It is probably not a good idea to publicly declare that you intend to be less racist, or that you are trying to be less racist. Doing so may make you less likely to change, which would result in you continuing with your racist behaviours.
In a post titled, Shut up! Announcing your plans makes you less motivated to accomplish them., Derek Sivers writes:
Tests done since 1933 show that people who talk about their intentions are less likely to make them happen.
Announcing your plans to others satisfies your self-identity just enough that you’re less motivated to do the hard work needed.
In 1933, W. Mahler found that if a person announced the solution to a problem, and was acknowledged by others, it was now in the brain as a “social reality”, even if the solution hadn’t actually been achieved.
NYU psychology professor Peter Gollwitzer has been studying this since his 1982 book “Symbolic Self-Completion” (pdf article here) – and recently published results of new tests in a research article, “When Intentions Go Public: Does Social Reality Widen the Intention-Behavior Gap?”
Four different tests of 63 people found that those who kept their intentions private were more likely to achieve them than those who made them public and were acknowledged by others.
Once you’ve told people of your intentions, it gives you a “premature sense of completeness.”
You have “identity symbols” in your brain that make your self-image. Since both actions and talk create symbols in your brain, talking satisfies the brain enough that it “neglects the pursuit of further symbols.”
This may be the problem that Mai’a identified from her experiences conducting anti-racist workshops with white people. Teaching white people anti-racism theory may actually be harmful, because it allows them to be better racists. Mai’a writes:
its like us giving white folks all the correct rhetoric just allows for them to be able to better racists, because they are able to justify their racism using anti-racist rhetoric.
in that they are able to say things like: i realize that such and such is a function of racism and then they continue to do the same fucking thing that they just acknowledged was racist.
As Mai’a noted, this happens all the time. All the time.
A person who commented on that post, named Holly, provided a useful phrase that is relevant to the problem: “The work is not the workshop.” The problem with “learning” theory is that people are often unable to apply it to real-life situations, yet they can use their theoretical learning to “complete” their self-identity as an anti-racist, etc. This, in turn, would make them less likely to examine their privilege or the ways they oppress.
Instead of spending energy talking the talk, use your energy to walk the walk. And don’t tell anyone that you have done so.
- Whites engage in more racist acts after declaring support for Obama, study finds. by Restructure!
- Does Announcing Your Goals Help Your Succeed? (Newsweek)
- Just Set the Right Goals by Scott Meade
- When Intentions Go Public: Does Social Reality Widen the Intention-Behavior Gap? (PDF)
- we dont need another anti-racism 101 by Mai’a at guerrilla mama medicine