Becoming anti-racist: it takes discomfort

Our Senior Inclusion and Diversity Consultant Addison Barnett shares his thoughts on the value of discomfort bring about meaningful change.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about discomfort. Much of my career has been spent teaching others in some form or another, be it in formal or informal learning spaces. From preparing teenagers for their GCSEs, working with adults returning to education, and now facilitating training and offering consultancy, I’ve learnt that discomfort is central to learning. Without discomfort we cannot learn and grow.

Transformation and growth require discomfort, unease, and making mistakes.

Transformation and growth require discomfort, unease, and making mistakes. That doesn’t make it easy; even as a lifelong teacher I struggle to be uncomfortable, to sit in that place where I don’t know all the answers, to accept my imperfections and the work I still have to do.

The graphic above recently did the rounds on social media as a visual aid for how we can work towards being anti-racist. (It was adapted by Andrew M. Ibrahim MD, MSc from “Who Do I Want to Be During COVID-19” chart (original author unknown) with ideas drawn from Ibram X. Kendi’s work.)

This model is based on Tom Senninger’s adaptation of Len Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. (If you want more detail this article is a good start What this graphic makes clear is that being in our comfort zones won’t make change happen. We need to be vulnerable, open and honest with ourselves.

For those of us who are White, it is uncomfortable to confront how our whiteness has privileged us in many ways. It is uncomfortable to consider how institutions have privileged us over others. However unpleasant it feels, we should embrace this discomfort. It is a gift, a sign that we are unlearning the biases and prejudices we inherited from the societies we grew up in, and we can start making genuine change. It starts with facing the parts of us we least want to, seeing them clearly, and committing to grow.

Anti-racism work is uncomfortable. I think that all inclusion work, done well, should be uncomfortable. Otherwise we aren’t growing. And without growth there is no change.

To talk with the Inclusive Employers team about working within your organisation to become anti-racist get in touch at [email protected]