A Guide for Approaching Racial Justice Learning, Reflection, and Action
The murders of Walter Wallace Jr., George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and others represent a long line of anti-Black injustices dating back several hundred years that have led to a current moment of heightened public attention on systemic racism and white supremacy. Through uprisings and other actions, people are calling for anti-racist policies and practices such as defunding of police forces, removing statues or other landmarks that commemorate legacies of racism, and economic justice for Black communities.
Amidst these events, many on social media are sharing lists of resources and suggested actions for people who wish to become more educated and contribute toward social change, whether that be Black liberation, economic reform, criminal justice reform, abolition, etc. See examples: Anti-Racism Resources for White People by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein, Resources for Accountability and Action for Black Lives by Carlisa Johnson, First, Listen. Then, Learn: Anti-Racism Resources For White People from Forbes, and so many more.
This is not a list of resources but a guide for how to approach and use those resources to further your own education, understanding, and action. The strategies included here are informed by the creators’ orientation as practitioners of Community-Engaged Learning, an educational model that integrates learning in academic settings and learning through action and critical reflection. This guide draws on the major principles of community-engaged learning pedagogy:
- Knowledge - become more educated/informed about a social issue, community of people, the historical roots of systemic inequality, how systems and institutions reflect and maintain racial and socio-economic hierarchies, theory, data, and storytelling about an issue
- Proximity or Engagement - have more personal experiences with the social issue or community you are learning about which, for those of us with race-based privilege, means going outside of our own segregated communities where these issues have not been visible
- Reflection - creating meaning from the knowledge and proximity through critical thinking that explores one's personal experience of and role in systemic inequality as well as one's understanding of what change could look like and how to do it as an individual and in community with others
In all the strategies provided, pay close attention to reflection questions. These are critical and often missing in lists of books to read or movies to watch. There are so many facets to this work and social issues to explore that it helps to chart a journey along one pathway rather than to try to do everything at once. Reflection on what you read, what you learn, what you do, and what speaks to you can help you in finding one issue or set of issues that piques your interest—and then finding ongoing, sustainable ways to continue the work of education, proximity, reflection, and action.
Though white people have the most work to do in their journey to anti-racism work due to the privilege of not thinking about or experiencing racism, this guide is intended to be a resource for anyone interested in further education about histories, systems, institutions perspectives, communities, and movements that shape and are deeply shaped by race and racism in the U.S.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Organizing Your Resources
- Where do I start?
- What do I need to know?
- How do I approach these topics?
- Reading/media to consume
- Immediate actions to take
- Conversations with others
- Ongoing action/engagement
ORGANIZING YOUR RESOURCES
Social issues such as systemic racism exist in many facets and forms—they have history, are shaped by systems, rules, policies and norms, and affect individuals in a multitude of ways. There is not just one way to understand these issues and the books, podcasts, movies, and other media you might use to increase your knowledge comprise various perspectives and genres. This section helps you organize the resources into categories, which can help you figure out where to start based on your own interests/learning style. For instance: if you love memoirs, you may want to start with an autobiography or storytelling resource; if you love history, start with a historical perspective; etc. Note: many of these will overlap, but it’s important to consider the varied perspectives on this issue and how scholars, practitioners, those directly impacted by the issue, and others have written or created content around it.
