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Debby Irving

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

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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.


Elephant Room Press
Book Format
Original Languages
Number of Pages
Debby Irving
Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race
Publication Date
January, 2014
Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H)
9.00 x 6.00 x 1.50 Inches

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1-5 of 7 reviews
Average Rating:(5.0)out of 5 stars

Whiteness, it turns o...

"Whiteness, it turns out, is but a pigment of the imagination." - Debby Irving 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 that is still perpetuated in society. In the preface of the book, Irving reminds readers how important it is to dismantle racial barriers and inequalities that have become entrenched in America's historically white dominated culture: "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.

Average Rating:(5.0)out of 5 stars

One of the most import...

One of the most important books I've read this year. I consider myself pretty 'woke', but I certainly found a lot to learn from in Irving's treatise. Irving does not spare herself embarrassment, and willingly admits to having had (and continuing to have) blind spots when it comes to race and recognizing her privilege. I absolutely related to her blindingly privileged upbringing and realizations that she was herself perpetuating the practice of 'white savior-hood'. In our attempts to seem supportive and allied with people of color, we need to constantly remind ourselves to listen instead of speak, that it is not about us, that this fight has been going on far longer than we have been involved in it or even aware of it. We must do what we can to advance the cause but absolutely not at the expense of allowing others their rightful place as owners of their lived experience. We can reach a hand out without coming off like we think we're reaching down to pull someone else up. Every white person should read this book, particularly we suburban white ladies who are newly activists and want to help without harming.

Average Rating:(5.0)out of 5 stars

This is a phenomenal b...

This is a phenomenal book about race, racism, inequity, and white privilege. It's an easy read in the sense that Debby takes you by the hand and leads you through her own experiences, step by step, as she wakes up to race. It's also a hard read because you'll find yourself waking up. It's hard to be confronted with your own complicity, lack of understanding, knowledge, and sensitivity. But Debby humbly shares all her mistakes and blunders, allowing us to take a deep breath and plunge into this work too. 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.

Average Rating:(5.0)out of 5 stars

This is the ultimate g...

This is the ultimate guide to being a productive white ally in the fight against racism. The author grew up white and upper middle class in Winchester, MA. (about 5 miles away from me). She tells a familiar story, of her becoming aware of privilege, but not until the ripe old age of 50! It takes many conferences, teaching experiences, and friendships with people of color to bring her around. I am afraid that not many white people would be brave enough to admit to such enormous stumbles in their learning process. But I do believe that if copies of this down-to-earth, non-Kumbaya, practical guide were to be given to anyone who says, "I don't see color", that their lives would be forever changed and the fight for equity would take a giant leap forward. I have so many sticky notes inserted into the pages that I might as well have just taken a yellow highlighter to the entire book! In addition to taking us through her many steps, Ms. Irving poses a list of questions after every chapter to help the reader relate her passages to their own lives. A most brave and honest book.

Average Rating:(5.0)out of 5 stars

I found this really he...

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).


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