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Why is it so difficult to learn about race/ism?

Why is it so difficult to learn about race?

Dan Berry  •  June 20, 2023 

My wife Anne and I will be married for 48 years this August.  Over the years, we have had a boatload of disagreements.  Whenever a disagreement would arise, I would feel personally attacked, become defensive, and we became two rocks in a blender.  Because my go-to was to become insecure, I would get angry, frustrated and begin to take everything personally.  While in that place of insecurity, it would always be difficult for me to really understand what was going on. Never was there much listening and learning. If I would have just quit making it about me all the time, I could have learned what was really going on and been a better husband.

When it comes to race/ism, I don’t think there is another subject that garners self-preservation in people more. The mere mention of race/ism will ignite emotions that shut down all learning.  No one wants to be racist, let alone be thought of as racist, so that becomes THE ISSUE. The really sad part is that when we are making it about us and how we aren’t racist, many times, we tend to lash out at the learning process. 

Listening is crucial to the process of learning and personal growth. Listening goes beyond simply hearing the words being spoken; it involves actively engaging with the learning process, being open to different perspectives, and truly understanding the message being conveyed. Effective listening not only enhances comprehension but also promotes empathy, critical thinking, and collaboration.

Listening is crucial

In my marriage, when I learned to take a step back from myself and just be open and listen, everything changed, and I began to grow as a husband.

When it comes to learning about race/ism, the challenge lies in our instinct for self-preservation. The mere mention of race or racism often triggers strong emotions that can hinder our ability to listen and learn. Nobody wants to be labeled as racist, and this fear can overshadow the genuine desire to engage in meaningful dialogue. Unfortunately, when we become defensive and make it about ourselves, we inadvertently close ourselves off from the learning process.

When I facilitated What LIES Between Us, I learned that at the beginning of the class, we have to ask people to take a step back, breathe, and realize that this class is not an opportunity for them to prove that they are not racist. Rather, It is an opportunity for us to learn the truth about race/ism. It became essential to emphasize that the purpose of the class was not to prove one’s innocence but to collectively uncover the truth about race/ism. By fostering a mindset of openness and active listening, we could begin to challenge preconceptions, explore complex issues, and work toward personal growth.

What lies between us

In my marriage, when I started listening, I learned so much about my wife. When I gained more understanding, it made me want to be a better husband. The same is true here. When we learn about race/ism, we gain an understanding and are inspired to take steps toward abolishing it. There is no need to be defensive. Listening and learning simply help us lean into our own liberation.

In closing, the next time you are gifted the opportunity to have a conversation or take a class about race/ism, take a breath, step back, and learn; let the truth set you free. We can LISTEN to LEARN, and we can LEARN in order to LIBERATE.


Dan Berry is the author of Navigating Diversity In Our Most Segregated Hour, a Certified Instructor for the What LIES Between Us and Confronting Whiteness courses, and advises individuals and organizations on how to take first steps toward racial healing through Bridge Building Solutions.
He has pastored for forty years in Iowa.  After pastoring in predominantly white spaces for several years, he began to realize the need to bring about racial healing in the body of Christ. For the last 30 years he has worked to bridge ethnic and cultural divides, a work that has led him into confronting the churches complicity in upholding systems of racism.

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