What is the Most Important Thing White Americans Don't Know About Race?

That we have one. I knew enough to check off “white” on forms, but I had no idea how being white in a nation built by and for white people had influenced my life experiences, outcomes, and worldview. Though I could have given you examples of how being female, upper class, or a New Englander, had impacted all of that, I would have been at a loss to articulate how being white had shaped me. White felt to me like the “normal” race, the one from which all other races could be measured. Growing up in an overwhelmingly white suburb, I would’ve told you there was no race or racism in my town because we were all white. What it would take me decades to understand was that constant exposure to white as normal, white as right, white as superior, left me deeply racist. It turns out that the first step for any white person trying to assess and address racism and the inequities it creates is to understand how being white has shaped our experiences, impacted our outcomes, and shaped our worldview. Regardless of our class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, and ability, being white adds a powerful layer of material and psychological advantage. Learn more Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person: Gina Crosley-Corcoran, raised “the kind of poor that people don’t want to believe still exists in this country,” explores where race and class do and don’t intersect and how she’s come to understand her own white privilege. Summary stages of Racial Identity Development: Offers insight to the stages people of various racial identities experience in the awakening journey.  
multicolor frame around black and white photo of Debby Irving

About Debby

Inspired by my own two-steps-forward, one-step-back journey away from racial ignorance, I educate other white people confused and frustrated by racism by transforming anxiety and inaction into empowerment and action.

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!



Irving’s presentation was shocking and extremely raw. It informed audience members and sparked a yearning for more knowledge inside of many. —The Elephant in the Room at Springfield College

BIGGEST thanks for last night! I couldn’t have been more pleased. I love the conversations that were had and the questions asked. Your talk was absolutely incredible. I know that many seeds were planted and nourished for further conversions and action to dismantle racism and white supremacy. —Old West Church Boston

Debby is a dynamic speaker and educator who engages large audiences and small groups. She is expert in placing personal storytelling at the forefront of discussions, moving beyond the head to the heart in how we learn about and discuss race racism, and anti-racism —Riverdale Country Day School

Your presence was so important for so many reasons. You shared what only you can in your warm, open, and welcoming way that engages and melts the icy barriers of apathy and fear. —Food Solutions New England

TED Talk

Individual and institutional racism and how they connect.

YWCA Interview

Why did Debby write the book?

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