As I mentioned the other day, in the last year or so I've become worse and worse about actually finishing books. I check out and buy tons of books, and then I don't read them. Or, rather, I start them and then pile them up beside my bed until the stack gets too high and falls over. Then I return them to the library or put them on a bookshelf. And the cycle continues with new books.
I'm totally fine with ditching books partway through if I'm not liking them, but that's not the situation here. It's more like I don't seem to have the intellectual wherewithal or the discipline to pay attention to keep going. I want to change that pattern I've fallen into. So I'm going to blog about each book I finish this year, in hopes that this will prompt me to finish more of them. (And books I'm teaching don't count.)
So here's Book #1: Debby Irving, Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race (Cambridge: Elephant Room Press, 2014).
Debby Irving is a self-described New England WASP who started figuring out how white privilege works at the age of 50. This book is memoir-ish in that she talks about her various awakenings and mistakes along the way to a greater understanding of structural racism. She's not an amazing writer, but it's an engaging book, and she has questions at the end of each chapter to help folks who are on their own journey toward understanding. She's especially good on the phenomenon of well-meaning white people.
This book has gotten an unusual amount of attention for a self-published book. I first heard about it last summer at the diversity workshop I went to, and Debby Irving seems to have become a fixture at various conferences and workshops for independent schools and diversity. I'm not entirely sure why -- she doesn't seem connected with independent schools at all -- and maybe she has a broader reach that I don't know about. I think some churches and synagogues are reading it as well. The book is very popular right now in at least the small corner of the world I inhabit.
Anyway, I accidentally sort of started a reading-about-race group of faculty & staff at FGS this year, and we decided to read Irving's book this winter. Irving is either on the lecture circuit right now or at least was going to be in our area doing a talk, and so several folks were interested in reading it. About 20 adults at FGS got the book (generously paid for out of the Multicultural Coordinator's budget), and about 12 gathered to have a conversation about it. And I had been asked to facilitate that conversation -- the reason that I'd actually finished this book instead of letting it languish in the pile with the other half-read books!
I didn't learn all that much from reading it, but then again I've been thinking about and studying race for a pretty long time. (Race and racism in America played a vital role in my dissertation.) But some of the folks in the group learned A LOT, so that right there says something important about this book. She's also really understanding of the fear of saying something stupid that keeps white people silent, which I know for a fact had been dogging some folks in the group. So I think that this book can be wonderful for groups of white people (which this self-selected group of FGS adults was) who want to push through that fear and develop greater cultural competence. I'm thinking of recommending it to my synagogue, which is having a series of conversations about race this year.
Finally, it would have done both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders a world of good to have read Debby Irving's book before Thursday night's debate!