Book giveaway: Waking Up White

Later this week I’m going to answer some parenting-logistics questions that I’ve been asked lately– things like what we do about allowance, how old our kids have to be to babysit siblings, etc. If you happen to have questions about how we do things at our house, will you shoot them to me in comments? I’ll add those questions/answers to Wednesday’s post.

Today, however, I am giving away an intriguing book called Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving.  She grew up in a privileged white community in the 60’s and 70’s, and realized well into adulthood that, first of all, she was so uncomfortable with race issues that she was often nervous talking with black folks, and second, that she desperately wanted to be the type of person who works to break down barriers, rather than pretending they don’t exist.

I think a lot of white people would like to think that racism is a thing of the past, that everyone plays on an even playing field these days.  But the more she explored this, the more she came to realize that’s just not true. It’s a proven fact that black boys get pulled over by police more often than white boys. White women still cross the street when black men walk by.  And black men have to dress much more neatly than average to go shopping at the mall without being covertly watched and sometimes even questioned by security people.

Chapter by chapter, the author shares her own personal journey of racial awakening– of really understanding the privilege she gained simply from being born into a white family.  She also came to realize that the reserve and politeness she learned from her family of origin, were sometimes causing her to avoid the kinds of deep conversations that might lead to understanding another person’s point of view, to really imagine life in their shoes.

She talked about the different values in different families, and how some of those values might add layers of complication to how we perceive folks.  For example, a student  she’d labeled difficult and distractible because of her tendency to leave her seat and go chat with other students turned out to be from a culture that highly valued cooperation.  The child was honestly trying to help other students out.

Another time the author realized she was inadvertently offending black associates by being too quick to call them by their first names instead of honoring them by saying Mr. Smith or Mrs. Jones.  From her cultural standpoint, she saw it as a sign of friendliness. But many people, especially those growing up in the South, do not.

Yet another time she learned that calling a black person ‘articulate’  can be seen as an insult — a stinging jab often heard as ‘he’s unusual for a black person’– and not a true compliment at all.  Of course relationships between any humans can be complicated, even at their best.  But the overarching message of this book to me was how important it is to be honest and humble in our dealings with each other, to not assume that everyone is coming from the same frame of reference, and to be willing to hear and believe people telling you that life is very different for them than it may be for you.

As a mom to children born in several different countries, I read this book with interest and found it to be very worthwhile.  It left me with greater understanding and a renewed determination to be the type of person who builds bridges and grows relationships wherever I go.  As the author states in this book, we’re all different, but we all belong here.  We should treat each other as such.

If you would like to enter the drawing to win a copy of this book, comment below. I’d love to hear how you talk about race with your kids.  Do you encourage your kids to help all kids feel welcome in their classroom? How do you respond when your child points out someone of a different ethnic heritage in the grocery store?  If you are adoptive parent, how do you talk about race with your kids without leading them to expect bad treatment around every corner?



Related story:  Raising Black Kids in a ‘White’ State


  1. Bonita Timmons says:

    I am an African american mom we have adopted 2 kids one black and one Caucasian /black
    I tel my children that we are all the same
    what matters is if you have accepted Christ as your Savior.
    we live in a predominately white area in New England and sometimes other black family members will ask me if i am concerned about my kids not having any black friends . and i say no as long as they are trying to live for the Lord I am fine.
    I do talk to my kids about the reality of living in this world and that people are prejudice and you have to pray for those people and always do your best in everything you do.

  2. How have you guided your children int he area of dating/courtship/preparation for marriage? How have you handles the change in having a relationship with adult children? What do you expect of college (or older) age that still live at home? How do you handle things like bedtime and age appropriate movies when you have a wide range of ages in the house?

    How early do you get up? How do you structure your routine? What do you do to take care of your self and have dates or time alone with your husband?

    We currently have 2 college age kids at home, one high school senior and a 10 year old (adopted, needs a lot from us) and I homeschool. I want our home to be welcoming to the friends of the older kids, but then have a hard time getting the younger one to go to sleep if people are here. Each kid is at such a different phase of life and I feel very stretched and like it’s hard to find time with my husband and to exercise, etc.

