Guest post on behalf of the Unlearning Racism Collective, a project of The Racial Justice Network (RJN).
If you’re white-identified and resident in West Yorkshire, you can now enrol for an individual or organisation-sponsored space on our intensive Unlearning Racism course, which will be running over Zoom beginning Wednesday July 28th. Details are at the bottom of this post.
Countless individuals and organisations have been in touch since to express interest in this work. As a small unpaid organising group our capacity was overwhelmed, so in the Autumn we took a step back to reflect and strategize how to meet this encouraging groundswell of demand, without losing integrity to the relationships of accountability we stand for.
We are extremely grateful for the unflinching trust, belief, solidarity and visionary support offered from Peninah Wangari-Jones from the beginnings of our journey to the present. As well as a wider community of movement mentors generously offering their wisdom and expertise during our period of strategic reflection and internal capacity building. We’d like to uplift and appreciate; Erika Thorne, Farzana Khan, Jamie Schearer, Julian Walker, Laura Loyola-Hernández, Nusrat Faizullah and others for their ideas, insight and support, as well as the Paul Hamlyn Foundation for resourcing our development towards a more sustainable, scalable and accountable solidarity network.
Among other things, this allowed us to converge on a purpose ‘to contribute to and support anti-racist work led by Black and Brown people with lived experience of racism’. By ‘engaging and mobilising white people and communities to unlearn racism in order to take action to dismantle the structures and systems of white supremacy’. Yet as we largely organise within white-identifying caucuses, the pivotal questions are; how accountable is our work, and how effective is it, in meaningfully contributing to movements for racial justice?
As Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), state; ‘Accountability ensures that those most impacted define what counts as winning, and challenges us to build within our communities to develop tangible support for that vision’ We recognise that without lived experience of racism we cannot have a comprehensive perspective on it. The structurally enabled advantages that people racialized as white hold limit our understanding, and make it impossible to be objective on race, racialism and racism as white supremacy was constructed to serve us. With credits to the wisdom and expertise of our generous mentors, we recognise how essential it is to embed principles and structures of accountability into our practice if we are to meaningfully work together towards our collective goal.
As one of our mentors Erika Thorne, a trainer at Training for Change and organiser at SURJ-TC (Twin Cities, one of many SURJ-National chapters), reflected to us – ‘Accountability is only as good as the actual relationships that white organisers have with movements led by People of Colour, Black and Brown activists. Which is only built through showing up’. Her powerful insight prompted us to more deeply examine relationships with RJN, as well as how we mobilise and show up for action beyond training delivery.
This led us to develop our work in three ways. Firstly, with support from RJN, we have revised the Unlearning Racism Course content to be more oriented towards action throughout. Secondly, to ensure scaling delivery remains true to our values without being overly demanding on RJN, each course will have a dedicated Mentor whose role will be to support accountability as well as guide opportunities for action throughout the 8 monthly course modules. Mentors joining this wave of courses include the phenomenal Mama D Ujuaje and Esther Stanford Xosei.
In addition, we have recently developed an Accountable Action peer support group which will follow the courses we deliver, so each cohort will continue supporting each other in taking anti-racist action in their social lives, communities, institutions and families beyond the training room. In trialing it so far, the Collective have developed a loose structure for conversations in which we share tools, insights and reflections to help us to move towards more effective anti-racist action. This informal space is set up to be responsive to the needs of our Accountability Partners and Mentors, who send calls to action, support requests or might attend as guest speakers as and when mobilisation or targeted action is valuable. We will continue to evaluate and learn from our mistakes and strengths, and share learning with others as we develop this work.
What can I expect if I sign up?
The course covers a range of topics including; how race was constructed, whiteness and how it shows up, deepening self awareness, and supporting participants to build the practical skills necessary to disrupt cycles of oppression through personal accountability, constructive challenge and collective accountable action.
Places are likely to be highly in demand; you can sign up at the link below. We look forward to meeting you soon!
We are working on plans to expand the work into other regions, as well as to offer a package of support specific to Organisations. Sign up to our mailing list to keep up to date on any announcements.
We’d like to acknowledge the phenomenal support, direction and encouragement that the trustees and team behind RJN have given us to get to this point, and to thank them for enabling this message and work to happen.