Let’s go deeper: How to work with me

Just my semi-annual PSA that my anti-racism work extends far beyond this site. In addition to serving as the executive director of one of the longest continuously running anti-racism organizations in the country, I also offer other services for deepening your anti-racism praxis. 

This past fall, I started offering anti-racism coaching sessions. This is a one-hour Zoom session or call where we discuss current issues that you may be facing in your personal or professional anti-racism work. My work is to serve as a sounding board and resource to help you both deepen your work and navigate the thorny and messy issues that often arise in our practices. I work with clients on both an as-needed and ongoing basis. The cost per session is $125. Email blackgirlinmaine@gmail.com to book a session.

If you want to bring me to your group or organization, consider the following options: 

Authentic Dialogues: Talking About Racism and Moving to Action 

This interactive session is designed to look critically at racism in our communities and our nation by examining the roots of white supremacy and how the past impacts our present. A key goal will be teaching, sharing, and learning practical tools for working in our own communities to combat racism and to start conversations on addressing racism and difference in predominantly white spaces. This session is a mixture of lecture and small-group work, which will allow participants to deepen their knowledge of racism, examine their own biases, and learn techniques for starting conversations on racism and how to be an effective ally. Prices vary based on location and organizational budget. Email blackgirlinmaine@gmail.com to book a session


Tell Me the Truth: Exploring the Heart of Cross-Racial Conversations

How can we speak openly and honestly in cross-racial conversations? What would such a conversation even look like? Shay Stewart-Bouley (Black) and Debby Irving (white) show us as they share racism’s impact on their lives and how cross-racial conversation has been instrumental in their own understanding of 21st century racial dynamics. Shay and Debby will explore the common fears and pitfalls of cross-racial conversation that keep people isolated in their own racial groups, at the expense of personal, professional, and societal growth. They’ll also help audience members understand how interpersonal social patterns hinder organizations from living up to their own ideals for diversity. No two conversations are alike as they step on stage with no agenda. Finally, Shay and Debby will offer suggestions to create racial justice habits that can move us from isolated events to sustainable connections. 

Remaining Winter 2020 Dates for Tell Me the Truth

  • Monday ~ February 3 ~ anytime
  • Tuesday ~ February 4 ~ anytime
  • Sunday ~ February 23 ~ anytime

Cost: $2,500*

Previous Hosts

  • Black Heritage Trail ~ Portsmouth, NH
  • Harvard University Health Services ~ Cambridge, MA
  • Colby College ~ Waterville, Maine
  • Central Square Theater ~ Cambridge, MA
  • Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry ~ Roxbury, MA
  • Marblehead Racial Justice Committee ~ Marblehead, MA
  • SURJ Southern Maine/Seacoast ~ Kittery, ME
  • University of Maine ~Orono, ME
  • University of Maine ~ Bangor, ME
  • University of Maine ~ Augusta, ME
  • Nevins Library ~ Methuen, MA
  • Natick Coalition for Change ~ Natick, MA
  • American Civil Liberties Union ~ Portland, ME
  • Bar Harbor Maine YWCA ~ Bar Harbor, ME
  • Families Organizing for Racial Justice ~ Newton, MA
  • Seattle Equity Summit ~ Seattle, WA
  • Friends School of Portland ~ Portland, ME
  • Highline Public Schools ~ Seattle, WA

Contact cynthia@debbyirving.com for more information or to book a date

* travel may be extra if location greater than 80 miles from Boston or Portland, ME

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Standing in solidarity globally

As a Black woman and anti-racist, the news of the assassination, murder, killing or whatever we are calling it of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani at the behest of our very own Donald Trump has landed rather harshly with me.

By no accounts was Soleimani a good guy. From everything that I have read, an untimely death was almost certainly in his cards at some point. However, as an American, I know all too well that our nation has a rocky history with the truth as it relates to people that we deem as “other.” American truth is precarious at best.

