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Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the…

Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race

by Debby Irving

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I read this for a book group of white liberal women and it prompted a lot of sharing among the lot of us. Many questions arose for me in my own life and how I handle race relations. I look forward to continued open conversations. ( )
  niquetteb | Nov 26, 2016 |
Debby Irving grew up in a WASP family in Winchester, MA and has lived most of her life in Massachusetts. She has spent most of her adult life trying to increase diversity in the organizations she worked for and in her personal life, but didn't have the necessary revelations or skills to do this effectively until a course at Wheelock College caused her to "wake up." Her good intentions didn't translate to a good grasp of the history of racism or even understanding her own privilege.

Irving writes about her "waking up" journey with many anecdotes from her life as well as citations of classes, books, films, conferences, and advice from mentors in the field of racial justice. Much of her personal work was to push through discomfort in order to learn, rather than avoiding unpleasant topics, as she had been socialized to do. "I don't know what I don't know" was another important realization.

The target audience for this book is likely similarly raised white people; anyone who values diversity and wants to bridge professional and social gaps but feels uncomfortable, awkward, or ill-equipped to do so. The writing is a bit repetitive at times and the "waking up" process is painfully slow, but there is still much of value here, and as racism is still, unfortunately, alive and well in this country today, the material here may be helpful for many.


-Lots of references to the film Race: The Power of an Illusion in the first half of the book.

"Racism holds all of us captive in ways white people rarely imagine." (xii)

"Exploring one's relationship to [the dominant, white Anglo] culture is where the waking-up process begins." (xiii)

"Each cultural norm motivated me to fit in while judging others who didn't. I learned to become deeply uncomfortable around people who exhibited any of the disapproved emotions, especially anger." (10)

"Both [race and class] are real, and both matter...Race and class are inextricably linked...[but] unlike poverty, skin color is visible and fixed." (13-14)

"That white-skinned people were the only ones I knew [growing up] never struck me as anything other than perfectly normal." (25)

"Racism wasn't about this person or that...this community or that; racism is, and always has been, the way America has sorted and ranked its people in a bitterly divisive, humanity-robbing system." (31)

"The same GI Bill that had given families like mine a socioeconomic rocket boost had left people of color out to dry....I'd been reaping the benefits of being a white person without even knowing it. (33)

From the perspective of Americans excluded from this massive leg-up policy, the GI Bill is one of the best examples of affirmative action for white people. (35)

"[I felt] duped and infuriated to have inherited a legacy that contaminated me with injustice." (36)

The biggest problem with America's idea of racial categories is that they're not just categories: they've been used to imply a hierarchy born of nature. (41)

In policy after policy, act after act, the United States has reaffirmed its commitment to being a melting-pot society adhering to Anglo-Saxon standards, as opposed to a mosaic nation built on the diversity of multiple cultures. (47)

Averages, not outliers [e.g. Oprah], tell the story. (60)

...an entire culture filtering what it sees and hears through a fractured belief system built on missing information is a setup for misunderstanding, mistrust, resentment, and violence. It also creates a self-fulfilling, self-perpetuating cycle of outcomes. (63)

"Ideas create outcomes that, if unexamined, reinforce old ideas....White folks don't just control America's institutions; they control the narrative. And the narrative...controls just about everything else." (67)

"White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh (71)
Privilege is a strange thing in that you notice it least when you have it most. (71)

Discrimination and privilege are flip sides of the same coin. (72)

Segregation enables avoidance, which enables denial, which creates the illusion that white privilege doesn't exist. (74)

As long as the dominant culture holds fast to a story of white as right, the possibility of hearing other truths gets shut out, and the cycle continues: white folks experience people of color's versions of events as incongruous and therefore inadmissible. (85)

"If there's a word for something, we're much more likely to 'see' it and treat it as real." (88)

Whistling Vivaldi (90)

"The Right Hand of Privilege" by Dr. Steven Jones (101)

Invisible privileges are exceptionally easy to ignore. (101)

Color-blindness, a philosophy that denies the way lives play out differently along racial lines, actually maintains the very cycle of silence, ignorance, and denial that needs to be broken for racism to be dismantled. (102)

"Kids notice difference without judgment, if we let them." (diversity training, 125)

Intent vs. Impact (159)

Whom exactly does the culture of niceness serve? I suppose it serves the people for whom life is going well, the people in power. But where does this leave less empowered individuals and populations with legitimate complaints? Speaking truth to power too often results in feelings of judgment and anger at the complainer. (170)

List of dominant white culture behaviors: conflict avoidance, valuing formal education over life experience, right to comfort/entitlement, sense of urgency, competitiveness, emotional restraint, judgmentalness, either/or thinking, belief in one right way, defensiveness, being status oriented (194)

"Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance." (attributed to Verna Myers, 228)

Being competent in multiple ways serves everyone. (230)

Collective well-being is inseparable from individual well-being. (233)

...the harsh reality that racism is a problem created by white people and blamed on people of color. (245)

"I can't give away my privilege. I've got it whether I want it or not. What I can do is use my privilege to create change.." (249) ( )
  JennyArch | Nov 7, 2016 |
I found this really helpful and it's impelled me to do further reading on the topic (the author provides a handful of books as suggestions of where to go next). ( )
  ingrid98684 | Jul 24, 2016 |
Debby Irving's memoir discusses that her experience of immersion in one environmental "bubble" can shape a false world view. Who leads and who follows? Who serves and who gets served? As a white American with a similar upbringing, I identified with much of what Irving says about what I like to call "color blindness." Irving discusses that her epiphany so upsets her that she sets out to advocate for racial equality. However, Irving details her ineffectiveness as an advocate because she didn't know the mechanisms of racism and so her financial assistance did not make a substantial difference in the lives of the children she intended to aid. Irving's message that racism intentionally obstructing the success of black and brown people through sub-standard housing, menial job opportunities, and below par education. This text is useful in a curricular unit about impact of Biography and Autobiography. Other texts to consider would be Walden by Thoreau, the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, or the autobiography of Frederick Douglass. Excerpts of this text can also be useful in a unit about persuasive writing and the civil rights movement.

Interview with Debby Irving http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2015/08/10/waking-up-white
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/culturally-speaking/201112/colorblind-ideology-is-form-racism ( )
  sgemmell | Apr 20, 2016 |
Excellent introduction to the reality, characteristics and significance of a "White" ethnic and racial identity within the United States. This is of particular significance since we live with the historical legacy of a society with a severely repressed ethnic and racial group defined in opposition to the White group. The book is also worth considering since most of these characteristics and the problems they present "Black" individuals and their community remain mostly hidden to those of us who rarely interact with the Black community on its own turf. At times, the book's observations might strike some as a little naive or excessively idealistic. The story is told from the author's personal experience. ( )
  strawberrycreekmtg | Sep 12, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0991331303, Paperback)

For twenty-five years, Debby Irving sensed inexplicable racial tensions in her personal and professional relationships. As a colleague and neighbor, she worried about offending people she dearly wanted to befriend. As an arts administrator, she didn't understand why her diversity efforts lacked traction. As a teacher, she found her best efforts to reach out to students and families of color left her wondering what she was missing. Then, in 2009, one "aha!" moment launched an adventure of discovery and insight that drastically shifted her worldview and upended her life plan. In Waking Up White, Irving tells her often cringe-worthy story with such openness that readers will turn every page rooting for her-and ultimately for all of us.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:36 -0400)

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