Waking Up White: An Interview With Author Debby Irving

Both Pamela-Mahraiah and I had been very excited as we neared the time that we were going to interview Debby Irving.

Debby has very naturally, sometimes with difficulty, and uniquely written about her journey “out of” White Privilege (WP), in her book Waking Up White [(2014). Cambridge: Elephant Room Press].

Written in a flowing style, the lessons about WP that’s she’s recognized in herself and the culture; my read of her book, made me feel much better (when what I was reading about was my own WP); you don’t unlearn in a two-week course on Racism, all you need to know & jettison about WP, at least for many of us whites (I’m a white-male-heterosexual), who’ve been learning the dynamics of racism over a long time.

When I think back over the last twenty years of my own personal trek out of WP, I can still see some of the mountain top, and low valley experiences. Making the commitment to do this kind of work, often hard and emotionally-draining, as well as often a lonely place to be while working on one’s Anti-Racism all by one’s self.

In Debby’s transformation and my own, I found a similarity when I learned about my Unaware Racism, I wasn’t searching for what I came to learn about myself and the many faces of racism. This sounds a bit like Debby Irving’s experience. In my case it was a little more like a sneak attack! I wasn’t prepared for it, so it blew me away. But when I got my psychological wind back, I was ready to begin my own work that was often slow and hard to get my head around.

I feel it’s important for any of us doing the work of transformation in racial consciousness, that we need to do our own work first, for genuine understanding of ourselves and the aptitude of assisting others in their journeys. We can only change ourselves at the end of the day. It’s really only after we’ve done this internal work, gaining a clear-eyed comprehension of it, that we should do any kind of facilitation or presenting with others.

Debby Irving’s book is a very cogent one for this small region of the world in the northeast United States; she grew up in Massachusetts, and she invites us into her own New England culture; for us, this is a fairly well-known locale, living among WP (the belly of the beast?) in the Puritan northeast.

Paradoxically, I, grew up on the affluent North Shore, north of Chicago, Illinois. This helped me to continually be drawn into Debby’s story; James Madison, one of the architects of our country, the Founding Fathers used as their poster child for Fundamentalists, Religious Groups, and those on the Religious Right, was reputed to have said of the wealthy, slave-owning landowners who founded the nation, were the “opulent minority.”

Our goal in Anti-Racism would be to access accurate, historical information, instead of inaccurate information, found, spread & scattered like butter in Alfredo sauce, throughout so many textbooks. There’s a plethora of it all around us, and forms our contemporary educational institutions; yet, Debby asserts that’s she has talked with many younger people, many of whom really “get” the concept of WP, and other correlated topics to racism, and to keep it moving forward.

The Youth Culture, it seems, is far out ahead in understanding oppression, colonialization, privilege, removal of Civil Rights protection, multiculturalism, xenophobia, etc. This is an encouraging sign on the horizon for keeping the conversation on race on the front burner.

In her book, Debby recounts a story about how much she loved her Indian doll when she was a young girl. She had many questions: where did they all go? Why were so many lies told about Native Americans? Why were there so many omissions, myths, and distortions about Indigenous Peoples?” Much of the reason for this can be related to the use of stereotypical images of Native Americans; these images plant the distortions about other groups deep in our minds.

When you think about it, there aren’t too many places or gatherings in our culture, where whites can talk freely about race or racism, Debby observes, and there are two requirements in order for an atmosphere/environment to be created where this may be accomplished: time & space.

This kind of conversation is more of a dialogue than a discussion; it’s an attempt for participants to “bracket” (put up on the shelf for a while) one’s views, opinions and feelings, prior to rushing into an impulsive judgment or bias. It’s more about listening with empathic compassion, sort of in neutral gear, to hear how a person feels, rather than only listening for “facts.”

Thirdly, this kind of setting gives everyone who needs it, “air time” and a time to vent feelings without always hearing people’s responses to the feelings.
Finally, Debby would like to see more whites avoiding controlling behaviors, and have more of an ‘ignorance worldview.’ An individual who has this kind of perspective of the world, i.e., there’s a lot more I don’t know about the world than what I do know about the world, there’s no need to fear what we don’t know, so what we need to initiate it is employing our “seeking minds and listening ears.”

When Pamela-Mahraiah and I asked Debby what was next for her on her “to do” list, she replied she would like to write another book, and is playing with some ideas for it.
At this point in her life, she’s traveling a lot to do presentations, workshops, trainings, etc., and she loves this part of her job, especially meeting cool white people who want to be more effective anti-racists.

As a member of Southeast Maine Step Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), we’re looking forward to seeing Debby and Shay Stewart Boulet (her blog is “Black Girl in Maine”) when they come to Kittery, ME on January 28, 2018. More information will follow on this event.

Debby has several ways to contact her, and to look at all of the fine resources she’s provided on her sites. Check out: http://www.debbyirving.com; also go to her Facebook Page at Debby Irving.

For BOOKING ENGAGEMENTS please complete the Intake Form at http://debbyirving.com/intake-form/

For MEDIA ENGAGEMENTS please contact Martha Kiley, marthakiley1@gmail.com.

For BULK SALES or DESK COPIES please contact Jennifer Simpson, jennifer@debbyirving.com

Copyright: Pamela Marie Brouker & Christopher Bear-Beam October 6, 2017

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