How to Educate Yourself About Racism

Marc Beckmann
Human Rights

Racial equity is the hallmark of just, inclusive, and equitable societies as envisioned by Sustainable Development Goals 10 (Reduced Inequalities) and 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) of the UN 2030 Agenda. Since late May 2020, discussions on racial equity have gained momentum globally. In this article, Responsible Leaders Sylvia Mukasa, Lily Adhiambo, and Thandi Dyani from our regional network in Africa share some learnings and things to unlearn they have gleaned on their journey towards racial equity.

The video of the gruesome murder of George Floyd pierced the hearts and souls of people all over the world. Spontaneous protests erupted in cities around the globe, with millions of women, men, boys, and girls of all colors, faiths, and creeds chanting “Black Lives Matter.” The incident put the spotlight on police brutality against African Americans in the United States, but on an even deeper level, it exposed systemic racism that has enabled perpetrators of such crimes go unpunished.

The event quickly brought to light that racial injustice, inequity, and discrimination not only affected African Americans; it is a reality for black, colored, and minority people everywhere around the world.

"My fight is for racial equity. Make it your fight, too. We should ALL stand up against racial prejudice and discrimination. As humankind, we are ALL obligated to make the world a better place for ALL.”
Sylvia Mukasa, Founder and CEO of GlobalX Investments and Innovation Labs

Silence did not seem an appropriate response at both the individual and collective level. But what could we do? We embarked on a journey to learn more about racial inequity with the aim to (un)learn beliefs, stereotypes, and narratives that perpetuate racial inequity. The world/History had reached a crossroads, offering a safe space and the opportunity of a lifetime to talk about racism in a honest and transparent way, educate each other, and understand how racism is manifested. Based on the lessons we collated, we are issuing a call to action to both individuals and corporates to be the change we want to see.

Individually, we continue to facilitate talks on racism within our circles of influence in order to educate and equip our contacts with the right information and tools. Collectively, we have gathered – through articles, videos, and personal experiences – extensive background information and small actions that can be taken to fight racism and different forms of discrimination at both the individual and systemic level.

Embarking on an Unlearning Journey

Racism has been an issue for many years, but it remains unresolved to date. In order to support and sustain diversity and equity within the BMW Herbert Quandt Responsible Leaders Network, as well as in the local, regional and global communities we serve, we must directly confront bias and racism at the individual level, institutionally (through policies and practices) and by accelerating systemic change. Therefore, we plan to embark on a journey as Responsible Leaders to learn and unlearn. Let us make a difference to humanity by contributing towards racial equity. Let's travel!

One act that inspired us was the letter that 22-year-old Kennedy Mitchum sent to the editors at the Merriam-Webster dictionary. She expected no response, but as a result of her complaint, there is going to be a change in the dictionary’s official definition of systemic racism. Kennedy was frustrated that whenever she brought up racism as an issue, people ran to the dictionary, showed her the definition, and explained to her that the conversation was unnecessary because they were not racist. The new entry will reflect the fact that racism is both individual and systemic.

Having conversations on race is a different experience for black people than it is for white people. It takes vulnerability, patience, good communication, and willingness to listen to each other with empathy. It takes the will to make time for educating yourself about racism. It takes being comfortable with having the uncomfortable conversations on racism and racial inequity, if we are to play our role in society and at our workplaces as agents of change to ensure that our spheres of influence are equitable and leave no one behind (LNOB) – a guiding principle of the SDGs.

Sylvia Mukasa (on the right) while visiting Constitution Hill during the Responsible Leaders Forum South Africa in September 2019. Erol Gurian

The journey towards racial equity will take unlearning some habits, mindsets, words or phrases we often use unknowingly. Phrases like: “I am color-blind,” “I am not a racist,” “I love/respect all races,” “I am a good person,” “I have friends or family who are black or people of color” are good but not helpful. The fight today is about systemic and structural racism embedded in every sector of society. This reality continues to put obstacles in the path of black, colored, and minority people across the globe. We need to unite as a society to help fight systemic racism. At the same time, we need to address the everyday racism and micro-agressions experienced by black, colored, and minority people. This video by Thandi Dyani gives a glimpse of what everyday racism, often founded on systemic racial biases and stereotypes, looks like.

"Racism is everywhere and it is important to stand together and learn how to dismantle racist structures, systems, and biases no matter what the color of your skin is. I wish 'anti-racism' had an SDG of its own with measurable indicators and targets so we could move the fight against racism to a space beyond activism and personal stories!"
Thandi Dyani, Strategic partnerships director at Girls Are Awesome

We have also gathered tons of material on structural/systemic racism in the United States and in Africa, as well as on the underpinnings of systemic racism in various aspects of life, including culture, religion, education, laws, and policies. The collected documents reveal the generational impact of racism, continuing neocolonialism, and the protracted nature of the fight for racial equity.

Thandi Dyani at the World Responsible Leaders Forum in Mérida, December 2019. Marc Beckmann

It also provides background on white superiority, explaining the fear that other races will outpace the white race in the Western world. The articles also touch on reparations for looted African heritage objects in Western capitals and Pan-Africanism. We will continue collating information to learn more about racism and racial inequity and to (un)learn things that we may be unaware of but that perpetuate these vices.

Lily Adhiambo during the Responsible Leaders Forum in Johannesburg. Erol Gurian

The realization and discussions on how systemic racism is prevalent in many African contexts is an important factor to also learn about more deeply. While many countries in the African region have been somewhat silent about their own experiences with racism, it has to be understood that Africans as a whole live in black majority societies, with black majority governments, police, public health systems, etc., but in fact many of the social systems that are meant to protect and serve the population are in fact inherited from colonial and minority rule systems designed to serve only the white minorities. The very core of our societies is racist, and we navigate in racist systems, whether its land ownership, wealth distribution or access to crucial services such as education or health.

"Small actions over time lead to change. Let us optimize this safe space to address racism at the individual and systemic level. We must also rethink the Diversity and Inclusion strategies in our organizations."
Lily Adhiambo, Senior Humanitarian Affairs Officer at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Today, it can be so much harder to discover and realize racial inequity, as the last 2-3 generations (with the exemption of some nations) have been living with the belief that we are the makers of our own destinies while, in fact, supremacy systems are in place everywhere that are racist at its core. This becomes very visible through the so-called 'black on black' crime with gender-based violence, poverty-related crimes, etc.

The need to unlearn and put new systems in place is as great on the African continent as it is elsewhere/globally. Let’s embark on this (un)learning journey together!

 This story was written by BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Lily Adhiambo, Thandi Dyani, and Sylvia Mukasa. If you are a Responsible Leader and would like to participate, please reach out to your Regional Network Driver or Organizer.

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