Unlearning Normality

A hybrid personal documentation for understanding racism, seeing privilege and unlearning normality as whiteness.

Created as part of Visibility: Diversity and Design at the University of Applied Sciences Europe.
Unlearning Normality

A hybrid personal documentation of learnings through understanding racism, seeing privilege and unlearning normality for a white person.

What Now?

This may look like a conclusion, but I think of this as a pause in the process, a junction in the rabbit hole where I can review my processes and decide where to go next. Thanks to the voices out there who know what they are talking about, whether that is Emmanual Acho or Trevor Noah or the many many sources across the internet, I like to think I’ve begun to see a broader world full of problems.

I’ve gained an awareness of the racism that was invisible, casting new light on my thinking and experiences. I’ve begun to see the learnings in my actions and my choices, I’m now questioning what may have seemed trivial or normal in the past. These voices also renewed my understanding of everything I create, the words I choose to use, the message I choose to broadcast. The process is in no way at its terminal, I’m not reborn as a better designer, I will still make mistakes. This thing, this hybrid document, is not fully reflective of my learnings either.

But it has helped me get to this point where I am able to see the invisible, and understand that normality, for me, for you, is not normal.
Finally, I circle back to my family. I have three cousins, Birgit, Agnes, and Stefan. Their family has spent years building a life in Lindi, Tanzania, where they built and now run a dispensary. Agnes, who still lives and works in Tanzania, married a fellow doctor just this year, and gave birth to their daughter last month. Birgit married a Tanzanian immigrant in Cologne 5 years ago, today, they have 3 boys running around their house. Haji, Birgit’s husband, is an engineer with TÜV, he spoke to me of their marriage, their family, always with absolute joy. But I’ve never asked him what it’s like to be black in Germany. 

Having made my first steps into unlearning my normality, with this expanding view of our world, I became aware that my niece, all of whom are half German half Tanzanian (half white, half black) will most likely see an entirely different world to mine as they grow up. It’s uncomfortable knowing that life, the way we’ve (and by we I mean white people) have shaped it for years, might be full of obstacles for them.

They may have to jump over unnecessary hurdles, they may have to work harder than anyone to get the same opportunities as I do, they may be denied or worse, they might die in their pursuit for those opportunities. Suddenly the matter is literally a lot closer to home.

I know, for a fact, that the increasing number of kids in Kitas and primary schools from immigrant families are already changing their education, and the decisions made by their parents. Hereby another layer is added to this entire discourse, the idea of ‘other’. This conception of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ is at the core of all this, it might be blacks to whites today, and it might be Turkish immigrants to German families tomorrow. The uncertainty and fear associated with the ‘other’ might be genetics, it’s also a result of influences from culture, from media, from politics. Us and them, same and different, normal and abnormal- I find myself taking an interest in understanding how and why these dualities are formed, and what their effects may be.

Perhaps this is what unlearning normality really means, to let go of seeing the ‘other’, to identify and become aware of the biases that influence our decision making, to consciously understand the effects of actions.

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