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New Orleans Group Transforms Communities Through Anti-Racism Training

Racism is everywhere, but it is hard to answer why, or to identify solutions.

Approaching the subject of racism is hard for a couple of reasons: there are no common definitions to reference what racism is, why it is, or where it comes from; and talking about racism makes people uncomfortable, offended, and sometimes angry.

Since 1980, The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond has been Undoing Racism™. They have trained over 500,000 people in anti-racism analysis. They have served every state in the USA, most major U.S. cities, and many foreign countries.

Diana Dunn founded the Institute with her late husband, Dr. Jim Dunn, and senior fellow at Ashoka’s Global Academy, Ronald Chisom. Mrs. Diana Dunn has a strong humility about her that is echoed in the Institute, and its anti-racism training:

” – Diana Dunn, The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond

Dunn says that most people think about racism as meanness or bigotry, but the Institute has a different focus — inequity of institutional outcomes. In other words, Dunn says, they are aiming for a society where one can never determine outcomes by race.

Despite no evidence that African-Americans are more abusive, there are more black children in the (foster) system.
Cindy Booth, director of CASA in Indianapolis, Indiana, works with the court system and child protective services. Cindy explains that, despite no evidence that African-Americans are more abusive, there are more black children in the system, they have more restrictive placements, and are in foster care longer.

Booth took the Undoing Racism™ training as part of a Model Court program that addressed disproportionality in racial outcomes. She said it is hard to quantify the effects of the training on her institution, but statistically the share of African-American children coming through her program decreased 4-5 percent after anti-racism training. She attributed inequity in CASA’s institutional outcomes to implicit bias.

Dunn doesn’t take credit for the change in institutional outcomes, but credits the actions taken by those she serves, and what they do with the tools of anti-racism analysis provided by the institute. Booth says that having a common language about racism makes bringing up issues of race in her cases more comfortable.

“If we can talk the same language, we get better outcomes, because we have more brain power to solve problems,” Dunn said.

Undoing Racism™ training focuses on history, the power of relationships in community, and empowering communities.

History can illustrate why the U.S. has great disparities in institutional outcomes, often resulting in higher poverty and incarceration rates for people of color.

“People of color have been historically locked out of participating in key community institutions, leading to dependency, instead of empowerment.” – Diana Dunn

As an example, Dunn cited one of the first acts of Congress — the Naturalization Act of 1790, which assured that only white people could be naturalized as citizens. The Act was not formally overturned until 1952. People of color have historically been denied access to vote, serve on juries, own land, get jobs, and accumulate wealth.

Disparities in poverty and incarceration statistics are alarming. The poverty rate in the U.S. is 10 percent for whites and 27 percent for blacks. Pew research statistics from 2010 show black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men. Dunn says police often have to deal with the failure of community institutions, like schools and workplaces, to serve individuals.

“If people understood how institutions keep people poor, instead of empowering them, we could change poverty.” — Diana Dunn

In order to undo racism, Dunn says, institutions must empower people to change their situations by having meaningful, directing roles in the institutions that frame their community.

The People’s Institute has regular training programs for individuals at locations across the nation.
The People’s Institute has regular training programs for individuals at locations across the nation. They also take their programs to communities that request whole community training. Dunn says community sessions require many stakeholders to go through the training together, including police, schools, community organizations, and community representatives.

Criticism of the program often revolves around participants who feel offended by the idea of white privilege; or want concrete action steps, not just tools of analysis, to implement their training.

In an evaluation of the Undoing Racism™ program taken by the Prevention Research Center at the University of Michigan, participants voiced anger and offense at the idea that all white people take part in a racist system that favors white people. Many participants were able to move through their feelings of offense and anger and came to a ‘shocking realization’ that, indeed, there is such institutional racism that can be labeled white privilege.

“…a lot of us white people got a little angry, ‘oh no I’m not privileged, I grew up poor. And I had some struggles of my own. Just because my skin is white doesn’t mean I’m privileged.’ Then after a while you really had to say yes, you know, after you thought about it. You really did have to say yes, as a white person you are probably more privileged than some.”

Booth, of CASA, also said it was difficult to acknowledge white privilege. She said that she thinks of herself as a good person that helps other people, and that it is hard to acknowledge a privilege you have done nothing for.

Dunn says that the program does not mean to accuse or cause guilt. She relayed that the challenge of white privilege is accepting that we are responsible for the house we live in, even though we did not build it.

She says that people of color also have a role to play in undoing racism. Understanding history and institutionalized racism is a challenge for everyone. Also, internalized racial inferiority is as important to address as internalized white superiority.

Participants often criticized the program for not providing specific implementation plans. The training provides principles of analysis to each client. There is a diverse set of participants from yoga instructors to police departments. Each client has a distinct knowledge base, and onus, to apply the principles.

The training is really an education in community organizing, says Dunn.

“We focus on building stronger relationships with people of other races for better solutions,” she says.

The People’s Institute’s Undoing Racism™ training is transformative. It provides an explanation for what racism is, why it is and where it came from. It changes how people think about themselves and others. Dunn says, the most common comment she gets from participants of the Undoing Racism™ training is, “It changed my life.”