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Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race (2014)

by Debby Irving

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6792234,197 (3.84)17
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.… (more)
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» See also 17 mentions

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Brave . . . A jolting and continuing journey from white obliviousness to white awareness described in an honest way that may inspire others to do such transformational work on themselves. . . . Empathetic. -- Peggy McIntosh
  PendleHillLibrary | Jun 15, 2022 |
Irving’s memoir of growing up in the Boston suburb of Winchester, Massachusetts, surrounded by fellow White Protestants of British ancestry left her oblivious to the history of racism and its effects in the United States. She writes that she lived in “The exclusive world of thriving people raising thriving children.” As with other WASPs growing up in the Boston suburbs, as I did, she knew racism existed, but thought that it was a problem for people in the South and did not exist where she lived. She did not know its history or how it operated and continues to operate in the 21st century in ways only slightly different than it did in the past and that it was not a problem that existed only in the southeastern part of the country. Its roots started in Europe and were transplanted to this hemisphere by the first European colonists in the 17th century. Some of the strange fruit that it bore were devastating pandemics, genocide, and xenophobia.

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. ( )
  MaowangVater | Jan 26, 2022 |
I have been reading a lot on this topic lately. This is one of the most approachable titles I've found. Short chapters draw you in. Good questions at the end of each to help you delve deeper into your own thinking. The queries would be great to get a book group talking. Because Ms Irving is so open about her own insensitive moments, she invites you to confess your own and be more honest with yourself. As always when reading a lot on a topic, I found repetition here, but also several gems that I hadn't considered. The more I read the more I know I don't know. I would recommend this to anyone. A great place to start if this is your first exploration of race. Good resources at the back. I would also suggest reading it with a friend or two. Discussion really helps. ( )
  njcur | Jul 27, 2021 |
Includes understandable framing of concepts, a few specific language examples, and suggestions for further reading. ( )
  joyblue | Dec 19, 2020 |
I think it's very important for people from the dominant culture to share their journeys about how they've "woken up" about race. This helps to remove a huge burden that is sometimes forced on people of color to explain why the system is completely unjust to those who are benefiting from it. I know this journey looks different for everyone and I'm definitely on a different trajectory than the author but it was almost embarrassing how little she had ever thought about race. She was shocked by the fact that black veterans couldn't access the benefits of the GI bill after WWII, and having to listen to her process this was almost painful. How did she not know about this or ever even think about it? My only take away was from her missteps and her insistence that we need to make mistakes when we talk about race. If we're too afraid to speak up for fear of offending or getting it wrong we won't get anywhere. But even that advice comes with a caveat, do your research, put yourself in other's shoes, and ask lots of questions first. ( )
1 vote luzdelsol | Jul 31, 2020 |
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If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see. -- James Baldwin
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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.

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