Systems of Harm Inside and Out:
Doing the Work to Understand and Challenge These Systems
Date: X, 2020
Location: Online Webinar
There is a parable about two young fish. They are swimming along and they meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” The two young fish smile and swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and asks “What the hell is water?”
This is a course about the water: water as a presentation of the pervasive realities in our lives that are everywhere around and within us, but that remain largely invisible until they are explicitly brought to our attention.
We live each day in social spaces governed by systems of shared ideas and organizational structures that shape our way of life. Among these systems are some that cause harm to many of us, such as racism, sexism, colonialism, homophobia, etc. These systems of harm affect our quality of life, influence access to opportunities, and, most importantly, they actually govern our innermost thoughts. That is, they live within each of us such that we all, sometimes unwittingly, help sustain them. This means that in order to break down these systems of harm and to bring about social change, we must each do the inner work necessary to understand and challenge the influence of these systems within ourselves. We must first educate ourselves in order to educate others.
Doing this inner work is difficult. Doing this work is not for the faint of heart. Doing this work requires you to hold yourself accountable, to dig deep, deeper than where you have been before. If you commit to doing this work, you will not only expand your knowledge and understanding of the world, you will also expand your self-knowledge and your capacity for empathy for others. Once you see and know how systems of harm work, you cannot unknow, unsee them. You will forever be both gifted and burdened with the knowledge and understanding of how systems of harm work to give power to some while oppressing others. And you will bear ongoing responsibility to examine critically our society and your own words and actions, and then to do what you can in your own life and work to address the injustices arising from systems of harm, both personally and systemically.
If you are ready to do this work together, this 10-week course is for you. We will first dive deep to understand a few pervasive systems of harm, including racism, capitalism, sexism, colonialism, and others. Then, we will learn about intersectionality, that is, how these systems of harm intersect and reinforce each other at both the systemic and individual levels. Finally, we will explore the dynamic changes and challenges to these systems of harm, including how they are maintained over time, how they evolve over time, how social change movements have sought to dismantle them, and why many of these movements have failed.
Shengxiao Yu, whose nickname is Sole, is a writer and social justice educator. She has worked with a variety of groups to tailor social justice education curricula, including community organizers, nonprofit professionals, educators, and beyond. Informed and inspired by the work of indigenous activists, community leaders, and all the intersectional movement ancestors who have come before her, Sole’s work is grounded in an historical understanding of social injustices at the systemic level, and believes that true, lasting social change will only come from actions that dismantle systems of harm and work toward collective liberation. Sole is a first generation (technically generation 1.5) Chinese American and currently lives in Los Angeles.