Resources to Unlearn Things
November 10, 2018 7:17 PM   Subscribe

My New Years Resolution for 2018 involves the idea of "unlearning" a lot of harmful paradigms, traditions, dynamics, etc, that I was exposed to while growing up in WASP-y, middle class, capitalist, patriarchal America. I'm looking for any recommendations of books, articles, movies, shows, and any other material that might help challenge my perspectives or introduce me to new and better ways of thinking/being in this world. Have you ever come across something that totally changed your perspective or made you rethink everything you've known about a specific domain? Send it my way!

If more clarification is needed, here are some examples:

-- "A People's History of the United States" is a book that writes history from a different perspective than the typical "wealthy Caucasian male" lens that most history books teach from.

--Feminist literature like "The Beauty Myth" and the "Emotional Labor" thread here on Metafilter has made me realize how much is imposed on women by the patriarchy and little things I can do to fight back against that.

--Hannah Gadsby's special "Nanette" made me rethink the structure of comedy shows and question whose perspectives we are seeing in that arena.

--Memes from subreddit r/LateStageCapitalism (paired with more in-depth socialism articles here on Mefi) have made me realize how harmful capitalism can be and the benefits that other systems might offer.

So, now I want to be a sponge and soak up more - on ANY topic or domain, big and small, and ANY type of material/content. If there's something that made you think differently about a topic, or made you start behaving differently (ideally in a more positive way for yourself or in a way that improved your life or how you move through the world), please pass it along! Thanks in advance, Mefi Community!
posted by carlypennylane to Society & Culture (38 answers total) 89 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (I want to add that if you have any additional comments on how your suggestion translated into how you changed your behavior or approach to the world, I would love to hear those specifics as well! I'm trying to use resources to make concrete changes to improve my quality of life, so that's the ultimate end goal. Thanks again!)
posted by carlypennylane at 7:33 PM on November 10, 2018

I read The Root. I don't chime in over there, because I feel like it's not my space, but the perspective there has been really helpful to me in understanding many racial issues, and I like that it's not filtered through a white person's perspective. Fair warning, you need to be really ready to examine yourself and give up your defensiveness, because people there are understandably angry at white america these days, but they have some great writers and voices that you just won't get to hear on any mainstream panel on race.
posted by katyggls at 7:33 PM on November 10, 2018 [21 favorites]

Yes. I can't recommend it enough times on here but Robin Diangelo's "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism."

For white people reading it: If you take it seriously and allow yourself to accept and sit with the discomfort it will naturally cause you, this will be the beginning of an important and long journey toward breaking down white supremacy and the daily role you play in it (whether you want to believe you play a role in it or not). And a first step in becoming an *actual* ally and co-conspirator in dismantling systemic racism and racist microaggressions.
posted by nightrecordings at 7:36 PM on November 10, 2018 [12 favorites]

You need to be familiar with the work of Bruce Pascoe.
posted by flabdablet at 7:46 PM on November 10, 2018

Buy a plane ticket and spend some time abroad (not in Europe) and soak in several important realities:

* that white people (to say the least of WASPs) are a small fraction of the world population, and in most of the world either never were, or are long gone as, a material driver of the economic, cultural and political framework

* that pretty much everyone in the non-US non-Europe world aspires to some form of capitalist ideal and and that the physical security (from crime, hunger, exposure) of the American middle class is the brightest, shiniest example to which that aspiration points

* American patriarchy is a pretty weak sauce of patriarchy, as patriarchy goes
posted by MattD at 7:52 PM on November 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

@yrfatfriend on Twitter
posted by matildaben at 8:11 PM on November 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Might sound already trite or cliche, but reading the leading lights of the Buddhist/Mindfulness trip going on in the U.S. right now will DEFINITELY re-orient your perspective. Read Pema Chodron or Thich Nhat Hahn for starters - anything of theirs will do.

There's also a book called The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche that will do wonders to evaporate any typical 21st-century privilege residue.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:26 PM on November 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding White Fragility! It should be required reading for the human race, I think. It has helped me better understand what I am dealing with when I interact with white people.
posted by jnrs at 8:30 PM on November 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've always like this line from Tao Te Ching:

In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired. In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.

