My first Unlearning Circle (summer 2021)
Before the murder of George Floyd in 2020, I considered myself anti-racist. But it was only then that I started to take time to read about anti-racism. At that time, I realised what I had actually been for over 40 years, was non-racist. Quite verbal in my socialist views, but no action to support those views. By the time I became involved in The Unlearning Circle, I knew a little about anti-racism theory such as white privilege and white feminism but I had no idea of the extent to which I was automatically bound up in systemic racism because of my white skin.
The Unlearning Circle has truly been life changing – it’s such a cliché but in this case it is true. I can’t unsee what I see now, I can’t go back to my white bubble of ignorance. And I’m glad of that! Going through the process in 2021 was exposing, challenging, immersive.
The Unlearning Circle was also supportive, encouraging, humbling, insightful and collaborative. The chapters in Me and White Supremacy that I found the most difficult to face were the ones around stereotypes and the tropes of people from the global majority.
Here I was as a socialist, born and raised in a working class family in Australia. I had been vocal about my anti-government views on immigration and the treatment of aboriginal and torres strait islanders since I was a teenager! I had been living in London, one of the most beautifully diverse cities on the planet since 2005. And yet I held so many horrible stereotypes in my head –some from my family and friends, some from music, film & TV and the majority as portrayed by the media and advertising.
Working through Me and White Supremacy in a group was extremely powerful – I am confident that had I read the book on my own, I would never have really worked on the reflective journaling questions. I would have read the chapters and felt bad, and then moved on. Another possibility is that I would have wanted to take the journaling questions seriously but would get stuck with my own guilt and shame pretty quickly, and so not read the book at all.
The supportive, yet challenging group process meant that there was nowhere for me to hide. I had to keep going even when it was hard, when life was busy and when I was tired. And I kept reminding myself that whatever I’m feeling right now (knowing that I could choose to step away if I really wanted to), is exactly what people from the global majority can’t do. Ever.
I work part time in the NHS and part time in my own leadership coaching business. I have conversations about lived experience of racism all the time. The Unlearning Circle has given me the confidence to create a safe space for discussing racism in coaching conversations both in the NHS and in my business. I ask questions and prompt discussions about the impact of our NHS work on the global majority. I seek out more inclusive conversations. It has also enabled me to start seeing the parallels with other areas where inclusion is still desperately needed eg the LGBTQ + community, particularly those who identify as trans and non-binary, neurodivergence, disability, faith, age and of course gender intersectionality.
I am no expert in inclusion and belonging – but I’m learning and making it my mission to spend the rest of my life committed to learning about inclusion and belonging. I spend a lot of time questioning whether I’m helping or saving others. And I think that continual reflection on power and privilege is one of the most powerful, lasting changes that has come from The Unlearning Circle.
If you want to be part of an Unlearning Circle with me, checkout www.fullframecoach.com/unlearning.
The Winter 2022/23 cohort starts on 10th November and you will need to be able to attend all five dates in person and commit to doing the work in between. The next cohort after that will be in Autumn 2023. Let me know if you’d like to be on the waiting list.