Victor Skinner, EAGNews.org
SUMMIT, N.J. – “Racial justice educator” Debby Irving is heading to Summit, New Jersey next week to explain to Jews at the Beth Hatikvah synagogue how they’re “white privilege” feeds into America’s “white supremacist” culture.
After all, Irving told the New Jersey Jewish News, if anyone should recognize a system of oppression and work to fix it, it’s Jews.
“For centuries, Jewish people have been ‘other-ized,’ persecuted, and marginalized,” Irving told the news site.
Now, she said, they enjoy “some circles of power” in the United States.
“If they really allow their Jewish identity to become front and center and focus on the values around injustice, the Jewish people are the ones who actually are in a position to dismantle the system in ways that other people might not be,” Irving said.
The New Jersey stop is designed to promote Irving’s book, “Waking Up White, And Finding Myself in the Story of Race” about how she grew up with virtually no contact with black people in a wealthy Protestant family in Boston.
DebbyIrving.com describes Irving’s racial awakening:
I’m a white woman, raised in Winchester, Massachusetts during the socially turbulent 1960s and ‘70s. After a blissfully sheltered, upper-middle-class suburban childhood, I found myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by the racial divide I observed in Boston. From 1984 to 2009 my work in urban neighborhoods and schools left me feeling helpless. Why did people live so differently along racial lines? Why were student outcomes so divergent? Why did I get so jumpy when talking to a person of color?
The more I tried to understand racial dynamics, the more confused I became. I knew there was an elephant in the room, I just didn’t know it was me!
In 2009, a course at Wheelock College, Racial and Cultural Identity, shook me awake with the realization that I’d missed step #1: examining the way being a member of the “normal” race had interfered with my attempts to understand racism. What began as a professional endeavor became a personal journey as I shifted from trying to figure out people whom I’d been taught to see as “other” to making sense of my own socialization.
In the time since, Irving has become a self-professed race expert and now tours around the country with her book – making at least 100 speeches a year at colleges and other venues – to talk about how America’s white supremacist systems are holding down blacks and other minorities.
Irving explained to the Jewish News that “white supremacy is one of my favorite terms for educating people. White supremacy is not just about the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis. It is what the United States is founded on. It means that white, male, Christian, heterosexual, able-bodied, owning-class people are supreme.”
But it’s not just the racism, she said, capitalism is also to blame for the country’s problems, Irving contends.
It makes her sad “how vulnerable human beings are to greed and exploitation and personal gain in a society which promotes those things,” Irving told the news site. “The combination of white supremacy and capitalism is the perfect way to seduce people into taking advantage of other people.”
Irving pointed to the current presidential race and, without naming presumptive Republican candidate Donald Trump, said some candidates have “unearthed the degree to which white people are full of hatred and anger – not just toward our government, but they are terrified that this country is, in their minds, being taken away from them.”
She claims all of those white people filled with hate jump have “the superficial knee-jerk response to turn and blame the most visible obvious person and not look at the system that pits us all against each other,” according to the Jewish news.
Irving will speak to the Beth Hatikvah congregation May 11 as part of an ongoing series about race sponsored by the Summit Interfaith Council.
Local religious leaders told the news site they’re looking forward to Irving’s visit.
Fountain Baptist Church assistant pastor Vernon Williams said the Summit selected Irving to speak “because she forces the conversation with her stories of whites who either don’t want to acknowledge white privilege, or acknowledge white privilege but are helpless to say there needs to be a change.”
“We have a particular responsibility to be aware when other people are oppressed,” Beth Hatikvah Rabbi Hannah Orden said. “Jews participated in the civil rights movement in far greater proportions than other whites. But there was a rift between the black community and the Jewish community that has yet to be fully repaired. In some ways Jews have not been in the forefront of these issues since then.”
But, “in the last couple of years, with all the police shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement,” Orden said Jews “need to step forward and not be silent and address the things that are still happening.”