Which could inspire a practice of trying to find one thing to unlearn every day
posted by thelonius at 8:40 PM on November 10, 2018 [8 favorites]

This American Life episode House Rules was a turning point for me in realizing that racial inequality in the US is tied to current/recent explicitly racist institutions and systems rather than something that, like, is just a part of "history" that ended long before mine and my parents and my grandparents' lifetimes.
posted by augustimagination at 8:47 PM on November 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you want to know about racism, read Black and Indigenous authors, not white academics. White Fragility is a white-"fragile" concept. How can centuries of deliberate action to oppress people and derail and disrupt their attempts at change - violent oppression - get branded with the cute and harmless moniker of "fragility"? It's actually quite durable and malicious. That concept is not respected in radical IBPOC activist circles. Black boys get tried in court as men but adult white people who fight to oppress are just "fragile"...? Nah.

You wouldn't turn to a man's writing on misogyny talking about how sexist men are just frail doofuses who didn't really understand women were people and felt uncomfortable with the idea. You'd read woman authors to learn about sexism, right? Violent oppression of women isn't about fragility. It's about violence.

Likewise, to learn about racism, read IBPOC authors. I suggest:

So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:50 PM on November 10, 2018 [31 favorites]

Oluo's book is fantastic, yes!
Also, Rachel Cargle is doing great things.
posted by PaulaSchultz at 9:21 PM on November 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you have the time and energy, read Marx‘ Capital (I recommend David Harvey‘s lecture series on youtube). It‘s a classic for a reason - once you‘ve seen his viewpoint, it‘s pretty hard to unsee his unique perspective. Even if you‘re familiar with the usual lefty viewpoints, I‘d argue it‘s still worth it going to the source. It definitely was for me.
posted by The Toad at 9:37 PM on November 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

In addition to reading things, you can do some of this viscerally by being intentional in your visual media consumption/exposure. Look at more pictures of people/bodies that aren’t what the mainstream media presents - fat people, hairy people, gender non-conforming and trans people, older people, people not wearing makeup, etc from sources that present them in a positive or neutral light. (The photography of Shoog McDaniel - NSFW! - is one example.)

I think what we find aesthetically pleasing is less innate than we tend to think, and more about what we’re repeatedly exposed to.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:45 PM on November 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

Richard Rothstein's The Color of Law will probably completely reshape your understanding of how we got to the current racial distributions of population in this country.

How can centuries of deliberate action to oppress people and derail and disrupt their attempts at change - violent oppression - get branded with the cute and harmless moniker of "fragility"?

I would certainly recommend reading Oluo and Coates, and reading them first, but this isn't at all an accurate description of DiAngelo's work, which is describing a specific subset of the rhetorical practices that serve to prop up white supremacy, particularly among white progressives, not, like, all of racism. It's a book for liberal white people who need to get their heads around their own complicity in the problem.
posted by praemunire at 9:50 PM on November 10, 2018 [12 favorites]

A favorite of mine is Primate's Memoir, Robert Sapolsky. He's a good writer, and there's a subtext of humanity. I recommend it often and think about it often. His 1st year Neurobiology lectures at Stanford are online, too.
posted by theora55 at 9:59 PM on November 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

. . . something that made you think differently about a topic, or made you start behaving differently . . .

For me, befriending someone from a radically different background and socio-economic pool has helped put a very human "face" on what could have been just curiosity on my part.
When I first met him, he had already survived on the streets* of Chicago for over 15 years. It took several years of interactions (at 2-3 times per week) before I even learned his real name. We'd laugh together and cry together. Some of his stories were true, some I'm sure were just his hopes of the way he wished things were. But as our trust grew he was very honest about what he could see in my attitudes and actions that I had trouble seeing in myself. I've learned a lot from him.

*and I mean literally on the streets. To my knowledge he never stayed at any of the available overnight shelters even through the brutal winters.
posted by tronec at 10:06 PM on November 10, 2018

Hugely beneficial to me in the past years has been setting up a Tumblr feed where I purposefully sought out black, asian, queer and international feeds, and steadily removing white-centered feeds. Having an ongoing mix of alternative visual and text feeds from people talking about the news and different cultural touchstones has linked me to so many different perspectives and been a daily inoculation against mainstream media. It really helps to have that - by twitter or Instagram or whatever your choice of social media is, to purposefully make it as international and diverse as possible.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 10:14 PM on November 10, 2018 [7 favorites]

Neat project!

I recommend the book Factfulness by Hans Rosling. This may seem like a strange response to your ask because it was written by a white male Swede. Hans Rosling, the author, who died before the book was published, was a physician who worked on development issues — very concerned about social justice, though not from a particularly left wing perspective (at least by Swedish standards).

