We—the directors of ASDIC, Margery Otto and I (Okogyeamon)—began developing the ASDIC curriculum in 2004 with the letters “ASDIC” standing for Antiracism Study-Dialogue Circles. We believed that dialogue and storytelling could be transformative. We began to ask how one becomes transformed through a curriculum addressing how we of this nation have been racialized—that is, the ways in which folks from all ethnicities and ancestry groups have been socialized into an acceptance of racialized images and ideas about race that posit the natural and cultural superiority and virtue of one group and the inferiority and depravity of another group.
We wondered what would it mean for ASDIC dialogue participants to be able to talk about race and racism as a legacy—an un-asked-for but nevertheless received legacy, as a system of ideas about the place they and others are to occupy, the social arrangements they are to take as normative, the worldview, beliefs, values, assumptions and interpretations they are to take as conventional and unproblematic. Would such an approach free participants from wallowing in unproductive guilt and shame? Free them to break their silence and come to more thoughtfully reflect on ways they might be implicated in current social arrangements, and begin to question how those arrangements might be privileging them? Could such an approach free them to look at the horrific history of US racism rather than turning from it, denying its enduring consequences on them and others?
These are questions that guided our development of the ASDIC curriculum. Seeking an answer led Margery and me to develop what we call the “ASDIC Model of Transformation.” We intended for the model to help us rationalize and explain the connection between our pedagogy—our curricular choices of learning objectives and readings—and our efforts to prepare participants for personal and collective action, prepare them for transformative antiracist action. But really, we wondered, does the model clearly identify the factors that contribute to personal transformation? I think not—not entirely.
How does one become transformed? This question is on our minds throughout each week, especially as we prepare to teach a class, or facilitate a workshop, or reflect on specific behaviors or statements people make during an ASDIC session—statements that reflect the personal struggles of participants, or indicate a breakthrough of understanding.
Participants tell us the ASDIC dialogues are transformative both spontaneously and through their responses to evaluation surveys. We actually see participants applying what they learn in the ways they come to talk about and analyze issues—informed by wider perspectives, at ease in difficult conversations, willing to name the racial aspects of issues, better able to form community and organize for action across ethnic and racial lines. So we see that, indeed, some kind of transformation has taken place.
We take this to heart and ponder its meaning. But, until now—until just recently, July 2012—we have not sought to definitively name what most contributes to transformation. With all the joy that comes to us when we delve into an unanswered question, engage in dialogue with others in the ASDIC community, create and re-create possible answers, we now believe the transformation is due to four factors.
Antiracist transformation, we believe, results from
- purpose-driven objectives that determine the content of the curriculum,
- evidenced-based practices of dialogue and facilitation,
- a philosophy of education that values reflection, critical analysis, emotional expression, and the transfer of learning into an action plan (praxis)
- a community (circle) of participants open to learning and being transformed by what they learn, evidenced in new ways of thinking and acting, first within the circle and then in other relationships and contexts,
- a dialogue culture that communicates respect and acceptance, compassion and empathy.
But these factors must take the particularity of the participants themselves into account, for, there is a factor of readiness that must be named and addressed.
Our experience tells us that we can offer the possibility of a transformative experience to those who come to the circle as a free choice, not coerced; who are willing and able to re-evaluate what they have come to know as truth and reality; and who are able to at least entertain the notion that certain particulars about the world may be different from how they imagined them to be. The ASDIC dialogue circle does not work for individuals or groups who are absolutely convinced their understanding of the world or their reading of history is certain truth, is above critique.
Transformation is possible and we can know an answer to the question, “How do we become transformed?” At least we have come to know a satisfying answer as it relates to ASDIC Antiracism Study-Dialogue Circles—the program we now call ASDIC Metamorphosis.