I can’t help but think there’s a word for the phenomenon when you get interested in a topic, start learning about it, then start finding things everywhere that enhance your learning process. Okay, I Googled it. It’s the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.
In my case, I’m currently participating in an on-line seminar called “Art of Activism: Hard Conversations- Intro to Racism.” This week’s lesson centers on structural/ institutional racism, and I am absolutely experiencing the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.
The lessons in the seminar have been EYE-OPENING, I assure you. And yes, that word merits all caps. I consider myself to be relatively enlightened about the ways in which our social and legal structures reinforce racial inequality and serve as barriers to full social justice. And in spite of feeling like my knowledge in these areas is above average (recognizing that they are not experiential, of course), every day I am reading something or watching a video that challenges me. Some of them break my heart, some of them leave me angry, some leave me frustrated, and they all leave me realizing that we have so very much more to do to build the world that I want to believe we have and a world that we all deserve.
If you want to enhance your own understanding of structural racism, this is a great reading.
If you want to better understand the history of structural racism, here’s a brief video (with a link to a longer video, if you wish):
What do you know about disparities in the criminal justice system? Education systems? The financial system? Health care? How can you learn more about these things?
I’ll summarize for you: The disparities are huge, they are institutionalized, and they are real. Every single time that one of us denies that part of the issue is systemic and we blame individuals, we’re continuing as part of the problem rather than the solution. Equip yourself with facts, and listen deeply to the stories of those with first-hand experiences of discrimination.
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Angola 3, one of whom (Albert Woodfox) was kept in solitary confinement for over 40 years in Louisiana’s penal system. This article in this week’s New Yorker introduces you to Albert Woodfox and his story. I’ll comment that he is a truly remarkable human. Reading about him helped me to develop a deeper empathy for the Black Lives Matter movement than I’ve previously been able to muster. And, as I lead with, this was something I would have read less deeply were I not engaged in this seminar.
For my readers who are people of color and who are LGBTQ+: I want to know how those of us who are white and/or cis can be the most helpful in fostering change. I need to understand what that change is not from my perceptions but from your lived experiences. I don’t know and can’t know what it’s like to wake up every day as a Latina, or a black man, or someone who is gender binary. And without your experience, I don’t know how to use the influence that I have to insure that you are included as you deserve to be.
If you are a male reader, I hope that you’ll also include women’s experience as something you seek to hear, understand, and improve. I’m happy to discuss both explicit and implicit gender discrimination with anyone who is willing to hear.
One last resource before I issue a challenge to you. This Catalyst document has some excellent tips for engaging in conversations about gender, race, and ethnicity in the workplace (again, something a resource I came across serendipitously today; thanks, Twitter). I hope you’ll find ways to use it.
I’ll close with a challenge to each of you: Can you think about what is good or important about discussing inequality? What is hard about it? And how can you manage the hard parts to enjoy the good/ important aspects?
Let’s do this together, friends. It’s going to require each one of us to find solutions, to reach out, to make a difference.