  3. We, too, are a transracial famly. I try to be open and honest about race, without being dramatic. It’s hard. We live in the upper south and even though our friends come from many different backgrounds, our area is still very racially divided. We have to seek out diversity. I would love to read this book!

  4. Interesting I’d love to read this. We too are a transracial family. My kids are young enough that I too wonder about dating for them

  5. Would love to read this book!

  6. I would love to read this book. We are very open and intentional about the reality of race here and we live in the North. Still my adopted black son was pulled out of testing at his new school “because they were concerned about possible deficiencies” when my white daughter who had come from the SAME SCHOOL was not taken out for testing. I am thankful we are involved in an inner city very diverse African church and our son has friends of color in our mostly white suburb. Our son has black “uncles” to teach him some of the things I can’t. The reality is that the world is not color blind even in 2014 and even in “progressive” New York.

  7. Deanne Robertson says:

    We live in rural Maine, and there are no minorities here. It’s hard to address racial issues because they never come up. We did live internationally as a family for 3.5 years, and that spurred many discussions. I am intrigued by this book and would love to read it.

  8. My MIL is always boasting about how racially diverse her life is and lecturing us to find people of other races for our kids to be friends with. Seems so fake to me to specifically force a relationship for the purpose of filling in a check mark on a to-do sheet. I feel we do a good job of teaching our children that skin color doesn’t matter. Our adopted kiddo is part Hispanic, but his skin tone is the same as my husband who is white. Maybe that helps get our point across? I would love to hear what this author has experienced!

  9. Ann Megill says:

    We are a transracial family through adoption. My two youngest came to our family from Ethiopia. My son also has autism. We talk about race and discrimination a lot. I’m very interested in this book.

  10. My kids are still quite young (my oldest is 7), so right now, I don’t wish to color their understanding of race and ethnicity. Fortunately, we live in a very racially and culturally diverse area, so my children have friends who are African, African-American, Russian, and of Indian, Swiss, and Vietnamese descents. Being so young, they don’t discuss it except they seem very interested in dietary differences. My children do ask some questions (when they see people with physical handicaps, for example, they want to know what happened), and I try to answer them compassionately and impartially. I’m general, I am open to questions, but I request they dont point, stare, or ask questions of me in front of the person. I teach them that we don’t comment on how someone else looks, although we might find it interesting or beautiful (for example, there was a time when my oldest was fascinated by women whose hair was going gray), because it isn’t polite to comment on a persons body. What matters is their character, and to know that, you have to get to know the person.

  11. Thanks for this giveaway. We have always discussed many topics and individuals from many countries, and their ethnic background.

  12. Our family talks about race constantly. We discuss the dangers of stereotypes and the importance of having real life, meaningful relationships that act as examples that actively tear down those stereotypes. I want my kids to understand that when they hear something negative about an entire group of people, that just shows that there’s something wrong with the speakers perspective of that group (rather than something wrong with the group itself).

  13. I would love to read this book!

  14. We are foster and adoptive parents. We adopted our son this spring. My husband and myself along with three bio children are Caucasian. Our new addition is 3/4 AA and 1/4 white. At this stage our adoptive son Is fairly young so we read him lots of books about how we are all different in many ways and that is what makes our world beautiful. We live in rural Ohio in a nearly all white school district. We do plan move when our son hits school age. My older children have told me how there is a lot of racism in our current school district. We realize that, sadly, racism can’t be avoided entirely but we want the best atmosphere we can provide for our son. We also read a lot of books geared towards his age on adoption. We feel being open and honest about all aspects is the best for our kids. We like to keep things real but at the same time age appropriate.

  15. Live in rural America in small town of less than 1,200 whose black schoolchildren are constantly being harassed by kids from other schools and a few ignorant few within the school district.
    For anyone who thinks that the race issue is not a hurtful issue in the United States of America, has to be living under a rock.
    And for the people who say because no people of color live in their community- the issue never comes up. Don’t kid yourself. Your kids are forming opinions from what they hear in history class, on the radio, on television, and the talk in the lunchroom amongst classmates.
    As the news media is reporting constantly, know your children’s friends, know what social media accounts they have, do not allow computers in private areas, block internet from cellphones, – our children are the future of the nation – but they need our help.

