Home Black, Minority, Ethnic Reflections And Learnings From The Past Seven Years

Reflections And Learnings From The Past Seven Years

by Editor

Reflections & Learnings From The Past Seven Years

Unlearning Racism’ is a programme at Racial Justice Network (RJN) that aims to mobilise white people and communities towards collective action to dismantle the structures and systems of white supremacy, under the leadership of and in service to Black and Brown movements for liberation. This is reflected in the purpose of Unlearning Racism, as described in its manifesto:

The purpose of Unlearning Racism is to contribute and support Black, Brown and Majority World-led racial justice work. We do this by engaging white people and communities to unlearn racism, to increase anti-racist understanding and race analysis in mainstream thought. We mobilise white people and communities towards collective action to dismantle the structures and systems of white supremacy

The report is one of reflection, learning and accountability to our communities, Black and Brown-led movements and ourselves. It centres the voice and experience of Black and Brown-led movement leaders as a measure of whether the Unlearning Racism Programme has served its purpose and fulfilled its aims. Whilst also reflecting the experience of the white people who have been part of this process from the beginning, who have held the work under the leadership and mentorship of Black and Brown movement leaders and elders.

The report is aimed at different audiences:
  • Black and Brown people, communities and movements engaged in anti-racism and political education work, we hope that you see yourselves in it, and know that you are not alone.
  • White people who want to show up in allyship and solidarity for racial justice. We saw some shifts in 2020 following the resurgence of Black Lives Matter which have now, predictably, died down. Allyship, solidarity and learning are not passive or time-limited. 
  • Those engaged in equality, diversity, inclusion work, or so-called anti-racism that does not have grounding in our histories and funders, analysts and policy makers. Our learning from the Unlearning Racism programme shares valuable lessons on making significant inroads into accountability to and for our collective liberation from what bell hooks refers to as ‘imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy’.

The report is an offering to those engaged in this work,  to continue in self reflection  and repair, and commit to a life-long practice of tangible action for racial justice, even when it is hard. Our struggles are interconnected.

Over the past seven years of its existence, Unlearning Racism has undergone numerous iterations, each contributing to its evolution. We have reached and impacted 59 volunteers, 882 white and white-passing people from hundreds of organisations’ across West Yorkshire and the UK. 

We encourage all readers to explore the report-in-full, which delves into the extensive aspects of the programme. The report sheds light on the many ways whiteness and white supremacy have manifested within the programme, impeding the transformative potential of the work. The report offers an honest reflection on the learning experience that confronts the complexities, contradictions, and challenges inherent in the work, particularly when being held by white-bodied people. 

The themes explored in this report are summarised below. 

  • Our liberation is interconnected; our struggle towards it requires collective effort. When the lived experience of racialisation isn’t embedded into collective learning and liberation struggles, we lose sight of the root cause of our pain – white supremacy. 
  • It’s important that we recognise the culture of white supremacy, and how it manifests in the day to day – from the ‘good-bad’ binary and ‘either-or’ thinking, to the paralysing power and trap of shame. 
  • ‘Value’ is understood only in terms of economic gain. It tends to disassociate embodied values and principles which exist in Global Majority cultures and extract these values into monetary values. 
  • The recentering of Black and Brown bodies in anti-racism work makes it impossible to ignore the why of marginalisation and deprivation. It asks – whom does this marginalisation, deprivation and oppression serve and what does it uphold? The answers to these questions point to how we are all – white, Black and Brown bodies, wounded by white supremacy and the ways it keeps itself alive through systems, processes, structures that we inadvertently uphold through our conditioning to maintain these systems and strategies for survival within it. It also highlights the need for repair as a necessary part of liberation.
  • This work, although unintentionally, brings up the central theme of shame, which if not processed effectively causes paralysis and keeps us stuck. It’s important to work with this shame, actively resist the pull towards the paralysis of shame, within ourselves, in relationship with others and society at large.
  • Healing disconnection from self within Black and Brown marginalised bodies is also crucial, without which we fall into the traps of conditioning to uphold white supremacy. Such personal transformation cannot happen in isolation, it can only happen in community with others. Without it, we can get stuck in isolation and disconnection. 
  • Collective learning and action are only a part of the process of healing disconnection from self which make collective transformation possible. It is critical to attend to relational aspects diligently and effectively. 

Seeing knowledge and learning as passive, intellectual things, rather than the embodied practice of knowing and being, stands in the way of living the change we want to see. Trying it on, giving it a go, learning by doing are all important to reshape our relationships with our and others bodies, including how we view, acknowledge and honour knowledge in all of its forms and across all cultures.

The report provides thought-provoking questions for those involved in anti-racism efforts, drawn from seven years of learning and reflection. It also includes impactful insights from mentors regarding the direction of this work. For detailed information, access the report here.

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