Learning from others’ history, and our own…or not

Back in early 1980s England the coal industry was fundamental. And if you lived rurally and got a job in a coal mine, you were pretty much set for life. Of course, the dangers of that job could’ve meant for a very short life, but the job paid well and the unions looked out for you. Naturally, the conservative government hated that and tried to take power away from the unions. The unions hated that and so they went on strike. For a year. Basically, the unions were like, “You want to reduce our power? OK. How about we shut down the entire bloody industry?”

But then Margaret Thatcher, prime minister at the time, was like, “Oh, you want to shut down the entire British coal industry? Fine. Fuck you forever.” She then proceeded to let the entire industry die. And just like that all of those economically secure jobs for life were gone.

As time passed those high-paying, secure jobs were replaced with low-paying bullshit jobs without any security at all. And of course, as is traditional in western societies, a fair amount of those jobs ended up being done by immigrants. Rural England felt tossed to the side, but they also gained something from that struggle: a hatred of conservatives.

Three-and-a-half decades later, along comes conservative dumb-shit Boris Johnson. He’s running to continue his career as prime minister, campaigning primarily on the racist-ass Brexit ticket. At the time, most people thought it’d either be close or he’d get stomped. But it went the other way and the world was shocked. How’d that doofy motherfucker flip all those rural, conservative-hating districts? Pretty easily, as it turned out.

All those open-minded, liberal areas? Well, you never would’ve guessed it, but there’s something they hated more than conservatives: immigrants. That’s right! All lil’ Boris had to do was walk into those towns, point at the immigrants doing those low-paying bullshit jobs and say, “Look! Someone stole your jobs!” and open his arms to widely embrace the landslide that was his victory.

Speaking of places that suffer on a molecular level from xenophobia/racism while ignoring it deliberately and completely, we’ve got an election coming up right here in the good ol’ US of A and we sure could learn a lot from the UK’s current predicament.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not confident we will, though. The Republicans are all in lock-step and every time I turn around I seem to hear Democrats talking themselves into another four years of 45. Last week I got into an argument with someone who said “I gotta hand it to him, he’s good at marketing!”

I turned to this person and said in a voice that was just a little too loud to be backstage at the show we were at, “No he’s not. Do you think he’s running around a room full of executives manically scribbling on a white board, expounding on constituent analytics? He doesn’t know a fucking thing about marketing. Or anything else. You’ve never met anyone as stupid as that guy. He thinks windmills cause cancer, ffs.”

Rightfully, a little shocked at my tone, they responded, “I just mean he’s persuasive.”

Unintentionally upping my volume, I continued, “No he’s not! He couldn’t convince shit to stink! What, do you think there were just a bunch of voters marching up to the voting booth thinking, ‘You know, I never hated Black or brown people before, but listening to that tiny-handed, piss-skinned imbecile from that dumb-ass reality show lie about Obama’s birth certificate for five years really brought me around!’? Fuck no! There’s just a whole lot of racists who’d felt shamed into silence right up until a Black president got elected. Then it was time to take a stand!”

That’s when I noticed that everyone else backstage had been shushing me for a while, so I stopped. But had I continued I would’ve made the point that the systems that are America are now and have always been dependent on racism. And I mean since the beginning. For example, did you know that just prior to the Revolutionary War, the colonists didn’t really care whose flag they were under? It’s true and one of the ways the founding fathers convinced the population to get behind the war was to start a false rumor that England was planning to enslave the colonists. “Enslavement” was the word they used and you bet your contemporary ass that every single person moved to action by that word said, “I ain’t no nigger!” as they loaded up their rifles.

I always feel like this American apple hasn’t fallen very far from that English tree. I hope November proves me wrong, but either way, you know what to do.

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.

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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