Waking Up White: An Interview & Conversation with Author Debby Irving

Debby Irving is a racial justice educator, author, and public speaker. A community organizer and classroom teacher for 25 years, Debby Irving grappled with racial injustice without understanding racism as a systemic issue or her own whiteness as an obstacle to it.

As general manager of Boston’s Dance Umbrella and First Night, and later as an elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she struggled to make sense of racial tensions she could feel but could not explain. In 2009, Debby took a graduate school course, Racial and Cultural Identities, which gave her the answers she’d been looking for and launched her on a journey of discovery. Now, speaking and leading workshops around the country, Debby devotes herself to exploring the impact white skin can have on perception, problem solving, and creating culturally inclusive communities. A graduate of the Winsor School in Boston, she holds a BA from Kenyon College and an MBA from Simmons College. Her first book, Waking Up White, tells the story of how she went from well-meaning to well-doing.

Waking Up White is the book Debby 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 she 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 racial justice 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.

Reviews for Waking Up White

“ What a provocative read. There’s so much in [this book]… about what it means to be in the white race.” Robin Young, Here & Now

"...a remarkable and, at times, emotionally searing look at one white woman's struggle to understand racism. It is part memoir and part guide to changing how we think about race...one of the most important books on race in recent memory." Readers + Writers Journal

“With eloquence and a sense of urgency, Irving takes us on a journey into the heart of what is arguably the American issue….Waking Up White is a provocative, persuasive call to action. Readers may squirm at some of its arguments, but they will find themselves thinking hard about them. And they will take them to heart.” Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin

“Debby Irving’s powerful Waking Up White opens a rare window on how white Americans are socialized. Irving's focus on the mechanics of racism operating in just one life -- her own -- may lead white readers to reconsider the roots of their own perspectives -- and their role in dismantling old myths. Readers of color will no doubt find the view through Irving's window fascinating, and telling.” -- Van Jones, author, Rebuild The Dream, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems; President, Rebuild The Dream; Co-host, CNN Crossfire

"I read Waking Up White in one sitting. To say I loved it is an understatement. It's such a raw, honest portrait …. Irving's experience on display - warts and all - will help white people, who haven't noticed the role systemic privilege has played in their lives, start to see the world in a new way." -- Jodi Picoult, author, Small Great Things

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