I’m a white woman, raised in Winchester, Massachusetts during the socially turbulent 1960s and ‘70s. After a blissfully sheltered, upper-middle-class suburban childhood, I found myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by the racial divide I observed in Boston. From 1984 to 2009 my work in urban neighborhoods and schools left me feeling helpless. Why did people live so differently along racial lines? Why were student outcomes so divergent? Why did I 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 I make it go away? The more I tried to understand racial dynamics, the more confused I became. I knew there was an elephant in the room, I just didn’t know it was me!
In 2009, a course at Wheelock College, Racial and Cultural Identity, shook me awake with the realization that I’d missed step #1: examining the way being a member of the “normal” race had interfered with my attempts to understand racism. What began as a professional endeavor became a personal journey as I shifted from trying to figure out people whom I’d been taught to see as “other” to making sense of my own socialization.
My book Waking Up White is the story of my two-steps-forward-one-step back journey away from racial ignorance. I continue to study racism and strategies for its undoing while working to educate other white people confused and frustrated by racism. I remember these feelings all too well and am passionate about transforming anxiety and inaction into empowerment and action, be it for an individual or an organization.