Posted by: abbiewatters | October 26, 2016

Living into Expectations: Witnessing the impact of racial legacy

Chapter 27 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Can you recall your childhood expectations of how you’d fare in school? How did you imagine your adult life would be? Where did you get these ideas? Think about lifestyle, family, and work. How close is you life to those of your parents and other adults you knew? How much do you think race influenced your life vision and outcome? How much do you think class influenced your life vision and outcome?

I always expected that I would be at the top of my class. When I was five years old my parents had my IQ tested, and it was reported as 145 (Genius category) – although even after I’m grown, my IQ tests between 130 and 135. Probably a lot of that was the fact that I was extremely verbal, after having been read to since I was little. I was always told by my parents and other adults in my life that I was smarter than anyone else, so I was expected to out-perform everyone else. I did get Honor Roll grades, although I never studied and often didn’t even bring homework home from school. I usually was able to finish everything I needed to do in the 10 minutes at the end of class while the teacher answered other kids’ questions.

I expected to go to college, marry a college graduate, raise a family and then go to work to fulfill destiny after the children were out of school (remember I grew up in the days of Leave it to Beaver, and Happy Days.)

That was the life my parents lived, and the atmosphere I grew up in.

That was the white American dream of the 40’s and 50’s, and I lived it out. By marrying an officer, I was able to continue with that life course. Both race and class influenced both my dream and the actual course of my life.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

Posted by: abbiewatters | October 25, 2016

Surviving Versus Thriving: The psychic costs of racism

Chapter 26 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Think about a time when you were treated unfairly. What do you recall of your emotions (e.g., anger, resentment, anxiety) and your physical state (e.g., elevated heart rate, stomach clenching, sweating)? How did you respond to the unfair treatment?

I don’t remember exactly, but I do know that I shut down. I’ve said before that I have a horror of not being approved of, and criticism – whether earned or not – makes me retreat into my shell. I’m already an introvert, and after an experience like this I’m even more reluctant to engage with anyone.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

Chapter 25 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Did you or your parents ever ask for specific teachers or classroom placement? Did you or your parents ever volunteer for a school role, such as room parent of committee chair? How might you navigate those situations differently now? List three specific ways for a white parent both to be involved and to be inclusive of parents of color.

I don’t think my parents ever asked for a specific room or teacher when I was in school, and I know I never did as a parent. I was the oldest of four children, and I remember asking my mother to be room mother, but she never had the time. I did help out with a school-wide musical performance once, but only because the woman who was running it was a friend of mine. It never would have occurred to me to do it on my own.

If I were a room mother now, I would make an effort to get to know all the parents of the class – preferably in person at a back-to-school night, but failing that, I would make contact by phone or social media with the other parents. It might be more difficult if they spoke a different language, but even in that case, I would try to find someone to help translate for me.

I can remember growing up in Houston, my mother made friends with some of the Mexican mothers in my class, and they traded casseroles and recipes.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

Posted by: abbiewatters | October 22, 2016

Everyone is Different; Everyone Belongs: The power of inclusion

Chapter 24 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Make a list of all the factors that you believe contributed to your own achievement as a student. How do you think being a white person or a person of color influenced each of those factors.

Adults read books – chapter books – to me from a very early age. By the time I went to first grade, we had been through 10 or 12 of the Oz books, The Wind in the Willows, Ping, Winnie the Pooh, The Secret Garden, numerous Little Golden Books, and The Children’s Bible. I was reluctant to learn to read, because I really wasn’t interested in seeing Dick and Jane run. I remember when we would go to the grocery store, Mama would buy a Little Golden Book for us, instead of a toy or candy.

We also always had music on the radio, and I apparently had a large vocabulary. I went to a private kindergarten, and was expected to be in the top reading group and math group. I went to Sunday School and church every week, and had other adults who also expected me to be well-behaved and helpful.

I would have died of embarrassment if I had been sent to the principal’s office. On the rare occasion that I got in a little bit of trouble, I could count on one or both of my parents to stand up for me – at least until the situation had been thoroughly explored and I was convicted by my own actions. I probably was thought of as a “prig”, but I loved and craved appreciation and adulation of adults.

I started Brownie Girl Scouts as an eight-year-old, and stayed with the program through high school and into college. Girl Scouts is all about empowering girls to learn to make decisions for themselves. It also gives them an opportunity to try and fail, and learn from their failure. All the leaders are volunteer, so parents who have to work have a hard time providing that opportunity to their kids.

I had supportive extended family, and we travelled in the summer to visit them – consequently I was exposed to different experiences in travelling. I knew how to sit quietly in the dining car waiting for my meal – I knew to keep my napkin in my lap and how to use a finger-bowl.

My parents and grandparents insisted that everyone eat together, sitting down at the table, using proper table manners. There was no television when I was very young, but even after it existed, there was never a question of having it on during meal times. Everyone was expected to participate in the conversation at meals, with topics of general interest (not “Betty hit Georgie, and he cried and wet his pants.”).

