Tracey McKee • June 26, 2023
I was admittedly nervous and unsure when I stepped into my first anti-racism course over five years ago. I had no idea what to expect and worried that there were many ways such an endeavor could go wrong. After all, the fact that we need anti-racism education in our country isn’t because we are good at talking about race and racism with one another. But, I was pleasantly surprised by my experience with Brownicity’s What LIES Between Us course. After completing it, I had a greater understanding of race/ism in our country, a new awareness that not everything I thought I knew about race and racism was correct, and I understood how pervasive the roots of racism are that continue to impact people today.
Anti-racism development is hard work and deals with what, for most of us, is uncomfortable material. If you are thinking about growing your capacity to engage in anti-racism, here are some things I found to be helpful:
An open and curious mind
Race/ism is both a sensitive and complex issue. For most of us, learning about race/ism will lay bare swaths of our country’s history that we were not taught. We will need to consider new and different perspectives while questioning old ways of thinking. We will need to assess what biases we might have that subconsciously guide our behavior toward others. Approaching the material with an open, inquisitive mind allows consideration of new ideas and perspectives; it helps to reduce the mind’s tendency to judge new information as either right or wrong, good or bad and encourages viewing such information as informative and key to broadening our point of view.
Because talking about race and racism can be highly emotional and is subject to misunderstandings, it is important to have clear and precise language for discussions. Having a communal understanding of terms and ideas helps us engage in purposeful and worthwhile talks that increase our understanding and promote unity.
An active ear and a patient tongue
Anti-racism, in large part, is about seeing the world from others’ points of view. Learning about different races, cultures, and ethnicities is integral to anti-racism work. One of the most valuable ways to learn is to hear and share stories, perspectives, and ideas with people who have different backgrounds than us. Listening thoughtfully as others share not only conveys our respect, but also helps us to absorb and consider what we are hearing. Undoubtedly, we will be confronted with information that challenges what we think we know. At times like this, it is tempting to want to respond immediately or to even interrupt someone. I found, however, that taking a moment to pause and resist that temptation is helpful. Taking a moment decreases the chance of misunderstandings and tends to help us avoid high emotions.
Racism is ugly, and it touches all of us in some way. The construct of racism has been woven into our ways of life for so long that calling it out, while necessary, can make us uncomfortable. When it comes time to talk with one another about race/ism, we feel vulnerable. But if we can lean into that vulnerability and offer our authentic selves to the work, we can enrich not only our experience and learning, but that of others as well. Dismantling racism starts with first looking at ourselves and assessing where we are on the racism continuum. Sharing honestly helps us to break down the biases and misinformation we hold so that we can develop new ways of thinking and engaging with others.
It goes without saying, but respecting others is non-negotiable. We may not agree with one another on every point, but we must respect one another even in our disagreement. Anti-racism education is not a singular event. Developing the capacity for anti-racism takes learning, reflection, and time to foster new thoughts and behaviors. We must respect one another so that we create environments that support one another’s growth and insight.
And, finally, a good program
Not all anti-racism programs are equal. After the death of George Floyd, there was a flurry of anti-racism programs introduced in schools, communities, churches, businesses, etc., across the country. Many were helpful, others seemed to provoke resistance and discord. Brownicity utilizes an educator’s approach. I think this approach provides a roadmap of what to look for in a good program. Approaching anti-racism education with the craft of an educator requires building a welcoming and safe environment for learning, providing factual context, information, and history, and teaching definitions and terms to support helpful dialogue. Skilled facilitators encourage honest and respectful discussion and support participants as they self-assess and integrate new learning experiences. And they also inspire hope and optimism that we can fill the divide that racism creates.
It is a brave and life-affirming choice to voluntarily step into uncomfortable and sometimes painful territory, like learning about and discussing racism. From my own experience, I can tell you I am better for it. I still have so much to learn, but the horizons I see for what we can achieve together have been expanded. If you are thinking about it, I encourage you. I’ll leave you with this thought:
The purpose of learning isn’t to affirm our beliefs, it is to evolve our beliefs.Adam Grant, Think Again