This week, activist and author Debby Irving talked with students about what she explained as an epidemic of “white silence.” This fall’s Multiculturalism and Community Development speaker, Ms. Irving said that when it comes to racism in the United States, white people must be part of “cross-racial conversations” in order to make progress on racial divisions and injustices.
“We are all connected, but we are damaged, and we need to repair that damage,” says Ms. Irving. She shared her experience of working as a community organizer and classroom teacher for 25 years without understanding racism as a systemic issue, or seeing her own whiteness as an obstacle to grappling with it. Ms. Irving grew up in a well-off family in a white community, and as an adult she struggled to make sense of tensions she could feel but not explain in racially mixed settings.
In 2009, a graduate school course, Racial and Cultural Identities, gave her the answers she’d been looking for and launched her on a “journey of discovery.” Today, Ms. Irving works with white people exploring the impact that their skin color can have on perception, problem solving, and working for racial justice. In her book, Waking Up White, she tells how she went from well meaning to well doing. A graduate of the Winsor School in Boston, Ms. Irving holds a bachelor’s degree from Kenyon College and an MBA from Simmons College.