Book talks open our eyes to white privilege

We called our 2019 National Catholic Sisters Week project, “Turning the page on conversations about race,” and hoped we could do so in some small way. We’re grateful to the women and men from around metro Milwaukee who gathered with us for “table talk” about Debby Irving’s book Waking up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race. Many shared their impressions with us:

“Like the author, I, too have been unaware of the systemic problem surrounding racism. I, too, was unaware of my “race” as compared to minorities. I take many things for granted as a white person. The book was incredibly eye opening! . . . I am using what I have learned  . . .  I expect that to continue. . . telling a best friend from over 40 years that I did not appreciate hearing her judgement of a bit of information I had shared with her.  I have never said such a thing to her.  I was amazed but grateful that I was using the strength passed on to me from Debbie Irving.”

“The book reminded me of my white cultural inheritance and how this inherited culture influenced my perception of “colored” folks later on. I hadn’t realized how lucky I was to be born white. And I hadn’t reflected very much on the fact that non-whites were not as lucky as I had been and am now.”

“I found the book interesting and appreciated the author’s willingness to share her journey even when it did not have her look good in certain portions of the book. Even though I did not experience all the privilege she did, I became aware of even more ways that I am privileged as a white woman than I was aware of.”

“I found the book discussion to be challenging and came to realize there are areas I really need to work on to bring about necessary changes. I am trying to see with new eyes…to try to walk in the shoes of those who are different than me.”

“I appreciate the book topic. White privilege and white fragility has been something I have been studying for some time. I was hoping that the discussion would be a springboard to other things. For example: Where can I find a group of people with different backgrounds from myself that will be willing to learn and grow together perhaps work to make systematic changes in society? I want to become more active in changing my world. I desire more diverse people in my life. I don’t know how to go about to make that happen.”

“The book was eye-opening. I always believed I was blessed with a good, secure life but I never really realized a major part of my life was influence and privilege merely by my skin color. Now I’m coming to grips with the world around me. Who runs businesses, government, churches, takes on leadership roles? How can we become humble, aware of those differences?”

“The importance of listening & hearing what the other has to say. Thinking before speaking. What is the impact on another?”

“Discussion was good. Debby Irving struggled through the whole book and was still struggling in the end. Too many workshops and not enough interaction with real people. Feel sorry for her.”

“I was surprised at how open people in the discussion group were and how listening and exchange were fluid and easy.”

“The most important thing I learned was to keep quiet and not try to ‘fix’ things. Imposing my white knowledge is so ridiculous but sadly, it never occurred to me how ridiculous it is!”

“It was enlightening, effective in creating conversation  . . . I especially appreciated it being held during National Catholic Sisters Week, which made it even more meaningful. . . One change prompted by today’s discussion? To stop expecting my friends and acquaintances who are people of color to be the ones to carry the flag.”

“I appreciated the many experiences the author used to make her points concrete. They often described my past experiences and raised my awareness of the issue at hand. The discussion at my table was lively and diverse.”

“A beautiful offering of perspective from Debby Irving. I really enjoyed sharing life experiences with those at my table. . . The book made me realize how inclusive my childhood was. I left with a great gratitude to my parents for breaking down the barriers for me to see others for who they were/are not based on physical/exterior appearances.”

“Very thought-provoking. Wondering if even more relevant to Milwaukee given its racial/economic history? One change prompted by today’s discussion? Consideration of the United States as a mosaic, not a melting pot.”

Impressions of the book and today’s discussion: “It was a great idea. The book was a real eye-opener and the discussion at our table was productive. It was a small beginning, I wish we had more, longer sessions. I found myself near tears, the more I realized how I/we have oppressed people of color.”

“The group of women at my table was wonderful. We came from a variety of backgrounds and all found the book a powerful call to continue to look at our attitudes. Thanks for all you did to make this take place.”

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