We have made it our business for hundreds of years to traffic in truth that is convenient to our side, specifically the side of white folks and truth be damned! Given that our current commander-in-chief is a known liar, and apparently the majority of people who serve him also are truth-deficient, we may never know if there was actually an imminent threat being posed by Soleimani.

What we do know, though, is that the United States has a long history of mucking around in primarily non-white countries and that there is a long line of “invasions … bombings … overthrowing governments … occupations … suppressing movements for social change … assassinating political leaders … perverting elections … manipulating labor unions … manufacturing “news” … death squads … torture … biological warfare … depleted uranium … drug trafficking … mercenaries …” (Killing Hope 2008).

We also know that the average American is often clueless about our reality abroad and that too often we accept the “truth” as it is spoon-fed to us. Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, anyone? Oops, our bad!

I am nowhere near qualified to provide a global geopolitical analysis on Western imperialism. As an anti-racist writer and speaker, I will say though that if events in recent years in the United States brought you into racial justice and anti-racism spaces, then you need to be equally as concerned about events abroad. The same white supremacy that undergirds much of American racism can also be seen abroad. The same lack of truth that is a hallmark of American history can also be seen anywhere we have left a footprint.

In the end, we cannot claim to be in solidarity with Black and Brown people in our country without standing in solidarity with oppressed Black, Brown and working-class people globally.

Wherever this latest conflict takes us, it won’t be the powerful, rich, white men who feel the pain. It will be the everyday person in Iran, struggling to survive. It will be others across the region as well. It will be American troops who are disproportionately Black, Brown and white working-class people and their families who are directly affected. Once again, victims of a system that too many refuse to dismantle.

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Photo by William Navarro on Unsplash

The audacity of whiteness, or How I was trying to mind my own business

Despite my years now as an anti-racism writer/speaker and non-profit director, the moments when I encounter casual racism can still at times take my breath away. While I prefer to look more deeply at systemic racism and how we can move the needle on inequity, the reality is that systems are made up of people. After all, the criminal justice system is not run by a slew of advanced robots (yet), but by real-life people who bring their own biases and feelings with them every day. Biases that determine outcomes for other people. 

Increasingly, as my readership has grown, I have shied away from writing about my personal daily encounters with racism. In part because it brings out the trolls (and the cries of “Didn’t happen!” or “Get over it!”) and also because the daily microaggressions that I encounter are simply a daily reality for the majority of Black and Brown people. In other words, it is what it is. 

That said, I recently had two casual encounters with racism that I do want to talk about because they highlight the insidious nature of how racism lives in white souls and comes out under the guise of conversation—when, in reality, it is deeply ingrained racism bubbling over. And it’s not just racism; it’s violence. 

Recently I dropped into a local gathering in my island community—a casual, cross-generational affair, where conversations tend to be lighthearted. In other words, a space where I am not generally going to delve into my work. Instead, the conversations lean more towards the banal and frankly, in that space, I am OK with it. I don’t always want to be on. 

I was sitting with a group when someone mentions a holiday party they recently attended and how there was a former NFL player in attendance and he was a jerk. Everyone had a good chuckle as she described him. Until one person at the table, an older white woman, proceeds to go on a tirade about how the NFL is filled with “these people” who have no decency. They don’t even speak English, because all they can speak is “jive” and they have all these women and their fancy cars. 

Hold up! 

How did we go from talking about a former NFL player at a holiday party being a jerk to denigrating an entire group of people due to their occupation? Our old friend whiteness is clearly at work again and I will forever believe that alcohol for many is the truth serum as it gives them the courage to say what they really think. Furthermore, without even knowing the race of the guy we originally were discussing, it was clear that this woman was making a proclamation about Black people, since one doesn’t use a word like jive without racial connotations. 

In that moment, I quietly said to the white woman making these statements that perhaps these people had similar feelings about her and didn’t care for her either and I left a few minutes later. Unfortunately, none of the white people at the table challenged her inane comments and honestly, I wasn’t in the mood to engage. 

