Author Debby Irving to talk white privilege
MIDDLEBURY — “Recent events have provoked outrage and confusion about America’s ongoing racial tension,” says Debby Irving, author of “Waking up White.” “The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray made visible ongoing racial trauma formerly unknown to most white Americans. Inflammatory words by Paula Deen, Ronald Sterling, and Cliven Bundy stirred debate about what makes for a racist. Attempts to make sense of these events often leads to increased misunderstanding.
Irving is coming to Middlebury to help offer firsthand insight to the everyday perpetuation of racial inequality by well-intentioned white people.
On Sunday, Dec. 2, Irving will present the first of two community workshops on the challenging, but all-too-essential topic of white privilege. The Dec. 2, workshop, titled “I’m a Good Person! Isn’t That Enough?”, will be held at the Congregational Church of Middlebury at 2 Main St., from 1-3 p.m. The second workshop, “Leveling the Playing Field: Interrupting Patterns of Privilege,” will be held on Sunday, Jan. 27, from 3-5 p.m., also at the Congregational Church.
While mainstream media often brings a good/bad, black/white version of events involving individual actions, Irving encourages people to bring more nuance, historical knowledge, and personal reflection to the issue.
Irving uses her own life to explore the everyday systemic racism that goes largely unnoticed yet perpetuates long-held racialized belief systems. Observers say that “Waking Up White” functions as both a “Racism 101” for white people and a rare exposé on whiteness for people of color.
Copies of Irving’s book are available at the Vermont Book Shop, and at Ilsley Public Library.
Irving says on her website, with regard to the Dec. 2 Middlebury workshop:
“Racism taps into our deepest fears and longings. Understanding how it works is the key to breaking down barriers that interfere with best intentions. Using historical and media images, I examines how I used my white-skewed belief system to interpret the world around me,” and how I “spent decades silently reaffirming harmful, archaic racial patterns instead of questioning the racial disparities and tensions she could see and feel.”
This workshop is designed to support white people in making the paradigm shift from “fixing” and “helping” those believed to be inferior, to focusing on internalized white superiority and its role in perpetuating racism at the individual, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural levels.
Here is how Irving describes the Jan. 27 workshop:
“Who doesn’t know a skeptic? Using a series of pointed questions, I work with participants to build a graphic map of the groups people belong, and have belonged to, because of social locations and roles throughout U.S. history. Participants will think together about how various groups have and have not had access to rights, resources, representation, and respect, ultimately revealing the social positioning and impacts of white privilege and dispelling illusions of a level playing field.”
In between the two workshops, those who feel the need for additional exploration or debriefing may attend one of the following debriefing sessions, to be held at Ilsley at the following dates and time:
• Monday, Dec. 3, 10:30 a.m.-12 noon.
• Tuesday, Dec. 4, 4-5:30 p.m.
• Tuesday, Dec. 4, 6-7:30 p.m.
• Wednesday, Dec. 5, 1:30-3 p.m.
These workshops are both part of the continuing series of “Community Conversations,” offered by Rev. Andy Nagy-Benson and Emily Joselson over the past couple years. The workshops are sponsored by The Congregational Church of Middlebury, SURJ Middlebury (Showing Up for Racial Justice), Middlebury College, The Vermont Book Shop and Ilsley Public Library.