Unlearning Racism


Most people understand that the events of Charlottesville, VA, the gathering of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, is not something new to 2017. Many folks were surprised at the enthusiasm these groups displayed at the 'Unite The Right' rally but the existence of these groups should not surprise us. After all, we are less that 100 years removed from the Civil Rights Act and the era of Jim Crow. We still glorify leaders of the Confederate Army who fought to maintain the institution of slavery in the United States. As such, it should not be a surprise that these groups exist, are actively recruiting, and are becoming more vocal as they are empowered by President Trump. As long as I can remember, the phrase 'erase racism' in one shape or another has been used when groups like neo-Nazis and white supremacist receive national attention. We want to erase this mindset. We want to erase the hate these people spew. We want to erase the violence attached with these movements. But the scars of institutional slavery, racism, and discrimination will never be erased. Nor should they be. We can never forget the way in which an entire group of people were segregated, relegated to the status of second-class citizens, and used for economic profits. We can never forget this nor should we. We should not erase this from our history.

Rather than erasing racism, we need to unlearn the practice.

We need to unlearn racism so that we can the ability, and willingness, to learn how to view the world without the lenses of racism on our spectacles.

John Hagel and John Brown of The Harvard Business Review wrote this:

When we recognize that the world around us is rapidly changing, however, a pre-requisite for learning is the willingness and ability to unlearn what we already know. We need to be constantly challenging our assumptions and beliefs about what is required to achieve impact because, as the world changes, what used to work in the past may no longer work. If we hold on to these assumptions and beliefs without questioning them, we will likely never open up the ability to learn about new approaches that may need to replace old approaches.

Hagel and Brown are writing to help organizational leaders share existing knowledge and develop new knowledge within their organizations. They argue that groups "can learn even faster if they are connected through networks" building "deep, trust-based relationships."

Rather than erasing racism from our lives we need to unlearn the racist tendencies we all have. Drew Colby spoke to this in a past episode of Crackers & Grape Juice:

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When racist incubators are running full-steam, raising racist children, those of us who want are seeking to lead our communities to stand up to these incubators need to understand that the racism we unintentionally show needs to be unlearned at the same time. This means that we cannot do this in isolation. We need to partner with religious and community organizations that look different from us. Not in a patronizing manner but so that we can begin to unlearn what we been taught.