  16. I still sing Jesus Loves The Little Children to my adopted daughter at night and work to adjust my worldview. I’m white, grew up in a white community and I can totally relate to a time when I didn’t know how to talk to someone of AA descent. Thankful for God who loves us all, even me when I get it wrong.

  17. Hi Mary! I am in an interracial marriage and have kids adopted from other locations as well. We get questions EVERY WHERE we go. Some polite questions and some not so polite. I am always looking for new ways to best educate ‘the questioners,’ when need be, while helping me children feel like a real member of the family. Sometimes, the questions that come, can make an adopted child feel ‘different.’ And that is what I don’t like. Because my children are my children, no matter how they came to join our family. And I love them all dearly!! I would LOVE to read the book. –Corrie, mom to 11 blessings from God.

  18. Hi, Mary. Long-time reader, love your blog.
    I have four children; almost 10, 7, 5 and 2. My question centers around the internet. What are your internet guidelines? Do you use a monitoring or locking program (checking-up on kiddos or closing down all but a few sites)? Do you have open internet at your house? What about using the internet for school? How about phones, tablets and other devices that potentially allow internet access? Up until this point, we have monitored all computer activity all the time, but I recognize that that is not indefinitely sustainable nor does it teach the kids to be wise in their on-line choices. I would love to hear how you guys have chosen to handle this. Thank you.

  19. I try, but I definitely forget that not everyone is coming from the same frame of reference that I am. That’s such a good reminder!

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the book so much!

  20. Quincy Williams says:

    I would love to read this book. As a Black man in an interracial marriage, its always the tough balance of incorporating both culture and values of different races. I’m looking forward to some insight and the many stories that the author has encountered.

  21. Raising my kids where they were in the minority really helped with this. I remember Ilsa telling me about her two best friends; one had “gold skin and black hair” (from Lebanon) and one “was dark brown like chocolate” (from Cote d’Ivoire). I suspect that as they grow out of adolescence and marry, we will become transnational if not transracial. I really want to read this book though. I love the idea of being someone who works for change, rather than simply someone who is personally not prejudiced.

  22. Anna Kalmbacher says:

    I grew up in a rural white community, where racial diversity was never seen and never discussed. Now, as an adoptive mother of three children from Africa who lives in ‘city,’ when we visit that small town where I grew up,our family IS the divesity! Not much has changed there, but so much has changed in me. I am intrigued by this book, as I think I might identify very much with the angle the author is coming from. In our home, race is discussed frequently and freely – but specifically the topic of cultural differences and race is an area in which I have much more to learn!

  23. Sounds like a very interesting read! I have a diverse family as well, and feel like I have a lot to learn on this topic.

  24. Questions:

    I would also love to hear how you handle the age range when picking movies etc. as the commenter above. It is hard to keep the older ones from enjoying some things they are ready for just because of smaller siblings, but in a small house that is a challenge.

    I love that you share your experience with us. Thanks

  25. Wow. I’m a caucasian mom who grew up in white-bread suburbia. There were two black kids in high school – one who had the locker next to me, and one who played violin in the orchestra with me. Polar opposites, they were! In college I tried to create a minor in Race Relations, but was told that it would make more sense to stick to a French minor. Fast forward to now: I live in a diverse neighborhood in a major metropolitan city. I have 6 white kids and 2 black kids. My eldest (white) is dating and hoping to become engaged to a young man from Ghana, West son’s closest friends are African American boys form the neighbnrhood.

    Still, talking about race is very complicated! We talk about white privilege. We talk about past history. We talk about the safe neighborhoods, and the not-so-safe ones. Which are different depending upon the skin you wear. We talk about Civil Rights, and Martin Luther King, and still, the white portion of our family cannot come close to fathoming what the black portion will face as they grow up and find their way in life.

