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unlearn problematic shit.

June 14, 2016

I will never claim that I’ve worked through all my shit. Nope. Not gonna happen. But in the wake of the Orlando atrocity and the wave of hurt and pain and ridiculousness that I’ve seen on social media, it is becoming more clear to me than ever that we all have to do the hard work of challenging the frameworks, ideas, and worldviews in each of us that lead to oppression, cycles of violence, and perpetuated trauma. I don’t think I’ve done this perfectly or completely. I know that I have more to learn and unlearn. But I also feel like I’ve started down the path of listening to those that are different than I am and letting their narratives change me.

And let me be clear: I am not just writing this to my conservative Christian friends who I see reposting articles about how great Chick-fil-a is in light of the Orlando shooting without saying one word acknowledging how complicit their own theology has been in creating anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in this country. This is also to my queer friends who haven’t unlearned the repressive ways in which they prop up the military industrial complex. It’s to my environmentalist friends who haven’t listened to the ways their rhetoric sometimes diminishes the beauty of human life. It’s to my feminist friends who have never considered the way that their focus solely on the experiences of white women moving up the corporate ladder ignores the realities of life as a woman of color in our country.

What I’m saying is: we all have our own problematic shit that we have to unlearn. Each one of us. And each of us is responsible for taking charge of that process, embracing it, and digging in to the roots in our own lives that cause us to perpetuate violence and hate and cruelty to humans and animals and the environment.

Because I am a Christian, and that’s the language I speak best, I’m compelled in my own process of unlearning unnecessary and destructive patterns by the example of the one I call the Messiah. I know, you’re thinking, “wait, what? Jesus was perfect and without blemish and never thought ill of anyone and did all the right and good things.” Well…there’s this challenging passage in Mark 7 in which Jesus calls a Gentile woman a dog. A bitch. Tells her that all of the good news of the kingdom of God is not for her because of where she lived, because of which race and ethnic group she was born into. He dismisses her based on the racist presuppositions with which he had been raised.

And then something incredible happens. She challenges him. She performs this amazing act of rhetorical genius by taking the words that Jesus used and flipping them in such a way that he can’t help but see her humanity. He is confronted by his own foolishness and exclusivity. And he listens. He doesn’t run away from her in shame or attack her with defensive arguments. He listens. He sees. And he allows himself to be changed. (I love the way David Henson discusses this passage in his blog.)


I absolutely believe that we as humans must commit ourselves to truly listening to and learning from one another. We have to understand and recognize that there are ways in which each of us prop up destructive patterns and ideas in our minds and behaviors. This is not easy. I know that. But it is the most honest, brutal, necessary, important work that we can do in this world. When we acknowledge those dark systems of misogyny and homophobia and militarism and predatory capitalism and racism and religious fundamentalism that we have been taught by the dominant cultures around us, we can start to allow ourselves to see and hear what our neighbors are telling us.

We are called into allyship with one another. I think that being an ally is the next level of being a neighbor. Like Jesus’s story of the Good Samaritan (in which you see him challenging the racist structures of his day, after having learned from that Syrophoenician woman), where a lawyer was trying to figure out how to limit who he had to care about, Jesus is in the business of continuously expanding those boundaries – requiring us to ever be looking for greater ways to express love and neighborliness. Allyship is the next level, friends. I love this definition from the Anti-Oppression Network:

Allyship is: an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group of people.

So go learn. Use the hashtag #unlearnproblematicshit to discuss what you’re unlearning. (Thanks to a friend of a friend for inspiring this post by starting that hashtag.) Challenge yourself to listen. To not run away from uncomfortable conversations in which your privilege and dominance is being called into question.

I loved this video that’s being passed around on Facebook right now. We have got to listen to our enemies. To our friends. To our siblings. To our neighbors. Now go. Do it.

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