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

Posted by: abbiewatters | October 21, 2016

Diversity Training: The harder I tried, the worse it got

Chapter 23 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Think about five rules from the “rule book” of social interaction that you grew up with. For each rule, can you imagine how it interferes with honest cross-cultural dialogue, given what you’ve learned in this book or from other sources?

  • If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

This goes back to the “Zap” factor. I’m often so afraid of offending in multi-racial situations, that I don’t engage. I would rather sit back and see what happens.

  • Don’t talk about religion or politics in a social setting.

I now know that among people of other races, religion and politics overlap – and often they are the “topic du jour” among racial groups. Particularly in this highly fraught election season, I find more and more that my politics are informed by my religion, and my religion is directly related to my politics. With all the vitriol flying around, I find it difficult to talk reasonably.

  • Be kind to other people.

It has taken me a long time to be able to talk about my experiences of race in the South with people (mostly other white people) here in the North. I’m terribly of offending (accidentally) anyone, so I rarely go deeper to find out more about other people’s ideas or outlooks.

  • Never talk about people’s physical characteristics.

It was drummed into my head that we don’t point, we don’t stare, and we certainly never say anything about differences among people who can hear us. There is a woman where I live who “suffers” from dwarfism (I don’t think she really suffers at all but I’m not sure how else to say it.) One time we were playing word games (a la West Wing), and I asked “What are the only words in the English language that begin with “d” “w”? (Of course, they are “dwarf”, “dwindle”, and “dwell”). It was only after I asked the question that it occurred to me that she was in the room and I was immediately embarrassed. There was really no reason to be ashamed – there was nothing personal meant – but I still blushed. Unfortunately I just left, instead of either apologizing or even asking her if she was offended.

  • Keep the conversation light and polite.

After the string of killings of young (and old) black men by police that have been the drumbeat of the news for a couple of years, I finally got to the place where I am willing to confront people who make inappropriate remarks about the situation. I have decided I won’t tolerate racial remarks, but it has been very difficult for me.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

Chapter 22 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Have you tried to form relationships across racial lines? How have they worked out? If they didn’t get very far, how did you explain that to yourself?

I have been able to form relationships across racial lines, but unfortunately, it’s only been when we were in structured, interracial settings. I have a good friend from Dallas who is a black woman dedicated to race relations. I worked with her in groups to increase racial sensitivity, and I still keep in touch with her on Facebook and email.

I also had some really good friends in Dallas who are Turkish Muslims. They reached out to the members of my church, and deliberately invited people to dine with them during Ramadan. It was a very interesting relationship, and we still keep in touch sporadically.

I haven’t been able to make those kinds of contacts since I moved to Washington, and I’m beginning to realize it’s because I am reluctant to put myself in the position of being rejected by the other communities. I don’t want to appear to be interested in them as friends just because they are racially diverse from my current acquaintances.

The retirement community I live in is not diverse at all, and I believe we all suffer from the lack of other races and opinions, but, so far, I have not been able to make any headway in finding a way to encourage diverse people to come to live here.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

Chapter 21 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Think of different groups of people in your life – your family, your friends, you co-workers, and so on. For each of these groups or contexts, think about whether you feel like an insider or outside and how that status affects your desire to spend time with the group.

My family – I’m very comfortable with my sisters and my two sons. We generally think the same way – liberal/progressive in politics, social justice fighters (although we go about it differently). I’m less comfortable with the in-laws (not my husband’s family – the spouses of my siblings and children). I’ve only recently begun to step out of a desire to avoid confrontation at all costs, so my tentativeness around the spouses is probably my own fault. I love them, but would rather not argue with them (about anything substantive). I’m less comfortable with my brother, too. He is 11 years younger than I am, and, although we were raised by the same parents, our passions diverged – so politically we are polar opposites. I decided many years ago that I loved him and his family, and I would rather remain on good terms with him than be honest.

My church friends – I attend a very progressive Presbyterian church in one of the most progressive areas of the country (Western Washington state). I often wish I could discuss things with the other members of the church, but generally they agree with me, politically and in the matters of full acceptance of all other people. It’s like coming home.

My friends where I live – I live in a retirement community. Many of the people here are less progressive than those in the church, but I am always tentative about arguing or even exploring the underlying bases of their beliefs. I do struggle with the fact most of the people who live here grew up in town. I often say this place is awfully incestuous because there are few folks here who are new. I like spending time with these people, but it can be tiring.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

Chapter 20 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

If you were to be given $100,000 and told to give it one charity, which one would you pick? What are the races of the organization’s three top executives? What race is the chair of the board?

I would give the money to the Presbyterian Mission Agency, which supports organizations and missions both in the United States and around the world. They focus on Racial and Ethnic Women’s Empowerment, Peacemaking, Justice Ministries, Disaster Response, Diversity Issues, and Empowerment of People. I don’t know all the places that the money could help, but I trust the agency to use the money in programs where it will do the most good. For many years, Presbyterian workers in other countries have been called “Fraternal Workers” not missionaries. They know their job is to work with the local people empowering them to develop themselves.

