As many of you may know, VISIONS began in 1984 with the goal of supporting organizations, communities, and individuals in the undoing of the subtle, outside of awareness “isms” that we knew racism had morphed into. Social psychology and public health research had demonstrated that racism had not ended; rather it was showing up in different forms. We realized that most people are likely not to have been taught about how bias works in our brains. All humans have them AND in the US, some of these biases are racialized.
From an early age, for instance, it is difficult not to "catch" the idea that "white is good and black is bad." Our antiracism interventions invite participants to take in this information and to uncover how this bias plays out in their interactions at work and at home. VISIONS developed a model that identifies five ways this bias can play out in a variety of work contexts (hiring, promotion, giving feedback, and even who I choose to have lunch with or sit next to in the cafeteria, etc.).
Most also have not been taught the history of how this racialized bias started. In my experience and in the work I've seen of many others, most people, when learning this history, are able to change their attitudes, behaviors and over time practices. Over the last few months, I think all of us who want to ensure equity, have become clear that much more urgency is needed. I, and many others, have been talking, thinking about, and acting in awareness that the US’s current dilemmas are, in large part, a moral challenge. It is not a new challenge.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of it so poignantly, when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964: “I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”
VISIONS, for me, is also based on this assumption. I know that we do not control outcomes as humans AND we surely need to have the wisdom and courage to “change the things we can.” One of those is making sure we understand what is at stake currently AND how our history impacts where we are now.
Naomi Klein’s words come to mind:
“The cotton and sugar picked by enslaved Africans was the fuel that kickstarted the Industrial Revolution. The ability to discount darker people and darker nations in order to justify stealing their land and labor was foundational, and none of it would have been possible without theories of racial supremacy that gave the…morally bankrupt system a patina of legal respectability. In other words, economics was never separable from ‘identity politics,' certainly not in colonial nations like the United States – so why would it suddenly be so today?”
In workshops across the country over the past couple of years, I have asked participants, how many of you know we had a civil rights act of 1875? In MOST sessions, at most one or two people knew. In many, no one knew. Many of the sessions we conduct these days are very intergenerational, with participants ranging in age from early their 20s to their late 60s, in most cases. It is very disheartening to realize weekly how far our educational system has strayed from the hopes and dreams of the 60’s. AND we must not lament. We must WORK…in the words of Sweet Honey and the Rock, “until the killing of black men is as important as the killing of white men, we who believe in freedom cannot (will not) rest...”