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Power 2 Change: Tracey Robertson

Published: Aug. 27, 2020 at 9:50 PM CDT
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - As a community resource, WBAY-TV 2 knows we need to do more, to advance the conversation about race in Northeast Wisconsin. This is the Power 2 Change.

Racial literacy and implicit bias.

You may hear the phrases ‘racial literacy’ and ‘implicit bias’ regarding issues of race. Tracey Robertson believes if you understand what they mean and why they are important, it can give you insight into why people may behave or react in a certain way.

Robertson has spent the last several years holding conversations and education others about these topic. She tells us how knowledge can create change.

“My name is Tracey Robertson. I am an author, anti-racism educator and business consultant from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Moving here definitely was the reason why I was doing anti-racism education and training, because what I knew to be true was 99.95% of people are really good people, and they’re not out to hurt people or behave in ways that I would consider ’racialized.’ And so I recognized the problem here was not that I was surrounded by people who were harmful, but more that I was surrounded by people who didn’t, had never had an opportunity to discuss race.

“What we’ve learned -- most of us have learned, anyways -- is that the key, the answer to race education and having more information is to pretend like we don’t see race. I would hear this a lot when I moved here: ‘I don’t even know that you’re black, Tracey.’ And what racial literacy does is require people to think more critically about race, to really have some more advanced and nuanced skills around it, to think about the history of race and racism, to be able to articulate how that history has gotten us to where we are today and really to think more critically and have more analysis when you see racialized incidents.

“So if you show up and your racial literacy is really kind of at that basic level -- and we’re all doing work internationally now, we’re all doing work all across the globe; our kids are on social media, talking to kids everywhere -- if the skill you have is ‘I don’t see race’ and you are engaging in a very diverse community, that’s what it would look like. So our goal always was and remains, even in the work that I do privately, remains helping people to have more critical analysis around race and racism and how that shows up in our everyday engagements and interactions.

“Every single person has implicit bias. I do this work every single day, and I still have implicit bias. And implicit bias is that kind of knee jerk response you have to someone because they are different from you. If I’m walking down the street, and you’re inclined to cross the street, implicit bias would allow you to say, ‘What happened for me right there? Wait. So Tracey was walking down the street, I saw her, I saw this Black woman coming, I felt uncomfortable and I crossed the street.’ Working your implicit bias, really doing a gut check about what happened for me there, where do these lessons come from? Where did I even learn this unreasonable, irrational fear I have around Tracey being on the street? And what will I do differently next time?

“So it requires you to do a lot of self-work, and I think that’s really the key to dismantling some of our racialized attitudes is really doing a lot of self-work, like thinking about who am I, and who are the things and the people, and what are the things around me, and the people around me who’ve gotten me to this place where I have this unreasonable, not necessarily true narrative about some person I’m experiencing or some media content that I’m engaging in. Then you end up stereotyping. You end up possibly not having great relationships with people who you might have more in common with than you ever suspected. You probably end up not hiring qualified candidates. You end up suspending kids for reasons that don’t make a ton of sense. You miss out on a lot of opportunities and all the opportunities that diversity brings.

“There’s lots of data that speaks to the power of diversity and how diversity really lends itself to a broader perspective and a broader experience. So this work really matters to me because I have this Black son that I’m raising, this Black grandson that I’m raising in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and I have to be hopeful. I couldn’t do this work if I wasn’t hopeful, and I meet so many people along the way who are really trying, and really doing the work in terms of internally and sharing their learning with people in their networks really intentionally, and that gives me a lot of hope.”

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