“Waking Up White” - DEI Activity Updates

“Waking Up White” - DEI Activity Updates

Cover Photo Waking Up White
An Exercise in Exploring our own Unconscious Biases

Sue Brandy, LWVDV Administrative Vice President

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For June the LWVDV Board will be reading and discussing chapter 4 of Waking Up White. In this chapter, author Debby Irving explores the culture of optimism as “a privilege of the dominant class – a white privilege”.  She writes: “In considering the cultural influences that shaped me, I’ve thought a lot about how optimism infused itself into my very being…

"Ads and television shows promoted goods while projecting images of the suburban ideal onto the popular psyche, promising a world of happy nuclear families, clear gender roles, manicured lawns, throngs of children on shiny new bikes, and neat driveways harboring stylish new cars. Suburban life and all it entailed became a norm for millions of American families. By the time I was born, the newly defined American dream had become an attainable reality for millions of white families.  It turns out that the culture of achievement, security and optimism I so thoroughly internalized was part of a larger pattern.” (bold type added)

 At the end of this chapter the question asked of the reader, and to be discussed by the LWVDV Board during the month of June is: “What were some of the major economic, political, demographic and pop culture trends from ten years before your birth until age twenty?  How did they show up in your life? How do you think they influenced your beliefs?”

We invite you again to join us in exploring these questions for yourself. Reading Waking Up White is an opportunity to identify the beliefs we hold, sometimes unknowingly, that impact our perception of others.

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At the May Board Meeting, we will be discussing the questions at the end of Chapter 3 of Waking Up White: “Class is determined by income, wealth (assets), education, and profession.  Betsy Leondar-Wright, program director of Class Action, suggests these categories as a way of thinking about class:

  • Poverty
  • Working Class
  • Lower Middle Class
  • Professional Middle Class
  • Upper Middle Class
  • Owning Class

"How would you characterize your parents’ class?  Your grandparents’ class?  Your class as a child? Your class now?  What messages did you get about race in each?”

Once again, we invite you to join us by reflecting on your own answers to these questions.

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At the April meeting, the LWVDV Board considered the question from Chapter 2: "What values and admonitions did you learn in your family?  Think about education, work, lifestyle, money, expression of emotions, and so forth. Try making a list of ten principles, values, and unspoken beliefs. Siblings and cousins can be good resources for thinking about this. Now consider what conclusions you drew about people who did not appear to follow your family's belief system."

The Board engaged in a lively discussion which included the impact of what area of the country we lived in, where our parents worked (or did not work), and what the configuration of our community was. It has been a meaningful and intimate sharing for the Board.  Hopefully, you non-Board members will take this opportunity to read Waking Up White and reflect on these questions as well.

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Background: 

At the February 13 LWVDV Board Meeting, the Board discussed an addition to the Board meeting agendas which will  further our position of commitment to increased Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) throughout the League and the country. The Board members agreed that we would make a commitment to further our own personal exploration and understanding of unconscious and institutional bias and racism.

At the beginning of every Board meeting we will be taking 10 minutes to discuss a question from the end of a chapter in “Waking Up White” by Debby Irving. This book is Irving’s description of her own journey in recognizing blind spots and unconscious biases in herself.  Each chapter ends with questions to reflect on for the reader, based on her insights.  In upcoming Board meetings, members will be encouraged to read a chapter of the book and think about their own responses to the questions at the end of the chapter.  While it is not essential to read the chapter in order to respond to the question, Irving’s open and honest assessment of her own discoveries about herself provide an inspiration for everyone else’s reflections.

The action of the Board members to incorporate this process into the routine business meeting reflects, in my mind, their willingness to be vulnerable and open in order to make a real commitment to the process of increasing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Our goal is to examine possible unconscious barriers that we may be unaware of, thereby opening the doors to furthering Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our League and in our lives.

We would like to invite all LWVDV members to join us in this experience. Join the Board in thinking about these topics each month. It's an opportunity to become more conscious and aware of our own blind spots and misunderstandings about people who are different from us.
 

In March we had a short but important discussion about the first chapter question, which asked “What stereotypes about people of another race do you remember hearing and believing as a child? Were you ever encouraged to question stereotypes?"