Transforming Racism- personal and social transformation

August 11, 2013 Leave a comment

The following blog post is Part 2 of a series dedicated to Race and Social TransformationWe encourage you to share and comment! 

Race and racism continue to be defining features of U.S. society. As such, they show up in most of our projects, either explicitly or implicitly.

For example:

  • Community development leaders in a white suburb says “Racism isn’t relevant to us because there are no people of color here,” never considering the role of racism in creating their all-white town.
  • A community improvement initiative struggles to keep its leadership coalition together as tensions between large, white-led institutions and grassroots, people of color-led organizations emerge over decision-making and control of the work.
  • A subset of people within a national network see how racism affects their issue and how failing to explicitly name racism is limiting their movement’s overall effectiveness, but they don’t know how to make the case to others in the movement.

In situations such as these, we design processes to heighten awareness of how race and racism operate; deepen commitment to learning about, interrupting, and transforming those dynamics; and build lasting agreements on how to make meaningful changes together.

Race is a socially constructed set of categories, created to justify and maintain social hierarchies. Although race has no biological or scientific basis, the resulting social hierarchies are real and create a landscape of opportunity and disadvantage.

Racism is the system of power and social hierarchy based on race. It operates on multiple levels, from the internalized and interpersonal to the institutional and structural. This system produces racialized outcomes on virtually every measure of individual, family and community well-being, including health, education, employment, and neighborhood quality of life. This system operates automatically and doesn’t require intention or an explicitly “racist actor.” All it takes is for social, economic and political systems to operate in their current forms without interruption while people who benefit from the current arrangements remain unaware or unwilling to use their power to interrupt the system.

The work of guiding people to see their role in upholding this system and catalyzing action often begins with the personal, but also requires systemic transformation. Conversely, dismantling institutional and structural racism requires that we change structures, policies and practices while also engaging the thinking, feelings and actions of the people who inhabit those structures. We have to find new ways of doing as well as new ways of being if we are going to end the system of racial hierarchy.

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