplistic words and ideas. When you learn from one person the struggles they experience, then everything changes.
Although whiteness is seen as the norm, it ultimately is a race with its own unique history and characteristics. Also, it seems, some people are not being oversensitive, but instead they are expressing legitimate concerns that they and their families have grown up with.
Ideas in book vs larger ideas:
When I reflected further upon the book, I did wonder if the book also described the power dynamics in different countries, or does it only talk about the white race in America and Europe? What I mean, can this book be applied to all dominant groups in the world regardless of their skin color, or is this book only applicable to Europeans and European-Americans?
I did agree a lot with what the author has talked about as well as mentioned. I do wish that she might have talked a bit more about Asian group and how they suffer racism. To be honest, while I kind of suspected that something was off, I didn't think it was off in the way the author portrayed it to be. I knew that European-Americans who were born here were thriving, and that there was a silent hierarchy that no one speaks off, but I didn't imagine it to be of this magnitude.
She uses footnotes and uses a lot of websites plus movies and books. I personally do wish that she would have talked more about white ethnics, but still a lot of she was dead on.
No matter if you called America "home" for the last 400 plus years, or if you only called it home a few years, this is a very eye-opening book that exposes the silent racism that is long hidden in the culture. One thing that I learned from history is that people get better and better at hiding their natures from others. Unfortunately very little can be eliminated when it comes to negativity.
This is for TLC Book Tour
Debby’s Tour Stops
Monday, June 23rd: Bibliophiliac
Tuesday, June 24th: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, June 26th: Deckled Edge Books
Monday, June 30th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Tuesday, July 1st: nightlyreading
Monday, July 7th: Back Porchervations
Tuesday, July 8th: Based on a True Story
Thursday, July 10th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Monday, July 14th: A Curious Gal
Monday, July 14th: Turn the Page
Wednesday, July 16th: Cosmos Mariner
Thursday, July 17th: The Avid Reader
Friday, July 18th: Reading in Black & White
Friday, July 25th: Sun Mountain Reviews
Tuesday, July 29th: Owlhaven
Thursday, July 31st: My Mamihood
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)