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Debby Irving

Racial Justice Educator and Writer
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Debby is a white woman, raised in Winchester, Massachusetts during the socially turbulent 1960s and ‘70s. After a blissfully sheltered, upper-middle-class suburban childhood, she found herself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by the racial divide observed in Boston. From 1984 to 2009 her work in urban neighborhoods and schools left her feeling helpless. Why did people live so differently along racial lines? Why were student outcomes so divergent? Why did Debby get so jumpy when talking to a person of color? Where did the fear of saying something stupid or offensive come from, and why couldn’t she make it go away? The more she tried to understand racial dynamics, the more confused she became. Debby knewthere was an elephant in the room, she just didn’t know it was her!

In 2009, a course at Wheelock College, Racial and Cultural Identity, shook Debby awake with the realization that she missed step #1: examining the way being a member of the “normal” race had interfered with her attempts to understand racism. What began as a professional endeavor became a personal journey as Debby shifted from trying to figure out people whom she had been taught to see as “other” to making sense of her own socialization.

Debby’s book Waking Up White is the story of her two-steps-forward-one-step back journey away from racial ignorance. She continues to study racism and strategies for its undoing while working to educate other white people confused and frustrated by racism. Debby remembers these feelings all too well and is passionate about transforming anxiety and inaction into empowerment and action, be it for an individual or an organization.