The purpose of unlearning isn’t about forgetting what we know, or about being wrong; it’s a conscious move towards critically examining what influences our expectations, behaviours and beliefs (about ourselves and other people) and seeks to challenge what may explicitly or implicitly lie behind them.
The most crucial aspect of unlearning is to tackle the cultural norms that perpetuate racism and oppression. Although I’m exploring this from the perspective of someone who lives in the United States, it’s not an exclusive issue to the USA. Unlearning is something we can all be committed to because we all have a part to play in dismantling everything that helps maintain racism within society.
Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world. | bell hooks
Cultural norms are established and enforced by the dominant culture; governing and overseeing social systems that typically inform what we value and treat as enshrined societal truths and identity. Unpacking all the ways that racism and racial bias intersect with every interaction we have; from education, healthcare, relationships, news/media, professional and beauty standards, law enforcement, criminal justice, etc., remains key to the critical thinking needed to unlearn.
Positioned as innocuous; which is a complete fallacy, societal norms present Whiteness as the default humanizing mirror by which everyone else is measured. This subsequently provides an air of normalcy when mistreating and dehumanizing Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPoC).
Whiteness and white racialized identity refer to the way that white people, their customs, culture, and beliefs operate as the standard by which all other groups are compared. Whiteness is also at the core of understanding race in America. Whiteness and the normalization of white racial identity throughout America’s history have created a culture where nonwhite persons are seen as inferior or abnormal. | Talking About Race – National Museum of African American History & Culture
If we’re new to unlearning our explicit and implicit racism; yes, we all possess it to some degree, even if we’re unaware of its influence on our thinking and behaviour; we’ve got to get accustomed to critically examining where racism hides (often in plain sight) within our life.
At every opportunity we get; whether it’s scrutinizing education for Whitewashing or colonial bias; examining Halloween costumes for appropriation; challenging employment/school policies that show favouritism for European beauty and hair standards; tackling news and media tokenism/lack of diversity or allowing police brutality to kill BIPoC with impunity; no matter where discrimination is enforced; we must look carefully at whose perspective and voice is being centred, and who is being overlooked:
The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist. | Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist
This is unlearning in action; an opportunity to challenge internalized racism that will encourage us to evolve our mindset and build positive interactions with everyone around us. It’s an opportunity to challenge internalized racism that will encourage us to evolve our mindset and build positive interactions with everyone around us. We can be part of something that celebrates diversity, promotes equality and establishes equity.
What are you unlearning? Do you tackle racism if/when it’s been brought to your attention?
The Great Unlearn – Unlearning America’s Birth – Rachael Cargle
Teach and Transform – Liz Kleinrock
3 Things Schools Should Teach About America’s History of White Supremacy – The Conversation