The Executive Director of the Agency is a married, gay Hispanic man. The Stated Clerk of the denomination is a black man who most recently served as the Presbyterian Church’s lead lobbyist in Washington, DC. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is currently led by Co-Moderators (Presidents) who are a middle-aged, white woman and a young, black woman.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

Chapter 19 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Have you ever benefited from family connections and/or family funds to further your career? Get into a school? Attain housing? From which racial group were those family connections?

My “family connection” benefits came from my grandparents and my mother. My father was a transplant from another area of the country, but we returned regularly to Texarkana where my grandfather was the vice-president of the bank, and my great-uncle was the president of the bank. After my folks retired from moving around the country for 25 years, they returned to Texarkana where Papa got a “retirement job” with the water company (helped along by my mother’s family connections). Even before that, I got a scholarship to junior college when my mother took me to meet the dean, who remembered her as a student.

Shortly after my first child was born, I became gravely ill. My husband was in his last semester of college, so he packed me and the baby up and sent us from Texas to New Jersey to stay with my parents until the doctors could figure out what was wrong with me. It turned out I had a badly infected gall bladder, and my childhood doctor convinced the surgeon that he should operate on me basically as a charity case. My parents paid for my hospital stay and all the incidentals, as well as caring for my baby and me for four months until my husband graduated. Then they let us live with them (and my three siblings) for another six months while my husband waited for his induction into the Air Force, followed by basic training.

When my husband was deployed to Vietnam and Thailand in 1970, my son and I again lived with my parents. Unfortunately during that time, the Air Force, in their great wisdom, lost my husband’s pay records for three months. I was a relatively new wife – married three years with a two-year-old – and I didn’t know how to begin to unravel the bureaucracy of the Air Force to just get a loan until they could straighten the pay out. My husband was busy fighting a war and was also having little to no luck in solving the problem. Thank goodness Ray and I were with my mother and father – otherwise we would have been homeless and starving.

After my husband retired from the Air Force, we returned to Texarkana and I got a job as Christian Education Director at my grandparents’ and parents’ church, helped along by the fact that my mother and the preacher’s wife were good friends and played bridge together.

I know my sister benefited by being hired by the trust department of my grandfather’s bank, and eventually retiring as a Trust Officer.

We all worked hard once we had our foot in the door but the beginning of our “good fortune” came from our white parents and grandparents.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

Chapter 18 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

If both your parents are white, imagine just one of them being a person of color. Rethink your life from birth to the present. How would your race have influenced your experiences and your outcomes?

First, if one of my parents were black, I would never have been born. They would never have met, much less married. They met and married in Texarkana, AR, in 1943 when my father was stationed there during World War II. They met because my father was rooming with one of my grandmother’s friends, and there’s NO WAY a black man would have been renting a room from a white woman, and even if he were allowed to stay in her garage, there’s NO WAY he would have been introduced to the daughter of one of her friends. Likewise, if my mother were black, there’s no way a white Army captain would have even met her, much less dated her.

That said, I definitely understand that my grandparents, my childhood church, and all my friends before the age of 12 would have rejected me. When my family to moved to New Jersey, I remember the realtor telling my parents that “the few darkies” in town lived in a particular area, and he was careful not to show us any houses even close to that area.

My husband and I might have met, but probably would never have dated because our social life revolved around a college fellowship at the church. This was the early ’60s and everyone “nice” was violently opposed to the forced integration of the colleges that was happening in Texas at that time. If I were half black, I wouldn’t have been at that church. My husband was in the Air Force, and from Pennsylvania, and a rebel, but it never occurred to him to visit a black church. The church he did attend was interested in “doing good things” for all the little black children, and ran one of the first Head Starts in the area. But the faculty were all white, and the assumption was that black teenagers/young adults hadn’t had a good enough education to help.

Chances are, if we actually met, fell in love, and married, our life would not have been all that different from what it was. He was in the Air Force, and black officers, or white officers with black wives, socialized freely at the Officer’s Club. Again, rank was more important than race, and we had several good friends who were people of color.

After he retired, we returned to Texarkana. If I were black, we might even have attended my grandparents’ church, as there was at least one couple of color in the congregation. Even when we moved to Abilene, TX, and then to Dallas, the church circles we moved in were fully integrated (or as integrated as you get when you’re talking about the Presbyterian Church (USA)). There was a mixed race couple in the church in Dallas – he was black, a lawyer and served two terms on the session – their daughter was fully accepted in the youth group.

When we finally made the break with the south (largely because we could no longer stomach Texas politics), we moved to Washington state. We live in a retirement community that is lily-white, although the staff is integrated and accepted, and I don’t think we would have been rejected as residents if I were black as long as we could pay the buy-in fee and keep up our rent. Our church has a few people of color and I would definitely have been comfortable there.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

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