Historical perspective: What has happened historically to lead to this issue as it currently exists? What laws, policies, social or cultural systems, economic contexts, and other things might be important to know? Examples:
- 13th is a documentary about the history of mass incarceration
- Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi is a history of racism
- Color of Law is a book about the history of red-lining and residential segregation
Systems (educational, legal, economic, ecological, political) perspective: What parts of society do we regularly interact with that enact policies, practices, and data that reflect and reinforce inequality? How do different social groups experience these systems differently? Examples:
- Pushout by Monique Morris is about girls in the educational and criminal legal systems
- Caught by Marie Gottschalk is about political systems shaping mass incarceration
- The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale is about the police as part of the criminal legal system
- Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol is about race and class disparities in the education system
Storytelling (Individual perspective): What media or written stories might help you understand this topic from a personal perspective? If you do not regularly interact with people different than you, this can help avoid placing the burden on people to share their experience for the purpose of your education. Examples:
- When They See Us- Documentary about the young boys falsely accused of a crime
- Autobiography of Malcolm X or Assata Shakur- Stories of founding revolutionaries dedicated to racial justice and abolishing incarceration
- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson about his work as a lawyer trying to end mass incarceration and racial injustice in the legal system
Identity, race and racial identity: What ways do the construction of race, the historic and current role in systems and treatment of people in society. What is our understanding of our own racial identity and how does it shape how we participate? Examples:
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates examines the role of race in lived experience as a Black male
- White Fragility- by Robin Diangelo discusses whiteness and the work needed to be done by white people to dismantle white supremacy within them and in society
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander discusses the history of the War on Drugs
Creating Change: What approaches exist to transformation and achieving justice in relationship to this issue? What does equality look like? How do we stay committed to the hard work it will take to get there? Examples:
- Are Prisons Obsolete? By Angela Y. Davis examines the prison system and why it
- Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown about theories of change and community building as a way to build political power
- Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone offer a curriculum in maintaining perseverance of action and hope in creating social change
Other topics: institutions (Texas Tough by Robert Perkinson), data (Race to Incarcerate by Marc Mauer), abolition (Ruth Gilmore, Mariame Kaba), youth and education (The Problem We Live With, This American Life), social construction of race
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Once you have your resources organized, you can use these strategies to get started on learning, acting, and/or engaging in dialogue. These are meant to be done in order (learning first, then taking action informed by your learning and engaging in dialogue informed by your learning), but, depending on your journey before this moment you can choose an entry point that feels most appropriate for you—this is also an iterative strategy that can be repeated many times until you find a comfortable pathway/rhythm.
Strategy 1: READ, LISTEN, WATCH. Pick one book, article, podcast episode, or visual media and start reading/watching/listening. If it doesn’t resonate with you, that’s okay and holds meaning in your journey. You can put it down and come back to it later when it’s more relevant, or never come back to it.
Reflection questions for if you don’t finish:
- Why didn’t this resonate with you?
- If it was the writing and not the concepts, find something about those same concepts created by someone else and try again.
- If it was the concepts, try another strategy.
- If you felt resistant to the ideas presented, probe why that is- what did you understand about the topic already? What experiences or information do you have that might make you resistant?
- Try to find resources that approach this same topic from a different standpoint or perspective.
Reflection questions for if you do finish:
- What perspective did you have on this issue prior to reading?
- What new information or insight did you gain from reading this?
- What was the author’s goal in writing this? What do you think informed their approach to the issue, material, and narrative presented?
- What informs your perspective of the material? What experiences help you understand this issue? What experiences (or lack of experience) makes is more difficult?
- In what way were past actions you took (language you used, ways you treated someone, times you voiced your opinion in a particular setting)
Strategy 2: TAKE INFORMED ACTION. After you’ve learned more about an issue, pick one action that you feel compelled to take and find out how to meaningfully participate. If you’re not sure, ask others Make a plan, put it on your calendar, and invite someone you know to join you.
Choosing an action:
- What is something you think you could uniquely contribute?
- What might you be able to encourage or engage others in your life to do with you? Or on their own?
- What might be a short-term and long-term ways you want to engage- something that seems needed more immediately, and something that will work to address these issues in a more long-term sustainable way.
- What impact do you hope to have? What value do you hope it brings to the issue you are concerned about?
Choosing your role:
- Actions have many components to them- what particular role do you feel most compelled to fill? What needs exist?
- Planning, training, preparation
- What are you trying to achieve by going to protest? How do you understand the protest? Who is leading it? What are they asking for? How do you want to show up? If you’re going to email someone, what are you emailing them for? What relationship do you already have?
