I could really go on and on about race in this country, so I decided to read one book on it. It was... interesting.
Waking Up White - Debby Irving
Waking Up White is the book 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 Irving 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 antiracism 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.
I'll be honest, I had a really hard time getting into this book. You can tell a LOT of thought and research went into it because clocking in around 250 pages there is a LOT of information. I will say maybe the most disheartening thing is that after spending weeks to get through the book, one of the very first lines in the "Tell Me What To Do" section says, "The bad news is that unless you set yourself up for success, trying to do something helpful can actually perpetuate racism." So, great. I feel like I have basically wasted two weeks of my life. Thanks.
I will say that I did find myself pondering issues she brought up in the book after I finished a chapter. I feel like sometimes I am one of a different breed because while I'm big on believing things in your past shape who you are today, I also think you need to get over it. It's not really productive to use something that has happened to you personally as a crutch in the future. And I get that some people just are not able to get past that. But I will say that a little piece of me feels agitated when I watch discussions on race and there will always be an African American person refer to slavery as affecting them personally right now. I really don't think it's a fair argument to say that because something happened to an ancestor of yours way long ago, that you feel personally attacked. To me, that's pretty disrespectful to the people who were treated horrifically as a slave. It's not really fair either. I know that every day since reading the book, I try to analyze my actions toward someone- no matter their race. Am I being judgmental because of their disposition in life? The way they have their pants sagging? Because the woman is dressed provocatively? And I find that I do judge. I do. I think maybe because I've always lived my life knowing that people will judge me based on my appearance so I try really hard to portray that I'm educated, that I respect myself, and that I value what I have to offer to others.
What I did enjoy about this book is that it doesn't just cover one form of racism. It wasn't covered a lot but there is definitely "reverse racism" whereas African Americans will judge a white person person just as harshly. And it's obviously not limited to these two races, we have a plethora of them in our world and it's just hate all around. I agree that this would make for a really great book group book because there are discussion points throughout and it's interesting to see what other people's take would be.
Overall? It was... interesting. I didn't find it to be a rapid read because it kind of reads like a PowerPoint presentation you'd get at a diversity seminar for work to enrich your customer service skills. There are great things to take away from the book but I was left feeling like there was no real solution, that anything we do try to do makes us look like we're still just a racist trying to hard to not be one. It also didn't leave me with any hope that things would be better in society someday. That we're just on one big racism wheel and unless you can get everyone every where to recognize what we're doing wrong, it'll be too little, too late.
BUT. If you are a fan of memoirs and you are interested in the study of diversity and race in the American culture in particular, I highly recommend this. You can learn more about Debby Irving through her website, HERE.