From Tolerance to Engagement: Why “tolerance” and “celebrating diversity” set the bar too low.

Chapter 43 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Have you ever been to an event that celebrated diversity? What did you learn about the various cultures’ belief systems? Did the event give you insight into how a person from that culture might feel, given their cultural values and habits, if they tried to engage in an organization steeped in values and habits from the dominant white culture?

When we lived in Dallas, we became friends with a Muslim couple from Turkey. We met them when a group from their social club deliberately reached out to Christians and Jews following 9-11. They “got it”. They invited us to intimate family dinners, and to large gatherings. Often there was no “program”. Just folks getting together and having a meal together.

We learned their names, and the names of their children. They learned our names and some of our ways. Many/most of the men were PhD students or medical students at various hospitals. For a while many of the women struggled with English and were more reserved.

But the women decided the best way to connect with American women would be to hold cooking classes, and teach us how to fix the Turkish delicacies they were missing. DOING something together is a really good way to learn about another person. When the other person is teaching you how to do something, you really learn to appreciate them.

Once the women were comfortable with teaching us, they let us into their lives, and we began to understand how much they had to offer us. We laughed together, we cried together, we ate together, and we shared our lives.

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.

Solidarity and Accountability: Sharing the burden of racism

Chapter 42 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Think of an issue in your own community (town, school, workplace, religious organization) that has been raised by people of color. How would you approach people who are focused on the problem? How would you go about being in solidarity with them? What could you offer?

Tacoma has, as part of its City Government, an Office of Equity and Human Rights that has been in existence since February 2015. It was only when I just googled “Tacoma – Race Relations” that I learned that it exists. As for as I know (and I’m reasonably plugged in to what’s going on), they haven’t done, or been doing much. I have attended candidate forums during the last two city elections, and I had never heard of this department.

I am connected to Peace Community Center, which is run by a Lutheran Church in the part of the city where many people of color live. But other than that, I don’t have any connection with racial minorities. Part of that is the part of the city where I live, and part of it is my own inertia.

Since I am a retiree, I don’t even have the connections that would otherwise come from having children in public school. I need to get out more.

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.

From Bystander to Ally: When it comes to racism, there’s no such thing as neutral.

Chapter 41 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

What might prevent you from stepping out of the bystander role and into the ally role? Make a list of your reasons. What do you notice as you look at this list? What might you do to overcome the obstacles you’ve listed?

  1. I’ve been raised to “be nice”. – Assertiveness without aggressiveness is a very fine line, and I’m so afraid of offending people that I often am a “bystander”. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to counteract this tendency in myself, and I’m trying to think through some potential situations and how I should/will respond. I also could use a lot more role-playing to practice this.
  2. I’m afraid of practicing micro-aggressions, even when I have the best of intentions. – One of the best ways around this is to develop personal relationships with folks of a different color/faith/gender/etc. I need to seek out people who are different from me, just because I want to be around them. I also need to listen to them when they tell me I’ve stepped over the line and into that space.
  3. My “ear” is often not attuned to unacceptable behavior, and I miss what’s going on. – If I’ve missed the sub-text in a situation, I need to not be afraid to circle back and confront it once I DO “get it.” Again, having a personal relationship with the “others” will help me understand and hear the undertones and undercurrents around 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.

Bull in a China Shop: How habits that seem so innocuous to me can alienate people of color

Chapter 40 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Make a list of five conversation starters that have nothing to do with identifying a person by where they’re from, what they do for work, or any other sorting and ranking criteria. For example, think about how you’d feel asking or being asked, “So what was the most interesting thing that happened in your day today?”

  1. Have you tried out the food at (new restaurant) yet? Have you heard anything about it?
  2. I just picked up the (bestseller book). Have you read it? What did you think? What have you heard about it?
  3. I’m filling my evenings with Netflix, now that baseball season is over. Have you seen anything good recently?
  4. I understand the city council is discussing a new parking garage in (mid-town). What do you think about that?
  5. Have you seen the ads for that new gluten-free bread? I wonder if it’s any good.
  6. How ’bout them Cowboys?

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.

Equality Starts with Equity: Adjusting my understanding of what’s fair

Chapter 39 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Which of the following special-by-race programs have benefited you in your life? How?

  • white-only or white-dominated neighborhood – this is me. There was NEVER (or at least when I was a child) a person of color in any of the grade schools for the areas we lived in.
  • white-only or white-dominated country club – we never belonged to the Country Club, but my grandparents did and we would go there to swim or for dinner when we visited.
  • other types of white-only or white-dominated social clubs – my Girl Scout troops were all lily-white, although I don’t know whether any girls of color wanted to join. If the Officer’s Club on the Air Force Base was white-dominated, it was because the officer corps was largely white.
  • legacy at a private school – nope, I never benefited from that.
  • legacy at an institution of higher education – nope, I never benefited from that, either, although my sister was accepted (and got a scholarship) partially because my grandmother was a graduate from the University of Michigan.
  • lending rates for white people – we happily benefited from the GI bill. If we got lower rates on cars or other things, I wasn’t aware of it, but I feel sure it happened.

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.

The Rugged individual: Leaning to value both independence and interdependence

Chapter 38 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

What did you learn about self-sufficiency and independence? How do you feel when you need to ask someone for help?

I had the typical upbringing of an American public school – except – in 1st, and 2nd grade I went to a “progressive” elementary school. We were not only allowed, but were encouraged, to get up, walk around the classroom, consult other kids and the teacher. When I was in 3rd grade in the fall, my sister was born. Mama returned to her mother’s house, taking me with her. Because we were going to be there for a month or more, she enrolled me in the school she had attended as a child. In fact the teacher had actually taught Mama when she was a little girl. Nobody told me I was supposed to sit still and not talk to other kids in the class – I guess they just assumed that I should have known that. That was the first time I remember really getting in trouble at school, and I worried so much about it that I had to go home sick in the middle of the day.

From that time on, I was obsessive about hiding my work, and keeping other kids from seeing my answers. I still have a hard time sharing information and observations. And I also have a really hard time asking for help.

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.

Boxes and Ladders: Getting in touch with my either/or thinking habit

Chapter 37 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Pick a six-hour period in which you commit to noticing your tendency to box or rank a person or idea. Make a note about each incident, be it a person on the bus, a family member, a colleague, or a person in the media. At the end of your observation period, explore one incident in which you boxed and ranked a person with whom you were interacting. Does your conscious mind agree with your initial judgment? What, if anything, so you think you could have learned had you replaced judgment with curiosity in that situation?

“Boxing and ranking the mess of humanity…provides a kind of order. … But trying to cram the complexity of humanity into either/or and better/worse categories had robbed me time and again of connecting with and learning from fellow human beings.”

“The ingredient that takes the natural human inclination to sort, and adds to it the need to rank, is power.”

“…the borderlands where people from different cultures come together to understand their connection to a shared social system…” is where real relationships and learning take place.

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.