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.

I’m tired of white women writing about racism

The research has been done. We know the facts. We know that the social construct called “whiteness” was created to make sure that the richest white men stayed rich and got richer and the rest of us would be beat down by their greed. We know that living in a brown-skinned body in the United States means you are in danger of violence on personal, emotional and state-sanctioned levels every single day.

We also know that we white people will come to some new awarenesses about structural racism, and then we will rename it and it will morph into something we can tolerate and nothing will really change. That is the history we have repeated since the first white abolitionists did the good work of helping slaves get some semblance of freedom. Periods of “ah-ha!” for some white people that fades away as soon as we can find a way to make ourselves feel better.

We don’t need more research. What we need is change; not only “difficult conversations” or book clubs. (We white people educating ourselves is good and important, but it is not enough.) We don’t need to find new language for the same discussions (see white privilege morph into white fragility, etc.).

I’ll be honest. Writing for this blog has been a challenge. I believe strongly in the idea that we white people should take up less space when it comes to racial justice work, including sharing information on the Internet. I’m annoyed by and tired of white women like me publishing essays and posts about our experiences related to racism.

How can I write about racism without centering on whiteness? What does that even mean? How can I be white and not center on whiteness? How can I write in public about racism without asking for the spotlight (the spotlight I don’t want, and think white people shouldn’t have)? There must be some use for my words on this blog, or I wouldn’t be asked to write here.

Changing the systems. What does that mean? I return again and again to this document Tema Okun’s “White Supremacy Culture.” Not only did it help me recognize how much of everything around us and within us—my culture, my family’s culture, my family history, the institutions we participate in—are ruled by white supremacy culture, but it also has “antidotes” under each description. This document is one of my touchstones. When I feel helpless to change the behemoth systems, I remember that on a personal level and within the organizations where I work and worship we are changing. Without a road map, we are trying to break out of and destroy whiteness. [BGIM note: At this time, Rhea Boyd, M.D.’s tweets are in protected mode so there’s a good chance you probably won’t be able to use the link immediately to the left effectively except to locate Dr. Boyd’s account and perhaps request access so that you can read the very excellent thread Heather links to. In the meantime, you could also read The Social Construction of Whiteness: Racism by Intent,Racism by Consequence or Abolish the White Race for some related thoughts]

Changing the systems also means building a caring society instead of a society built on greed. Healthcare, housing, education and employment for all; workplace regulations that provide sufficient wages and family leave policies; protection and expansion of voting rights; abolishing all prisons and police; moving from a me/them to an “us” way of life; saving the Earth from the environmental crisis (I suspect a sufficient “Green New Deal” could address all of these issues).

But I’m still stuck, writing this blog post. I’m still writing about me and my experience. And, yes, offline I think it’s fine that I do that when I’m with other white people. But online? How can I be useful in our shared struggle for liberation? How can I not be just another white woman who thinks she’s got something to say about racism? As I said to Shay (using the most popular metaphor in white women writing about racism circles these days), I feel like a kindergartner trying to write about calculus. I’m tired of listening to (people like me) try to tell us what to do, taking up space. Black and Indigenous people of color are the experts, and I’d rather listen to them.

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 Dustin Lee on Unsplash

Calling All White People, Part 40: Goodbye, ally…Breaking up is sometimes necessary

Calling All White People, Part 40

(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)

By An Average White Guy

TODAY’S EPISODE: It’s not you, it’s me…wait, no…it’s you  

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

So, now that I’m 40 posts into this “Calling All White People” thing, I seem to have circled around to the beginning, so to speak…not repeating myself precisely, but back to the topic that started it all: allyship. In that first post, I talked about being an ally or an accomplice, but this time the ally theme is a little different. It’s about breaking up—and how it might be necessary for a lot of “allies” and people of color for the sake of those POC (several other marginalized groups would also apply here, but we’ll use white allies of Black people as our focal point since it’s a particularly thorny relationship sometimes).

And, before I go on, let’s set the stage right with something both humorous and instructive—the very social media post that inspired this edition of “Calling All White People”…

This is, increasingly these days, a sentiment I am seeing with more and more POC and—again—especially Black people and white allies. The white ally situation really does feel like a relationship metaphor sometimes. There can be this giddy love and optimism and spark of connection but then in some (perhaps too many) cases it turns darker. Maybe even toxic or borderline abusive. Maybe way over the borderline even.