Preparing for action:
- What information do need about the issue before participating? How might you be able to inform or learn from others while participating?
- What information will you need about the action itself?
- What skills/tools might benefit you?
- How might your identity shape how you show up? for protesting – before doing this: what do you know about protesting? How have activists asked people of your identity group to show up? What should you bring? Are there other ways you can support rather than protesting (offering food, water, shelter, etc.)
Strategy 3: ENGAGE IN DIALOGUE. Start conversations, seek out diverse opinions on the issues you are seeing. This can encourage others to take action, expand your and their perspectives and understanding of the issue, and potentially enhance your ability to accomplish more of your goals.
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1. ON-GOING REFLECTION: This is an important component to taking what you have learned through reading and engaging and applying it to your life, to your behaviors. Learning should help us reorient the way we live in the daily decisions we make, our relationships with other people, and how we understand issues around us. Get yourself a notebook or other place to record thoughts—you’re going to have a lot of them.
Self-Reflection related to the resource(s) you engage with:
- The issue at hand: What social issue(s) did the resource highlight most clearly to you? What message was the loudest to you?
- The author’s perspective: What is the major thesis (or main point) of what you read? What was the author trying to say? Was it based on research, personal experience, a combination of both? Is this the only way to view this issue?
- Your perspective- What is your own relationship with the major themes in what you read/viewed?
- Considering your:
- Identity: How does this issue shape your daily life, or people who belong to the same social groups as you?
- Experiences: What particular moments/interactions have had an impact on how you perceive this issue? What informs your own “evidence”?
- Relationships/teachers/influential people in your life
- For example: if what you consumed was about police brutality, what is your relationship to the police? When have you encountered them in your lifetime and why? How did they make you feel? Do you believe the police exist to make you safe? Is that true for all communities or just yours?
- Change in understanding: How did this resource inform or expand your understanding of yourself? How did it inform or expand your understanding of the world or of a particular social issue?
- Action: What do you want to do with this knowledge and/or these feelings that you have? Is that action something to address short term issues, or long-term ones? What will you commit to doing now, and how will you commit to staying active in the future?
- Don’t try to do it all alone: intentional, structured reflection can sometimes be with others.
- Reflecting can lead us to doing more learning and acting.
- Reflection should be ongoing and challenging.
- Reflection like this should happen at all stages of your journey.
2. CONTINUED ENGAGEMENT OR ACTION: While reading is important, it means little to learn about issues without taking meaningful action to address them.
- Taking action is a way to apply your learning to begin to create a more just world informed by what you now know.
- Action should be relationship-based, focused on connecting to others to learn/share with them, connect your work to make it more impactful, and build communities that will sustain the impact of change.
- Action can also help us contextualize our reading and help us better understand experiences and the more complex/nuanced conditions that issues happen within.
- Lean on learning and engaging as next steps.
- On-going learning (especially in groups) can be a form of on-going action. How can you learn more about the thing you are interested in? For instance, if you learned about police brutality, can you find some history of that issue in the United States or wherever you are?
- Can you take a free online class or attend a public event about that issue?
- Can you find another book, movie, podcast, etc. to consume to increase your understanding?
- Can you find people working on this and join their movement? Can you volunteer?
- Let your interest and particular skills drive your next steps and the type of action you want to take.
- Joining a group of people working on that specific issue or social change
- Sharing with friends and family
- Volunteering or donating
- Continuing your knowledge with a new source of information on that issue
- Following legislation and taking political action
- All of the above!
Burnout warning!! Because all issues are tied intimately together, you will find yourself covering everything in time. Or, you may find yourself becoming overwhelmed again, in which case, go back to the strategies or lean into the community you’ve hopefully built for guidance. This is an iterative process so you can go back to any of the sections at any time to find new ways to focus and continue the work.
This guide was developed by Lindy Center staff during the summer of 2020. Updates may be made to add new resources or respond to community feedback. To provide feedback or share your experience using this resource, please email Cara Scharf: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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