Conversation with Author Debby Irving

Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
3:00pm - 5:00pm
Law School: Booth Auditorium (Room 175)
Registration is free and open to the campus and local community - Registration now closed

Join Us for a Conversation with Author Debby Irving

Debby Irving

We are fortunate to have author and speaker Debby Irving come to Berkeley for an engaging conversation. Throughout 2014, American racism reared its head in highly visible events. Inflammatory words by Paula Deen, Donald Sterling, and Cliven Bundy stirred debate about what makes for a racist. The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner provoked nationwide protests demanding police reform and a cry for recognition that #BlackLivesMatter. While mainstream news often brings a good/bad, black/white version of events involving individual actions, author Debby Irving encourages readers to bring more nuance and personal reflection to the issue.

Learn more abou Debby's work from her website,

Debby brings to racial justice the perspective of working as a community organizer and classroom teacher for 25 years without understanding racism as a systemic issue or her own whiteness as an obstacle to grappling with it. As general manager of Boston’s Dance Umbrella and First Night, and later as a classroom teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 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. Debby now devotes herself to working with white people exploring the impact white skin can have on perception, problem solving, and engaging in racial justice work. A graduate of the Winsor School in Boston, she holds a BA from Kenyon College and an MBA from Simmons College. Her first book, Waking Up White, tells the story of how she went from well-meaning to well-doing.

Waking Up White is the book Debby Irving wishes someone had handed her decades ago. By sharing her sometimes cringe-worthy struggle to understand racism and racial tensions, she offers a fresh perspective on bias, stereotypes, manners, and tolerance. As she unpacks her own long-held beliefs about colorblindness, being a good person, and wanting to help people of color, she reveals how each of these well-intentioned mindsets actually perpetuated her ill-conceived ideas about race. She also explains why and how she’s changed the way she talks about racism, works in racially mixed groups, and understands the racial justice movement as a whole. Exercises at the end of each chapter prompt readers to explore their own racialized ideas.  Waking Up White's personal narrative is designed to work well as a rapid read, a book group book, or support reading for courses exploring racial and cultural issues.

Dia Penning

Debby will be interviewed by Dia Penning of WorldTrust ( Dia Penning is a connector, of ideas, people, feelings, and thoughts. She uses breath work, the arts, media literacy and small group work to get at the heart of assumptions and habitual behavior. Dia has designed curriculum for humans aged 3 to 91, at San Francisco Arts Commission, Columbia College, Department of Cultural Affairs in Chicago and so many other places. She believes that you use the form to teach the form. Meaning, if you want equity, strong community, and creative communication, Dia will present you with the best practices to support your development while you participate in this very behavior. Then, you get to talk about it, see your learning in action, and discuss why you might have had a breakthrough or why you didn’t. At organizations like the Ann Martin Center in Oakland, she works with teams over time to assuage their fear of change by building ideas, like blocks, and giving people time to reflect, respond, and question. Dia is an expert facilitator with 15+ years in the field, an open heart and a very sharp wit.

Reviews for Waking Up White

"Debby Irving's powerful Waking Up White opens a rare window on how white Americans are socialized. Irving's focus on the mechanics of racism operating in just one life -- her own -- may lead white readers to reconsider the roots of their own perspectives -- and their role in dismantling old myths. Readers of color will no doubt find the view through Irving's window fascinating, and telling." -- Van Jones, author, Rebuild The Dream, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems; President, Rebuild The Dream; Co-host, CNN Crossfire

"Waking up White is a brutally honest, unflinching exploration of race and personal identity, told with heart by a truly gifted storyteller. Much as Irving's family sought to shield her from the contours of the nation's racial drama, so too do far too many white Americans continue to do the same. For their sakes, and ours, let's hope Irving's words spark even more truth-telling. They certainly have the power to do so." -- Tim Wise, author, White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son

"Deborah Irving bravely describes her jolting and continuing journey from white oblivion to white awareness in an honest way that may inspire others to do such transformational work on themselves. She has courage in tracing many cultural and class assumptions that kept her for decades in a fog of racial denial and white dominance. This empathetic book can help white readers to dissipate the imprisoning white ignorance that we did not ask for but that has damaged our world and ourselves." -- Peggy McIntosh, Ph.D., Associate Director, Wellesley Centers for Women; Founder and Senior Associate, National SEED Project on Inclusive Curriculum

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