How to Change America One Student at at Time | Ft. Debby Irving

December 1, 2020


Long ago, Debby Irving dedicated her life to making the world a more enlightened place, one lesson at a time…ironically, she ended up becoming the student. Her career as an educator changed her view of the racial dynamics that define life in America. In this thought-provoking discussion, Irving endeavors to deconstruct the concept of ¨whiteness¨ and highlight the inherent danger of white ignorance.

0:39 Each One Teach One

Although Debby Irving´s book, ¨Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race,¨ was released in 2014, the cultural atmosphere of 2020 makes it more relevant than ever. Conceived as an entry-level course for white Americans wishing to become better allies in the fight for social justice, the book draws heavily on her own experience overcoming prejudice. It was only after attaining an advanced formal education that she was able to identify blind spots in her own perspective, and she took this awakening as a call to action.

2:10 The ¨Aha!¨ Moment

After growing up in what she calls a privileged environment in New England, Irving admits to being sheltered on matters of race in her early adult life. It was her discovery of the widely practice known as redlining that unmasked racism as a systematic reality. Her father, a veteran of the Second World War, received a free college education as a result of the GI Bill introduced in the postwar period. This courtesy was not extended to the two million black veterans, giving her a small glimpse into the depths of American racial oppression.

4:07 White Comfort

For Irving, a central stumbling block on the road to true equality is the concept and perceived importance of white comfort. More insidious than overt racism, as defined by the educator white comfort stems from an internalized belief in one´s own superiority. Entitlement is at the core of the white comfort concept, as without the added protection that being a member of a dominant class affords, some individuals are left without a sense of self. This leads to any dissonance between expected results and actual results to be blamed on a nebulous ¨other.¨

7:43 A Delicate Discussion

Even for a white woman, exposing white comfort to white people has delivered mixed results in Irving´s circle. Those who subscribe to a doctrine of colorblindness and established equality often find her ideas offensive, as they suggest shortcomings on the part of the listener. However, she was encouraged by the open acceptance of others in her life, such as her sister who immediately began refining her perspective by initiating discussions on the subject. The educator credits those who welcomed the challenge with spurring her on.

9:40 Silence as Violence

While the loudest voices dominate the discussion of anti-racist education, in Irving´s view the larger concern is in the implicit support of the people around them. November´s Million MAGA March may not have drawn one million people, but the tally at the ballot adds critical context to the moment. Over 70 million Americans, in voting for Donald Trump, expressed their view that racism and bigotry are tolerable in the society we share. For Irving, the danger lies in white supremacist rhetoric being repackaged instead of drawn out and debunked.

12:38 Correct Your Cousins

Debby Irving´s statement ¨we are all cousins¨ is not only true on a social level, but from an anthropological point of view. However, it is a general human truth that the opinions of those we perceive as closer to us carry more weight. For these reasons, Debby Irving places the lion’s share of responsibility for addressing white supremacy at the feet of white people. Only by individuals working to reeducate those with whom they share an established bond of trust can these uncomfortable conversations be advanced…for the good of the entire family.

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