Office of Inclusive Excellence

Critical Consciousness: A Process for Rooting Out Anti-Black Racism

November 8, 2021

By: Jennifer Berberian, Student, Collaborative Health & Human Services Senior with a Social Work concentration

Racism does not exist in the mind of a five-year-old. Strolling the aisles at Target and looking at all of the dolls, my daughter selects a beautiful dark skinned doll. She tells me she loves her hair and that she has the best outfit. The doll looks nothing like her, which may be the reason that she is intrigued. At five, my daughter has not been taught about racism. No one has told her about the struggle and oppression that people from different racial and ethnic groups experience. I wish her mind could stay unbiased forever. But it won’t. 

Racism in the United States is embedded into the fabric of our society and has existed since the founding of the country. Systemic racism and longstanding inequalities have led to the current wave of protests that came to light with the Black Lives Matter movement. One thing is for certain; something must be done to promote a world of awareness, equity, equality, and inclusion. As an undergraduate student and a Koret Scholar, I have had the pleasure to conduct research on anti-Black racism in public organizations.  I have learned  that we all have our own biases, but what is important is being critically aware of our own biases, so that when they surface they can be acknowledged, then put to rest. Having healthy dialogue with others can help bring awareness to our own biases. 

Earlier this year, I joined a team of CSUMB researchers working with a local non-profit organization to address internal issues that were recognized as hallmarks of anti-Black racism. In particular, the organization has two Black employees who are often called upon to speak for and address all the needs of the diverse Black population on the Monterey Peninsula. In contrast, the organization has a much larger number of personnel addressing the diverse needs of Latinx populations. The learning experience we designed for this group centers on understanding Black history, experiences and how racism has been codified into policies and processes. By actively engaging in dialogic activities that center on Blackness (and not all the other ways populations are diverse), the organization can actively pursue a deeper level of understanding and awareness. Organizations learning about their own biases and becoming critically aware of racism within their agencies can help pave the path for other organizations to do the same. This is a hallmark of a true learning organization. 

Critical consciousness is the “ability to recognize and analyze systems of inequality and the commitment to take action against these systems” (Aaliyah et al., 2017). Only when we can recognize the inequalities and systemic oppression that exist are we able to make change. Being an ally for vulnerable and marginalized individuals and groups is of utmost importance. We are living in a time when young Black men can’t leave their homes without the fear of being gunned down by the police. People are coming to our county begging for asylum and being turned away. Children are being ripped from their parents arms and placed in immigration camps. Racial groups are being targeted with violence. The need for strong social justice advocates who want to stand with marginalized groups and individuals is more important now than ever. Racial discrimination, inequality, and immigration issues are happening everyday. People are dying. The time for change is now.