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.