White Privilege Awareness Week: Relationship with Unlearning by Matteah Spencer Reppart

Matteah Spencer Reppart

Hello! I’m Matteah Spencer Reppart and I live and serve at the intersection of the multitude of our humanity and the complexity of our systems. I love supporting people towards systems transformation.

In the past few months (and years), I have been on a journey of recognizing how some of the ways in which I work, express myself, and live my life are not fully aligned with my values.  I’m seeking to change some of the habits, perspectives, practices and patterns that I learned long ago that pretend to keep me safe, but no longer serve me well. 

To re-align myself to what is True(er) for me, I recently made the intention to step out of some specific old patterns and ways of being.  And in doing so, I hit a huge wall.  I ran into it HARD.  It was rough.  I was challenged on an emotional and mental level.  And my experience reminded me of the Learning Zone Model. 

In the version of the Learning Zone Model that I created below, I drew a thick black line surrounding the Comfort Zone. 

Learning Zone Model

This line represents the wall – the barrier that tripped me up emotionally and mentally.  That wall is stacked high with my old wounds and baggage filled with beliefs and fears.  This barrier had a purpose and a function: not to keep me safe, but to keep me “SAME”; to keep me contained and in comfort; to keep me from learning and embracing a new way of being.    

When we try to move out of old patterns and default norms, we will inevitably be confronted by these walls – the old beliefs, deep fears, and painful wounds that have kept us out of alignment.  

And it is here we have choice.  We can either choose to avoid the fear, the belief, or the wound and revert back, staying in SAME.  Or we can choose to unlearn the fear and belief and dismantle the barrier.  

If we choose the route of confronting and dismantling the wall, don’t be fooled.  This work will not be easy.  We will have to look at that old belief, fear, or wound square in the face. We’ll have to pick it apart – piece by piece.  There is no way around it.  The only path forward is through it.  We’ll have to interrogate, unpack, and unlearn that which keeps us SAME so that we can learn how to embody something different.  

Lesson Learned:  What I need in these moments to help me move through (instead of retracting back) remains true: 

  • Continuous inquiry and curiosity
  • Patience and fortitude to stay with the discomfort
  • Self-compassion and gentleness
  • The tender love and surrounding support of community. 

This is what I understand to be the Fundamental Practices of Unlearning:

Image credit: Proponents LLC
  • Critical self-reflective inquiry: being willing to ask ourselves hard questions, challenge assumptions, perpetually, while remaining open and curious about our perspectives and beliefs
  • Sitting with discomfort: not escaping from challenge, but having present awareness of our triggers and autopilot responses, remembering there is no growth without discomfort
  • Self-Compassion: giving ourselves compassion instead of shame, as this resources our resilience and supports us in the moment
  • Community: we must do our individual work, but we need to unlearn in community and be held by it

As white folks on a journey for racial healing, we’ll continuously find ourselves in cycles of learning and unlearning.  And to move through into the challenge, we must be ready with the tools and practices to support us when we’ll inevitably bump up against those walls that only serve to keep us SAME. 


The American Evaluation Association is hosting White Privilege Week with some of our colleagues who are working on undoing internalized white supremacy. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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