We white people in particularly love putting conditions on our commitment to the anti-racism relationship. And it pretty much puts a lot of us out of consideration for being actual anti-racists (a topic BGIM herself took up just a few days ago), because many of us are just really interested in the status quo and our own feelings and the appearance of fairness over actual justice and equity. And sadly, those conditions are often just as oppressive in the anti-racism scene as they are in romantic relationships or friendships.

I’m not saying everything is 100-percent unconditional love and commitment. I’m not even sure the most loving parents can manage to love their children unflinchingly and without any conditions. But really, 100 percent isn’t the goal and to be honest, a lot of us white people don’t get anywhere near that level anyway. Too many of us are stuck at 50 percent or 25 percent or lower when it comes to truly backing up Black people and others who are oppressed and marginalized.

Lots of white people in lots of anti-racism situations who think themselves committed will say, “Can you not be so loud?” “Do you have to sound so angry?” “Does everything with you have to be about race?” “Maybe if you approached people less confrontationally.” And so on and so forth and rinse and repeat.

For too many white people, anti-racism work is fine as long as the language is all friendly and they don’t have to examine their own actions and motivations and as long as there is minimal risk to themselves. Like…well…a lot of romantic relationships and friendships. As long as everything is fun and nice it’s cool, but let an argument arise (no matter how justified) or an uncomfortable moment or a health crisis or whatever, and suddenly it’s like, “I need some space” or “You’ll lose me if you keep doing that.”

As in any relationship, sure, there can be sins on both sides. I’m not saying all Black people (or other marginalized groups) are incapable of being hurtful or petty. But the truth is that when they point a finger at us and say “You aren’t acting right in situation” or “You are centering whiteness” or “You are more committed to comfort than to the cause” they are often on to something. In fact, they are often in the right.

Looking at Black people in particular, they have played by America’s rules all along. When they got freedom, such as it was, they started building their own communities and economies and tried to move forward. But at every step of the way, at every point in American history where that happened, white society found a way to directly thwart those efforts (things like the burning of “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa) or more subtly (gerrymandering to inhibit their voting rights or stacking the deck against non-whites in financial rules, real estate, etc.). They have committed to the relationship over and over instead of simply rising up in violence en masse as perhaps they should have done by now. And yet we have continued to keep the racial wealth gap intact (and wide) and we have resisted undoing past sins (massive levels of wrongful or disproportionate incarceration, for example) and failed in so many other ways. When they have stepped up, we have not really stood beside them or behind them, much less taken any bullets for them.

Instead, we try to soothe them and say, “Just be patient” or “you need to vote for this candidate because he will appeal to moderate white voters” or “Once we get this in place, you’ll get what you need.” And it’s lies. It’s gaslighting. It’s just us trying to make the relationship pleasant for us while giving little of ourselves. Demanding love but not really giving it. Being there in the good times but suddenly distant or missing when they are bad.

We white people are often full of excuses for why we cannot do this or that to fight racism. Or how it’s impractical to dismantle and rebuild entire systems to make them truly fair to all people (or at least close to it). Black people and lots of other POC and other marginalized groups are actually in danger with what is happening to the American government and the fact that around a third or more of the country is OK with fascism and one-party rule as long as it hurts those “other people” more than it does them.

Because you see, it’s not just that 30 to 40 percent of America (overwhelmingly white folks) that matters. It’s the substantial number of (mostly white) people in relatively privileged situations compared to the marginalized who just want things to “go back to how they used to be” who enable that minority of cruel people to carry the day. Because we keep letting cruelty creep up more and more powerfully.

How things used to be has never really been fair or safe or good for a lot of groups in this country. It was just “less horrific.” And I don’t think dragging a person we say we love toward a “less horrific” situation is enough when that “less horrific” situation is still going to result in their disenfranchisement, erasure and/or abuse.

So, with America seeming ready to go right off the rails into some very dark territory indeed, expect to see more Black people and others breaking up with their allies who really never had their backs to begin with. They’ve had more than enough, and rightfully so they are telling us to go away if we aren’t going to give up any of our own comfort and safety for the good of all and for real justice. If we are just going to show up for the good times and demand happy faces because we show up a little, then we should just get gone entirely.

Many of us deserve to find our bags packed and our asses shown the way to the door. Before we do, if we really have any love in our hearts, how about we head that off with some real and renewed commitment?

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.