    This book sounds fascinating, and I would love to read it, because really, as a white woman trying to raise black children, I can never read enough on the topic.

  26. Kierstin says:

    Thanks for reviewing this book! I’m totally interested in reading it. We are a transracial family and it really has come up a ton yet. My bio boys are 8 & 6 and they are boys– meaning they don’t seem to say much when we bring it up. Our daughters are 2 & 3 African American and they have yet to say anything about our different colored skin. I have talked about it and we have read books about it but they are also aloof about it all right now. I know it’s coming so I try to be prepared.

  27. Sounds very thought provoking, thanks for telling us about it.

  28. I am an adoptive mom of two young brown chidren in an otherwise peachy-tan (white) family. This is an ever-evolving issue for us. We have discovered many great children’s books that help our discussions, such as “The Colors of Us” by Karen Katz. (That’s where we got the label “peachy tan,” because none of us are WHITE and none of us are BLACK. We’re all beautiful mixtures of lots of colors.) I would love to read this book!

  29. I never really talked about races with the children possibly because we are part of an environment that includes many races and it is just our “normal”.

  30. My husband is a high school SS teacher in rural Oregon and he is seen as extremely liberal by his students for his stand on race issues. I would love to read and share this book with him. and our 3 young children eventually… thanks!

  31. We are raising a bi-cultural family in small town Ontario, Canada. Initially we tried to take our Asian daughters to specific celebratory events to ‘expose’ them to their cultural heritage. While some of these events are still part of our family tradition, we try harder to make sure our girls see other Chinese children and interact with them in an every day context. For example, one daughter skates so we have registered her at a club where there are many other Asian children, even though it requires significantly more driving. We also try very hard to make them very proud of where they have come from…we don’t sugar coat the history of their birth country but we try to emphasize the achievements and the beauty of where they come from. I would love to read this book. I think raising children of different races is such a rich experience but, at the same time, we always have to be open to learning and empathy as we negotiate this journey.

  32. Sounds like a very interesting read!

  33. Thank you for the wonderful review.

  34. We would enjoy a copy of this book. As the mother of a Congolese-American daughter, living in a region with little diversity, this is a challenging area.

  35. A book I really enjoyed that dealt with the issue of race is The Color of Water by James McBride. The title came from the author, who is black, asking his white mother what color is God. Her reply was that God is the color of water. I think about that answer quite frequently and when I was in Nicaragua last month we were talking about race and I shared this with my team.

    I’d love to read the book you shared!

  36. That sounds like quite an interesting book. My son is grown now, and I honestly don’t remember too many pointed discussions about it when he was younger, although I do know we had occasional chats. I have friends of all colors, sizes, and shapes. I always have, and he’s seen that. I put him in activities where he was surrounded by a variety of people so it was just natural association. I have family that lives overseas, and he has traveled internationally with me, so the variety of cultures was easily absorbed. Our city is still technically white majority but definitely not in the areas we tend to be (including our choice of church), and his high school was heavily AA, so that’s just how it was. No big deal. That’s how he grew up, and it was all just assimilated. He did have a high school friend, who lived in a more white area of town, who would sometimes make comments belittling other races. That always bothered me and prompted discussions first with my son and eventually with the kid himself about how offensive he was being and how uncomfortable I was with his mocking.

    I do still hope to adopt from the foster system, and the odds are that I will have a multi-racial family at that point, so this would be an interesting book to read. Those kids will obviously be coming from a vastly different viewpoint.

    I find it interesting that noting someone is articulate can be considered insulting. At least around here, articulacy is a disappearing skill. What used to be taken for granted is now sometimes surprising, especially in the younger generations. I’m only 42 for crying out loud, definitely not old enough to be complaining about ‘the youngsters of today’ but I really do struggle to understand the speech of many of them. I do not mean people with foreign accents – if you attempt to speak my language, I will do my utmost to try to understand you, just as I hope you will do for me if I ever visit your country.

  37. I have a sister (adopted) that is bi-racial and a cousin that married a Japanese man. We just love one another. I was a teen before I realized there were people that judged others based on skin color.

  38. Sounds like a fascinating read!


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