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What’s covered in the Undoing Racism workshop

The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond was founded in 1980 by longtime community organizers Ronald Chisom of New Orleans, and Dr. Jim Dunn of Yellow Springs, Ohio. It is located in New Orleans.

Undoing Racism® is its signature workshop and is designed to understand the foundation of race and racism and the barriers they create. According to its website, through dialogue, reflection, role-playing, strategic planning and presentations, the two-day session challenges participants to analyze the structures of power and privilege that hinder social equity.

In Indianapolis in 2010, Child Advocates began a partnership with The People’s Institute to begin to address the disproportionate percentage of African American children in the Marion County Juvenile Court system.

Using the goals of the workshop, here’s Cindy Booth, CEO of Child Advocates, Jill English, co-director of Child Advocates, and Judge Geoffrey Gaither responding to the trainings they attended.

Goal: Develop a common definition of racism and an understanding of its different forms: individual, institutional, linguistic, and cultural.

GAITHER: You have to cleanse yourself of pre-existing notions of race and racial attitudes before you can really have a meaningful discussion about what is the full impact. You have to have working definitions of topics that make sense.

Goal: Develop a common language and analysis for examining racism in the United States.

BOOTH: They do an exercise where everybody talks about their definition of race and racism and there are so many, they just keep listing them and listing them. And then they say, “Ok, so how can we talk about it, if we each have a different definition.” So, let’s have this definition and then we’ll go from there.

Goal: Understand the historical context for how racial classifications in the United States came to be and how and why they are maintained.

GAITHER: There are things that you just should know, and it’s always amazing to me what people don’t know and they should know. Even the concept of black history, it’s not really black history, it’s American history. But it’s history that’s not talked about in schools, it’s not written so much in textbooks, but it’s still history.

ENGLISH: One area that attendees find impactful is the deconstruction of history. Before arriving at a common definition of race, there is a history lesson. Oftentimes, participants’ reaction is surprise to learn all the history that was left out. So that’s usually pretty powerful as to how the country was constructed, and then the next day when we check in with people and see how they’re doing, we usually get something like “I’m pissed, I’m hurt, this is ridiculous.”

Goal: Understand why people are poor and the role of institutions in exacerbating institutional racism, particularly for people and communities of color.

GAITHER: I was recently in Denver for a restorative justice conference and there was a Juneteenth celebration going on in a section called Five Points. Five Points is predominately where African Americans settled in the Denver area. And I was with a group that was going to go, and there were many people in the group that didn’t know what Juneteenth was and had never heard the term. I just gave them a five-minute talk and a couple of them apologized for not knowing.

Goal: Understand how all of us, including white people, are adversely impacted by racism every day, everywhere.

BOOTH: I remember sitting in a certain exercise. It was, “What do you like about being white or what do you like about being black?” I couldn’t think of a thing. The person next to me was about my age and a judicial officer. We both wanted to be good students, and we both couldn’t think of a thing. And then when we went around the circle and there was a black caseworker who said, “I think about race every day. At work, and then I have a teenage son and daughter and have to talk to them every day.” And I thought, “I don’t”, and that was my aha moment. The gratefulness that people have that they may not have understood something whether they’re white or black and just having that space to be able to express that or understand that. It’s pretty powerful.

Goal: Gain knowledge about how to be more effective in the work you do with your constituencies, your organizations, your communities, your families.

GAITHER: There are many challenges that remain. It’s one thing to talk about race in a pristine institutional way. The real challenge is what happens when you go home. Do you talk about race when you go home? Do you talk about race in your places of worship or your places of recreation? In your fraternal, civic organizations? What do you say about that when there are no black people around? What do you say about race when your brother-in-law or cousin or somebody makes a joke about race? Do you stand up or silently shake your head? Silence is complicity.

Additional goals:

  • Understand one’s own connection to institutional racism and its impact on his/her work.
  • Address surface assumptions about how your work is (or is not) affected by racism.
  • Develop awareness and understanding about ways to begin understanding race and how to undo racism.
  • Understand the role of community organizing and building effective multiracial coalitions as a means for understanding race and undoing racism.   
  • Understand the historical context for how U.S. institutions came to be and whom they have been designed to serve.

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