Anyway, the book is itself challenging our preconceived ideas. It does that by providing some possibly surprising information about the state of humankind, frankly discussing his mistakes (some quite grave) in placements in Asia and Africa and offering some really lovely, we’ll put pointers about how to see the world in a clear-eyed way. That may make it sound dull, but I think it’s a pretty light and interesting read. It has a quite different flavor than Howard Zinn or Naomi Klein, but I think it would be a great complement to books more of that ilk and a great resource for approaching the task of unlearning. Good luck with your project!
posted by reren at 11:09 PM on November 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

The Darker Nations by Vijay Prashad is a great read.
posted by diffuse at 2:22 AM on November 11, 2018

There are a lot of non-fiction suggestions, but I would also suggest you seek out fiction from around the world. It is through hearing other people’s stories that we see the humanity in each other. If you find the leap too great, there are a lot of third culture writers who straddle both worlds (Canada has a lot of such writers, look at lists of event award-nominees/winners).

The Blackfoot origins of Mazlow’s hierchy of needs is interesting in explaining the different world views between individualistic and communal/collectivist-oriented societies.
posted by saucysault at 3:39 AM on November 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Becoming Human by Jean Vanier
posted by warriorqueen at 5:25 AM on November 11, 2018

Daniel Quinn's writings should help to see the relationship between humans and their environment in a different light.
posted by Grinder at 5:36 AM on November 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Since you're ready to question everything, I'm going to throw some animal rights resources your way. Spoiler: after educating myself, I could no longer justify hurting animals for my own pleasure and convenience. I'm now a vegan. But it did take me years and a lot of reading and watching things to finally go all in.

Animal Liberation by Peter Singer Is a great overview, as is Dominion by Matthew Scully. For work focused on food, I'd suggest Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating by Erik Marcus. If you are willing to watch something that will upset you, I'd suggest the movie Earthlings, which is available on youtube. There is also a speech by Gary Yourofsky on youtube that is excellent. The movie Okja, while fictional, also had a profound influence on me. I think it's still available on Netflix.

For understanding the health problems related to eating animal products (and there are a lot of people very financially invested in your not knowing this), I'd suggest Forks Over Knives, which is available on Netflix and the book How Not to Die by Michael Greger. There is also an excellent movie called Eating You Alive, but I don't think it's available on any streaming services. For a good look at the environmental devastation caused by meat eating, check out Cowspiracy on Netflix.

For the link between animal and human oppression, read The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery. The forward is by Alice Walker, and an early essay by Walker on this issue (in the Utne Reader ages ago) had a big influence on my thinking about animals.

(Thank you for asking this question and giving me this opportunity. For some reason, harming animals in ways that would horrify most people is considered a "personal choice" and thus not cool to talk about. I'm not at all sure this isn't connected to the vast amount of profit involved.)
posted by FencingGal at 6:29 AM on November 11, 2018 [7 favorites]

Going to Pieces without Falling Apart: A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness by psychiatrist Mark Epstein M.D. completely changed the way I viewed what a psychologically healthy person would be, and his message of breaking down learned defenses might really resonate with your overall goal. Granted, I'm a therapist, so I probably need to think about what a psychologically healthy person is more often than most people, but I found it personally helpful as well in learning to be more open to change and not so anxious about external trappings of a "self."
posted by lazuli at 6:53 AM on November 11, 2018

As saucysault said above, fiction can show you other people's experience of the world. Fiction in which characters' perspectives change radically over the course of the novel might be interesting too. I can't think of any books like this off the top of my head, but I'm sure they're out there.
posted by mareli at 7:40 AM on November 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

You wouldn't turn to a man's writing on misogyny talking about how sexist men are just frail doofuses who didn't really understand women were people and felt uncomfortable with the idea

I don't know if the detractors have read White Fragility, but that is not at all its perspective. Its subject is not a defense of White feelings but a criticism of the process by which White people avoid accountability by hiding behind emotions and structures that allow them to prevent confrontation. It is definitely worth a read. Yes, read POC authors who critique racism and can see it; but for White people doing work on their own Whiteness, DiAngelo's work is very useful because she can completely take apart the mechanism of what seems to many White people like "feelings" but is actually a fundamental support for white supremacy. In other words, it's not a forgiveness or a defense of white fragility - it's an attack on it.

Add some stuff from indigenous perspectives to your list. A very readable and at times very funny book is Everything You Know About Indians is Wrong by Paul Chaat Smith. The blog Native Appropriations by Adrienne Keene, as well as her Twitter Feed, are excellent - eye-opening for non-Natives, and up-to-the-moment relevant.
posted by Miko at 8:15 AM on November 11, 2018 [9 favorites]

Modern citizens have a fundamental ignorance of where their food comes from, and how it is raised/grown/harvested and processed. The rise of factory farming post-WWII changed millennia of farming techniques and standards. If you shop at a grocery store or eat at restaurants, you should know about your food, because it is intensely personal what you put into your body. Most people have a squeamish idea that it's not a pretty process, and, bafflingly, it's not something polite people talk about. If you're eating, you're taking part in the system. It's a powerful process to learn about something you do every day, automatically and without thought, and make a decision whether you want to keep supporting that system. I couldn't. I grew up thinking vegans were weird, and now I am one.

