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  • Rashida Mustafa

Awaken Your Ability to Unlearn




I have scarcely any doubt that all the ideas, opinions and biases I hold firm today are subject to change tomorrow. One keeps evolving, of course as I learn more and get more refined in my thinking with age, reading and experience. At times although unintentionally, certain encounters, and I vividly remember one that I’ve mentioned in the ensuing paragraph, involve reflecting on personal experiences which invariably leads to checking our rather ordinary but critical ‘habit reactions’.


I believe, when one is ready to introspect and reflect upon that which is learnt gives one the ability to unlearn. To ‘unlearn’ much of what we've been taught- concepts acquired and sedimented in the unconscious, especially linear and analytical thinking that often leads, even in good faith, to wrong decisions, to solutions direct and immediate that most often result in collateral damage that is bigger than the problem that was originally intended to be solved.


The fundamental truth about us humans is that we can never be homogeneous, no matter how hard we try; and yet there’s another primal emotion that more than makes up for our lapse of judgment and by that I mean spirit of discovery. It has worked for us, down the centuries- many religions have been born and gradually assimilated. Many arduous migrations have taken place. Many revolutionary thoughts accepted. And a lot of essential changes are in progress as we breathe. It does us good to be on the side of change and that can only be achieved with constant unlearning and discarding of ideas that do not align with the contemporary climate of the world.


So when does unlearning awaken? Is it conscious / a reflection/ question/ provocation under a specific situation? Is unlearning necessary? What sort of things might need to be unlearnt? What is the process of unlearning like? Is it possible to truly unlearn something? What comes after unlearning? This Socratic Method of questioning could offer a holistic insight on eroding the age-old layers that blanket various spheres of our society.


Unlearning is a reverse formula that expands more learning. It is to be willing to disrobe certain preconceived notions and accept wholeheartedly its scientific nuances. Awakening unlearning could be both conscious and serendipitous depending on your awareness of the subject or a tunnel vision that frames your ideologies. I believe that dialogue, constant communication with people from all walks of life, developing subject knowledge on key issues plaguing the world, could be the right step in the right direction.

Not to confuse unlearning with perfection, one needs to understand that it isn't about uprooting deep-seated beliefs to reach idealistic goals. It simply cannot be premeditated or reached mindlessly. It is about identifying flaws in various facets of life and cementing the cracks with stronger belief systems that will eventually build sturdier intergroup relations.

I have always considered myself learned on the subject of racism until very recently I was told otherwise. In this very off-handed conversation with a dear Black friend who was heatedly discussing white supremacy that the Blacks face on a daily basis in South Africa, I very casually remarked- “But I seriously don’t see any difference between people on the basis of colour, I live in South India and the Indigenous people out here are dark-skinned, and wouldn’t dream of marginalizing them.” Now, this was told in a matter-of-fact approach and with zero malice. To which my friend replied, “you see, that’s the problem right there, what you are doing is obliterating our existence. Worse than racism, is exhibiting color-blindness.” His observance left me feeling rather sheepish and somewhat self-conscious, but it also taught me a valuable lesson. It helped me realize that every individual needs to be acknowledged for who or what they are in all their glory.

Confined to a single culture, and despite access to interactions globally it’s incredibly difficult to see that one’s way is not the only way, that one’s ‘truth’ is not the only possible way in which things are done. So the question should not be, “Am I right or wrong?” but rather, “How am I more or less likely to change from here?”

Sometimes the process of unlearning can be difficult. It is not easy breaking stereotypes that are embedded in our minds since we were little. Internalized Misogyny, for one. Such a bias requires intentional unlearning. Growing up, ‘a typical girl’, ‘beauty without brains’ ‘kitchen is where she belongs’ are some of the sentences we’ve heard very often, so much so that it becomes our reality. It is great to be a strong woman and a woman is equally amazing under her dainty feminine skin. The idea is to be unique and project your individuality the way you see fit. Women in all their behaviors and differences need representation and acceptance.

What comes after unlearning? Space to create new knowledge, developing a new vision that facilitates a growth mindset and modern beliefs. It will help an individual transcend the boundaries of their current thinking and aim to attune themselves to the needs of the world. This world needs constant rebuilding. One cannot always afford to wait until utter destruction to learn from it. Why not then unlearn, some of what we already know, as a collective challenge and help sustain the human race and develop a conscious humanity.


A teacher by profession, books have been a constant companion for all of Rashida's life. Besides reading, she wrestles metaphors out of the mundane and ordinary in the form of poetry. She is a passionate advocate for women's rights and enjoys cultural interactions with women from all across the globe. You can connect with Rashida on Instagram @words_in_bloom

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