June 24, 2024

how do we learn?

closeup of the exterior facade designed by artist Jan Hendrix
photo caption: a close-up of the exterior facade of the mexican museum in San Francisco. the four-story piece of art was designed by dutch artist Jan Hendrix, who have lived in mexico since 1978. the squiggles and geometry caught my eye, like a topographical map of a diamond.

Last week, wildfires swept the region of Maui known as Lahaina. This is a place of great significance to kama’aina, or Native Hawaiians, everywhere. Before the u.s. government conquered and colonized the Kingdom of Hawai’i, Lahaina was their capital. Hurricane winds fed by climate change gave strength to the fires 600 miles away. The fires themselves were a product of capitalism. One theory of how the wildfires spread so fast was the non-native grasses planted to feed non-native cattle.

Hawai’i is a home before it is a tourist destination. If you’re considering a trip to Hawai’i, please cancel it. Many of the people who live there have lost almost everything. If you’ve enjoyed the riches of Hawai’i as a tourist, please consider supporting Maui now in its time of need. Maui still burns while predators contact families who lost their homes to make cheap offers on their land. Please sign the petition to stop this heartless land grab. Mālama Maui is a page of resources with a list of people and causes you can donate to.

It’s been years now since I first committed myself to undoing the systems of oppression in the u.s. As an employee, I’ve been part of more than one company’s DEI journey over the past 20 years. Throughout the years, I’ve sat through trainings on the history of racism. I’ve learned about bias, implicit bias, explicit bias. I’ve learned about microaggressions, macroaggressions, and unintentional discrimination. These lessons can be quite valuable for people who never learned the complete story. But they also tend to cater to people of white dominant culture. We learn these basic, surface-level lessons over and over.

This is even more true for people who do not find comfort in white dominant culture. Many of us experience racism and discrimination on a regular basis. We don’t need a primer on how they feel. Some facilitators encourage us to rehash our trauma for the sake of others in the class. It can feel like adding another serving of oppression onto a heaping full plate.

Undoing racism can be like unraveling a tangled knot. We may disagree on which approach will work best, which root cause is the most urgent. Even after all these lessons, I still have plenty to learn. I still make mistakes navigating the world. My perspective is imperfect and limited to the way I perceive situations. Conflicts that are tense or uncomfortable may not have one clear path forward. What I want, for myself and others like me, is an opportunity to learn what we need to learn.

what are we missing?

I want a world in which people can evolve, no matter where on their equity journey they are. We need to be able to deepen our own thinking on these complex topics. We need to spend more time with radical thinkers, both on paper and in person. We need the time and space to break radical ideas down into concepts we understand. We need to learn how other people make their own meaning of the same concepts. We need to join the leaders who are bringing these ideas into the mainstream.

We need cycles of challenging ourselves, learning from others, and improving our ideas. This is the ecosystem of knowledge that will lead to a brighter future. We won’t ever get there if the entire class is stuck repeating the first grade.

How could we get what we need?

Let’s find ways to create these next-level spaces in our workplaces and industries. There are so many people who feel unfulfilled or unsupported at their jobs. What can we do?

Join spaces that are welcoming and challenging. I’ve mentioned the affinity groups I’m a part of, such as the ones hosted by Seattle Works. There are similar spaces all over the country or online. Most spaces welcome newcomers, but move at the pace of the group while earning trust. I grow so much when I’m challenged or have my mind opened by something someone’s said to me.

Find your niche. After the police murder of George Floyd, I texted a Black friend to ask how he was doing. What he needed, he told me, wasn’t check-ins from people who could never understand his trauma. He had Black friends and family who could and did do that. Instead he said this: “What brings me peace is for my non-Black friends to make their spheres of influence as impenetrable as possible to anti-Blackness. That’s the only cure. Nothing less.” It became a major approach to how I do my work. I want everyone in my sphere of influence to resist, reject, and expel anti-Black practices. I know that anti-Blackness shows up in some Latine and Asian communities. It’s a way of life in many white communities. This approach helps me focus my efforts to where it’s most critically needed. Whatever your niche, wherever you need to be, strive to do the best you can there.

Continue learning on your own. This one is great especially if your employer has an education budget you can use. No matter your industry, there is a racist history behind it. Learn about its past and present so you can begin to unravel it. So you’ve learned about the history of enslavement? Seek out the decades of incredible scholarship around abolition and wage slavery.

Push yourself to find a diversity of information. That doesn’t at all mean finding voices across the american political spectrum. When I needed to learn more about food justice, I didn’t bother with opinions that denied food was a human right. What would I learn from that? Instead, I looked up people who all approached the same subject in different ways. There are many approaches to liberation. None of them will advocate for oppression.

make it better don’t give up

I started this blog in part to cultivate how I approached and presented topics that were important to me. The essays I write have led to policies I’ve helped create. They’ve come from practices I’ve adopted in my working life. No matter how far I’ve made it down this journey, I know there’s more journey ahead. We all know less than we think we do. Approach that as a challenge, not an excuse.

photo of josh martinez

my name is josh martinez. i have always loved trying to understand systems, and the systems that built those systems. i spend a lot of time thinking about how to get there from here.

i own and operate a consulting practice, Future Emergent.

say hello: josh[at]bethefuture.space