'Waking up White' conference comes to Maine

A Maine school is slated to host “racial justice educator” Debby Irving, who will discuss her book Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race.

The University of Maine at Fort Kent will host the author on Jan. 16, according to a university news release.

“When I finally came to understand the way racism worked,” Irving said in the news release, “I spent a lot of time thinking about what might have enlightened me earlier. I decided it wouldn’t have been an academic book, an essay, or a book from the perspective of a person of color - it would have been another white person describing their own awakening, with some humor, poignancy, and drama in the mix. What I needed was a memoir so irresistible that I would have read it even if racism weren’t on my mind.”

Irving’s website features a ten-session discussion guide on the book, including sections with titles such as “Childhood in White” and “Twenty-Five Years of Tossing and Turning.”

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Participants share their gender pronouns in the first session and address Irving’s TEDx Talk. The guide states that “it’s a lifelong process for white folks to unlearn racism” and describes “structural racism” as resembling “a smog that we can’t help but breathe.” 

The author’s discussion guide also cites an article from a site called BlackGirlDangerous, titled, “Donald Trump’s Card: White Women,” which contrasts the 53 percent of votes Trump received from white women with the four and 26 percent he obtained from black and Latina women, respectively.

”This support for Trump [from white women] represents a continuation of the ways in which white women internalize being placed on a pedestal, the okayness with certain kinds of gendered and sexual violences, and, of course, their deep investment in the white supremacy and racial entitlements implied and promised by his politics,” author Zoe Samudzi states. 

[RELATED: Calif. students learn ‘construction of whiteness’]

Irving’s discussion guide also excerpts a list of statements from Waking Up White, indicating that statements in the left column represent “dominant white culture,” whereas those on the right “can coincide with doing racial healing work.”

Valuing facts constitutes “dominant white culture,” whereas valuing emotion lines up with “racial healing work,” according to the list. Irving also associates blaming others for disputes with “dominant white culture” and contrasts it with the introspection that “racial healing work” entails.

“Recent history has shown us that racial tensions still exist in this country and UMFK is committed to supporting constructive and inclusive conversations around any topic with our students, campus, and St. John Valley community,” UMFK President John Short said in the news release. “Ms. Irving’s community presentation is part of a larger set of campus workshops that will take place with faculty, staff and students throughout the day. We proudly host a global community on our campus and we look for any opportunity to broaden our scope of knowledge.”

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