Women Tell their Truth about Race

Amy Mevorach
Lindsey Galvao, Shay Stewart-Bouley, Debby Irving, and Melissa Patrick.
Issue Date: 
April, 2018
Article Body: 

On February 25, a crowd gathered in the Natick High School Auditorium to witness a conversation between Shay Stewart-Bouley and Debby Irving. What made the conversation significant and worth coming out in the rain to hear was that Stewart-Bouley, blogger of Black Girl in Maine, and Irving, the author of Waking Up White, were talking about race. Seated in chairs on the stage, discussing specific encounters that happened during their talking tour together as well as emblematic issues of racism, they modeled a respectful and effective way for people with different racial identities to talk about those differences.
The event was called Tell the Truth: Exploring the Heart of Cross Cultural Conversations, presented by Natick Families of Color Unite and the Natick Coalition for Change. Melissa Patrick, a racial justice activist and founder of Natick Families of Color Unite, saw this partnership between Irving and Stewart-Bouley as a wonderful model and felt that people in Natick would relate to their dialogue.
Stewart-Bouley, a Chicago native who moved to Maine in 2002, began blogging in 2008. She writes about systemic racism and has been featured in anthologies and other publications and has done a TED talk. Irving, in a graduate course on racial and cultural identities, woke up to the impact white skin can have on equity and chronicled her journey of racial identity in Waking Up White.
They met in January 2014 when Irving’s book was released and felt that a natural energy flowed between them. “We had immediate chemistry,” said Irving in our interview, “as well as an obvious shared willingness to be brutally honest in public... about the complexities in cross-racial relationships in general and ours specifically.”
“When Debby stumbles on matters of race,” said Stewart-Bouley, “she owns it and it doesn’t stop the conversation. One of the stumbling blocks in cross-racial friendships is how to talk about race. Our dialogues allow people to see that it is possible to have an authentic connection and have the uncomfortable conversations.”
Their conversation in Natick was the fourth in four days. “You’d think we’d be talked out but we’re actually not,” said Stewart-Bouley. Their conversation commenced about an interaction at a previous dialogue and expanded to examine the historic roles we play as willing or unwilling members of different racial groups. Stewart-Bouley spoke of her hesitation in building relationships with white people, white women in particular. “How do you feel safe with people who often have so many blinders?” She added, “I see Black and Latina women as safety. It’s an unspoken truth a lot of women of color feel.... Our armor is on. If we’re gonna be friends, I need you to keep me safe. I want women in my life who are willing to go deep and do that work.”
Irving displayed that willingness, and acknowledged her process of continual learning, which she said “is happening at the expense of my dear friend Shay.”
The dialogue was followed by questions from the audience. Lindsey Galvao, founder of Natick Coalition for Change, felt that the feedback on the event was “overwhelmingly positive, and it seems Debby and Shay gave Natick residents a lot to process and reflect upon. It was a great beginning to delve deeper into how we personally engage in cross-racial dialogue, but it is a conversation that we need to have not only at presentations but on a daily basis.” 
“What’s wonderful,” said Patrick, “is that other organizations in Natick value creating spaces for voices to be heard.” The event was sponsored by Natick Public Schools, Natick is United, Walnut Hill School for the Arts, First Church Natick, Equity and Expectations, and Common Street Spiritual Center. Through many of these organizations and individual initiatives, public community conversations about racial justice continue efforts to “support people in a compassionate way without drowning anyone out,” said Patrick, hopefully leading to deeper mutual understanding and a heightened sense of socio-political awareness. “There’s been a taboo for white people to talk about race, so it’s harder to have that conversation, but having them can be informative and healing, and they can enrich our lives.”