I second everything recommended by FencingGal. I also like this talk by animal activist Earthling Ed. Additionally, please read about the working and living conditions of undocumented workers who pick and pack America's fruits and vegetables.
posted by missmary6 at 8:59 AM on November 11, 2018

Good comments on food by missmary6. To think about how American consumerism relates to clothing, watch the documentary The True Cost on Netflix. It will lead you to rethink how you buy clothes.
posted by FencingGal at 9:54 AM on November 11, 2018

Revisit what you grew up with. Movies and TV from the past can be eye-openers.
posted by Carol Anne at 10:15 AM on November 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

It can also be helpful to hang out with other people who are on the same journey - different people take different routes along the way, and some perspectives may resonate better with you than others. Talking things through with fellow travelers is a great way to clarify your own thoughts.

Maybe drop in on a few meetings of your local DSA chapter? Different chapters - and different committees within a chapter - can have very different vibes, so you might not find one that clicks right away. But you might be able to get in with a group of people who are trying to do exactly what you're doing, and there's always strength and comfort in numbers.

Honestly, reading Metafiter is a really good start. My DSA chapter looks so much like a Metafiter meetup it's almost comical, just a little more earnest socialist theory and a lot less beer.
posted by Quietgal at 11:30 AM on November 11, 2018

To see the American landscape in a new way, 1491 and Braiding Sweetgrass.

To think about white identity in a more productive way, I found the article "Toward a Radical White Identity" valuable.

I couldn't imagine my way out of capitalism until I read The Dispossessed.

Finally, study up on your local history and understand how these forces have affected the people and environment around you. Who holds power in the places you've lived, and how did they get it?
posted by toastedcheese at 1:27 PM on November 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Discovery of France by Graham Robb. It's a great read, and it's full of interesting things that you'll want to read out loud to anyone in earshot as you go.

But the reason I'm answering this question with this book is that it provides a different discussion about history. Less kings and linearity and romanticism. More fashion and superstition and pragmatism. It's stuck with me more as a world view (people are people, where ever and whenever) than a history book.
posted by kjs4 at 3:17 PM on November 11, 2018

So, there are a number of critiques of "a People's History of the United States"; it quite possibly has as many factual errors in statements it makes as the statements it corrected originally did.

Stanford published a quick runthrough of one of those, here:

Anyways, it may be worth setting the goal as having a flexible, change-friendly mindset instead of a fixed mindset. So once you get where you wanted to be? Keep going.
posted by talldean at 3:51 PM on November 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have found the You are Not So Smart book/blog/podcast to be invaluable.

From the about page:
"You Are Not So Smart is a blog I started to explore self delusion. Like lots of people, I used to forward sensational news stories without skepticism and think I was a smarty pants just because I did a little internet research. I didn’t know about confirmation bias and self-enhancing fallacies, and once I did, I felt very, very stupid. I still feel that way, but now I can make you feel that way too."

I like it, it's like applied Snopes

Also Larry Gonick's series of graphic books/comics on history are funny and educational and also some of the most well balanced history I've ever read. He often presents the 'facts' from the conquerors whilst also illustrating the conquered's view of events.

I'm currently reading the American History one, and as a big fan of Hamilton it's sometimes very, very funny and informative.
posted by Faintdreams at 8:42 AM on November 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns is a stunning history of the great Northern migration of southern African-Americans to northern cities. This is one of the most significant events in American history, and without a grounding in it, you can't appreciate a lot of the meta-conversations about income inequality, gerrymandering, housing policy, and police brutality.
posted by mostly vowels at 6:05 PM on November 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Naomi Klein is a very well-respected and meticulous leftist investigative reporter who writes books that take her years to put out because she is so thorough. Her book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate was what radicalized me from a gentle progressive to a raging socialist. You can read some of her early work in this vein here.

Also, if you are interested in American socialist perspectives, I strongly recommend In These Times and Current Affairs, both of which are much more accessible, and in my opinion, less doctrinaire than other socialist magazines. I subscribe to both and always learn a ton, and the websites have a good amount of the print content.
posted by mostly vowels at 6:13 PM on November 18, 2018

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