Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves
August 21, 2017 6:57 PM   Subscribe

The “Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves” is the perfect thing to send both white allies genuinely interested in learning more, and that special Facebook commenter who loves playing “Devil’s Advocate.” Whenever anyone asks you for stats, “proof,” or info no one who has an actual human schedule has the kind of time to provide, you can send them here. [Google Docs link via Teresa Jusino at The Mary Sue]
posted by cgc373 (17 comments total) 134 users marked this as a favorite
Mod note: One comment deleted. Go ahead and take a look at the link before declaring that this is a portent of doom or something; it's a collection of articles that answer frequently asked questions.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:39 PM on August 21, 2017 [10 favorites]

I like the self-education part, not just because nobody from a marginalized group should need to devote their energy to the teaching, but also because it involves taking ownership of your own knowledge. The introduction is often the hardest part of self-directed learning because you don't have the right vocabulary to go looking for more.
posted by Sequence at 7:52 PM on August 21, 2017 [17 favorites]

I have 68 years of education. I grew up in a totally segregated Texas. Water fountains, elevators, theaters, lunch counters. Everything. The first black classmate I ever had was in my senior year of high school and she was the loneliest girl in Austin. I have an exceedingly rare last name and about 4 out of 5 with that name in the US are black. Yes, we were slaveholders in Mississippi and Tennessee. I even have an ancestor who was a slave ship captain sailing out of Charleston. His cabin boy was Denmark Vesey. I have, arguably, more "street creds" than all these racist punks put together and still I reject all their bile, xenophobia and senseless hate. Besides, I'm too old to go back to school...
posted by jim in austin at 8:10 PM on August 21, 2017 [11 favorites]

If nothing else, it should impress the sorts who love to just paste a wall of links and demand a response to each and every point made therein, or at a bare minimum shut them up.
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:29 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you for posting this. I didn't get around to posting on the previous thread about speaking to relatives, but this is a really good starting point...
posted by Cozybee at 11:23 PM on August 21, 2017

Very American focused.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:25 AM on August 22, 2017

Yes, because as the creators of the syllabus said, "We need to be thinking about how we are thinking about this election. This sense of comfort, of insulation from the horrors of America, is precisely what this syllabus is meant to disrupt."
posted by palomar at 6:32 AM on August 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

It specifically and explicitly is a response to the US election, so I'm not clear what the complaint is here.
posted by maxsparber at 6:52 AM on August 22, 2017 [9 favorites]

If there's really great anti-racist work being written from a non-American perspective, then I'm sure it will be welcomed with open arms if posted as an FPP. I'm frankly getting sick of the "Ugh, why's everything so focused on America?" comment in every single one of these threads. Be the fucking change you want to see already.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:57 AM on August 22, 2017 [7 favorites]

Um. This whole thing is literally about deconstructing hegemonic power and actively working to understand perspectives of folks in the minority (I know non-US is hardly a minority, but in this environment...anyways.) "I'm getting sick of hearing how metafilter posts are framed like everyone is American" is sort of tone-deaf in that context, no? I'm American and I'm very down for American content but we could take care to demarcate it that way and generally avoid framing things like American is the assumed default state.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:03 AM on August 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Sorry, I misspoke - I meant that complaining about observations like "I'm getting sick of hearing how metafilter posts are framed like everyone is American" is tone-deaf.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:26 AM on August 22, 2017

Yeah the post could have mentioned this was America-based but since the 1st paragraph of the document lets you know that, I'm not seeing an issue.
posted by agregoli at 8:54 AM on August 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

I appreciate good reading material, but sometimes I find this exercise frustrating.

As a community organizer, nothing substitutes for getting people of different back grounds to work together on a common cause. Reading an article about the importance of listening, can't replace actual listening - and getting two people to sit down, share their story, and find common cause.

If this helps people hash things out to make our country better, I'm for it. But when I challenge my congregation to think differently, I don't just give them another article. I talk to them from a position of love and mutual respect. Because in my experience, nobody has ever changed their mind because they've been told they're ignorant or should be ashamed.

As a practice, curiosity and concern for other people is central to the work of organizing. That virtue precedes any syllabus. I suggest it is one we might want continuously to harness and cultivate in our fellow citizens.

Getting people to sit together is really hard work - harder than sending a link. It means some have to listen harder; others have to let go of their virtue. Others have to abdicate their chair; and others have to unlearn their helplessness.

As the great Fred Ross once said, we educate to organize; we don't organize to educate.
posted by john wilkins at 9:20 AM on August 22, 2017 [8 favorites]

Sure, but... we kinda gotta educate people before we can get them to feel like they should organize. What you're talking about, the way to educate an already formed group, is different from what this document is meant to do, which is help people who aren't at the place where your people are. This is meant to help get them to the place where your people are, so that community organizers can do the work with them that you're doing with your groups.
posted by palomar at 12:11 PM on August 22, 2017

I think what john wilkins is saying is that people aren't open to education without that emotional connection, and facts don't deliver that.

There's been some real interesting research that's come out (or well, been more publicized) in the past half-decade about how people form their opinions and change them. It boils down to this:
  • Our identities are tied to our social groups. Humans are social animals, we rely on our groups to survive. So we are programmed to engage in behaviors that reinforce our ties with our "tribe", and tying our identity to our "tribe" is a part of that.
  • Opinions are an important form of our identity--i.e. our opinions are formed less from independent, rational, objective consideration of something than by what is believed by those around us.
  • Changing one's opinion represents a change in one's identity, and thus a threat to one's position within one's social group. Changing one's opinion is instinctively interpreted as a threat to one's own survival.
  • We feel so compelled to resist attacks on our identity, and thus attacks on our opinions, that the presentation of facts contrary to our opinions can actually solidify our beliefs.
  • If you want to change someone's mind, the answer is not to barrage them with facts. You have to convince them that this change in opinion can be incorporated into their current identity. That is, you have to establish an emotional connection between yourself and the other person, and an emotional connection between them and the issue in question.
A list like this is great for educating aspiring anti-racist white people--white people who are already open to these ideas and genuinely want to deepen their understanding. But it won't much help with your online arguments with random strangers, because most strangers don't want to learn, they just want to be right. If you are devolving to trading studies with someone who has a radically different opinion than your own you're probably already engaging in an exercise in futility. The one benefit is the hope that there is someone reading the argument who might take away something you posted. But you're not really going to even win with the person you're arguing with.

The frustrating part of the above is that it means changing someone's mind requires a great deal of emotional labor, which is a pretty shit thing for marginalized people who already have to expend their energy on emotional labor just to survive. This is one of the reasons it's so important for white people to engage other white people in discussions about race. Not only are other white people more likely to see us as part of their group, and thus listen to us, but it puts less pressure on marginalized people to drain themselves.
posted by Anonymous at 2:36 PM on August 22, 2017

This is a fantastic collection. Thanks for posting it. I've only read a few articles from it so far, but those have been good at succinctly stating and coalescing concepts that I often struggle to communicate.
posted by ignignokt at 4:12 AM on August 23, 2017

This is the Captain Marvel we need.
posted by Zed at 11:26 AM on August 24, 2017

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