By the way, the asshole NFL player in question was a white man. I had a hunch that he was based on the nature of the gathering he was at but I later confirmed it with the storyteller. 

It may come as a surprise to some, given my work, but I really am not interested in providing a free lesson on race every time a white person puts their foot in their mouth, nor am I interested in getting pissed off. However those are the moments where I am reminded that there are plenty of white people who are willing to be friends across racial lines but they have neither the skill or interest in being an ally or accomplice. In other words, when another white person is letting their racism out, there is no cavalry to help a sister out. Lesson learned. 

While the incident has sat with me, it wasn’t until this weekend’s Uber ride where I encountered a rather brazen white man that I realized that I needed to release this. 

I woke up early this morning with the intention to drop into my favorite yoga studio for some much needed nourishment. That meant an early boat ride to the mainland and an Uber ride to another town. 

I ended up in an Uber driven by an older, chatty white man. While I am not against small talk when I am in an Uber or cab, I don’t seek out such conversations because inevitably, the conversation drifts into “What do you do for a living?” My standard answer is “I am the director of a Boston-based nonprofit” and for most folks that is enough. Sadly for me, my driver decided that driving the car wasn’t enough and decided to ask specifically what we did at my nonprofit. 

Truthfully, this line of questioning annoys me even more than the standard “What do you do” line, because I always sense a spirit of disbelief. A Black woman in Maine, the head of an entire nonprofit in Boston? I get it: In the white mind, that doesn’t compute. Shit, I might as well have just said that I am a unicorn. Hence I must be grilled to ascertain that I am being truthful. It’s white violence; it’s the insidious nature of how white supremacy operates. 

So as I explain what we do, I am peppered with questions on my work, which are too numerous to write about, but the conversation took an interesting turn after I referred to Trump as a white nationalist. To which my driver turns sideways (sir, we are on the highway, I need you to look at the road, if wanted to die, I could have driven myself) and says, I have to disagree, Trump is not a white nationalist, he is an American. 

Did I mention we are on a highway going about 60 mph? 

Finding out that your driver is a Trump man on the highway is not what I wanted or needed, but there we were. While I don’t seek out fights, if you bring the fight to my door, I will not back down. 

So we went back and forth as he proceeds to tell me how he started his own company 35 years ago and he worked hard and no one ever gave him a thing and how he hired all kinds of people and never even cared about their color. Harold (yes that was his name), how mighty white of you! Of course he had to share with me that he has been called a racist but that he isn’t a racist. 

Harold, if the shoe fits, you might need to wear it. 

I quietly explained that while I have no doubts that he worked hard and feels that he was self-made, that if we look at things systemically, that for every so called, self made white man, we can chart the data on how Black folks and other people of color are often not accorded the same access to capital, etc. that allowed him to thrive. I also suggested a few books to read, if he really wanted a better understanding of racism from a systemic point of view. 

Thankfully, I was able to shift the conversation away from race but at that point, the damage was done. My mood had shifted and I bailed on yoga and instead went to our family home and sat with the conversation I had just had. Hence this post. 

I was minding my own business and looking to engage in self-care this morning and this white man felt entitled to intrude upon my peace and in the end, detoured my day. That’s how microaggressions operate but in reality, they aren’t microaggressions. They are macroaggressions in more compact packaging. For white people, these actions are unseen or nothing but for Black folks and other people of color, exchanges like the ones I have written about are about chipping away at your humanity and right to exist. As I have often said, if I were a brain surgeon rather than an anti-racist, would ignorant white people feel entitled to foist unwanted conversations on me where they try to challenge my knowledge or how I do my job? Probably not, because I would be seen as the professional that I am. 

Anyway, it was just another day while living as a Black woman or a day ending in the letter y. As for my yoga class, I guess I will have to try again tomorrow. 

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash