Powered by Blogger.

What I Think Book Review: Debby Irving's Waking Up White



Summary (from the back of the book): 
For twenty-five years, Debby Irving sensed inexplicable racial tensions in her personal and professional relationships. As a colleague and neighbor, she worried about offending people she dearly wanted to befriend. As an arts administrator, she didn't understand why her diversity efforts lacked traction. As a teacher, she found her best efforts to reach out to students and families of color left her wondering what she was missing. Then, in 2009, one 'aha!' moment launched an adventure of discovery and insight that drastically shifted her worldview and upended her life plan.

When I picked up this book, I have to admit that I came at it with prejudice (which is kind of funny considering that the whole book is about not being prejudiced!). Why was this? 


Because I'm not into non-fiction, particularly self-help memoirs. There's something about the subgenre that grinds on my nerves--they are usually super upbeat and filled with lots of exclamation marks. Another subgenre that I cannot stand is political essays. I try to stay as far away from politics as I can, and I'm certainly not going to spend what little time I have to read focusing on politics. 

Basically, I'm a fiction gal through and through, though every once in a while, a non-fiction book will come along that I love. 

This book was not to have that destiny with me as it was a combo of both of the above non-fiction subgenres.

While I did like Irving's writing style--the book is an easy read and full of personal antecdotes--I found her journey through race a little silly. She admits that she didn't even know that "Caucasian" was a race until she was in college

People, that means she was at least 18. Egads. How un-self aware can you be?

As a white Southerner, I am no stranger to race relations and everything that means. But even as a white Southerner who went to Catholic school her entire life, I was still exposed to all different cultures, backgrounds, races, and religions. My parents made a point to take my sister and I to different parts of the world so that we could see how all different types of people--in terms of race, socioeconomic background, and geography--could live. At school, I was friends with people of all walks of life, and as a non-Catholic in a Catholic school, was in the minority. This diversity led me to a much more expanded worldview than it seems that Irving did at my age.

I know that I'm considerably younger than Irving, and that the world is a very different place in terms of race than it was 30 years ago, but I just couldn't understand how she could be so naive about everything that she talks about. 

This is not to say that race is not something we should talk about. It absolutely is. But, at least in my personal life, I prefer to see each person for who he or she is--which includes race, of course, but also includes that person's likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, favorite books, and who they cheer for come football season. (I won't lie--people get judged way more on that last one here in South Carolina than they do on the color of their skin!) 

Race, to me, is just one part of who a person is. And to dwell solely on that, as it seems Irving does, misses the point. 

As with most non-fiction books, Waking Up White depends on your personal views as to how you respond to it. I wanted to like this book, but I ultimately found it too preachy and redundant to take into my life views. 

For someone who had grown up in a sheltered household like Irving describes, I could see this book being far more relevant. It just wasn't one that I'd normally pick up for pleasure reading. I also don't think that I am the target audience, as I have learned more in my two degree programs (both in Literature) about white guilt, gender equality, and race construction that I could possibly ever write about here.

That being said, I found myself thinking what a great addition it would serve to the discussion in a race or gender based literature class. I could see it pairing really well with Danzy Senna's Caucasia, a fiction book that I personally think deals with the topic of race in a far more compelling way. 

I received a copy of this book in order to write the above review for TLC Book Tours. No other compensation was provided. All opinions are my own.