BENTON HARBOR, Mich.—There’s something that happened to Debby Irving a lot when she was signing copies of her book, “Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race,” after its publication in 2014.

Invariably a white person would say to her: “You know, I don’t even see color. We’re all humans. I just think: I’m a good person. That’s enough, right?” 

 “And I would think, ‘Oh, wow, no! No, it’s not enough!’” Irving told her southwest Michigan audience Oct. 3. 

 “And I would think, ‘Oh, wow, no! No, it’s not enough!’” Irving told her southwest Michigan audience Oct. 3. 

During the 25 years she was attending every diversity training she could and working across racial lines to help inner-city youths and their families, it was this very attitude, born in part from being taught as a child to be “colorblind,” that Irving said kept her from really learning about how her own whiteness had colored her beliefs and actions in the world all her life. See the accompanying story “Shining a Bright Light on Whiteness”. 

“I have learned it is possible to be a really good person and be really harmful when it comes to racism, out of sheer ignorance,” she said. White people can unknowingly harm people of color because of “deep, deep, deep conditioning” from birth, largely at the subconscious level.

“I have learned it is possible to be a really good person and be really harmful when it comes to racism, out of sheer ignorance,” – Debby Irving author of “Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race”.

The title of her workshop was “I’m a Good Person! Isn’t That Enough?” The subtitle: “How Power and Privilege Undermine Best Intentions.”

“I’m really clear. I’m not here to school people of color,” Irving said. “I like to work with white people. And I always to talk to and with white people in a way I wish people had spoken to me during those 25 years when I couldn’t wake up, because nobody was being both loving and firm, at the same time. It was one or the other.

“I’m often the comfortable choice of speaker for white people,” said Irving, who gives 80 presentations a year of various styles, depending on the audience.

White people often say, “Tell me what to do!”

 

Here are some tips based on the suggestions she offered:

  • Listen to multiple voices.
  • Learn not to shut down or tune out voices that, at first, rattle you, as Irving was initially rattled by Blacks Lives Matter demonstrations.
  • Don’t get history from just one narrow perspective.
  • Settle in and learn to live with the complexity of race in the U.S.
  • Learn to live with the discomfort that discussing and confronting racism invariably brings. 
  • Be vulnerable.
  • Be careful of labels, such as calling people “politically correct” or “racist.”
  • Break the code of white silence around racism.
  • Take the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge, which is found on Irving’s website. Each day for 21 days “Do one action to further your understanding of power, privilege, oppression, and equity,” the site says. “Plan includes suggestions for readings, podcasts, videos, observations, and ways to form and deepen community connections. …Can be done individually, with friends and family, or organization-wide.” https://www.debbyirving.com/21-day-challenge/