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The Beauty of Unlearning

Have you ever wondered if what you learn day by day is true? Why is this knowledge significant? Why do we automatically think it's true and unquestionable? 

When I started my college-level education, I was clearly learning. However, I let everything I picked up sink into my subconscious because it was precisely how my teachers taught me to absorb information. I never questioned myself about any of these lessons, values, opinions and facts. Why would I? After all, if the teacher is a teacher, it’s because they spent many years becoming an expert in their respective field, so I spent a long time in my university career not questioning much until I came across something very curious.

I remember once, while taking a course on comparative political theory, that a professor assigned a task, and mine just so happened to be about social movements. Back then, I was just beginning to immerse myself in social activism. At the end of the semester, I asked her a question that sparked my interest in learning about feminist movements. Long story short, I began to learn about feminism and haven’t stopped since then. 

Every day that passes, I wake up even hungrier to learn about this subject and continue to educate those who are distanced from it. I see it as a privilege to learn from; and so, I genuinely enjoy educating others about feminism’s relevance in contemporary society. Now, my point isn’t to explain how I became a feminist or educator, if not to reveal something very important that feminism taught me. To me, this lesson is essential and should be taught to everyone.

[bf_image id="qv6b7nrb7f983f48x55hhnpk"] Many of the things that we have learned and continue to learn throughout our lives are marked with an innate belief of superiority within our ideas. The slow development that forms our personalities, many times, comes from a biased, discriminatory, or even bigoted way of life. Clearly, to understand how the “black or white” mentality is so ingrained in our society, one must realize that we’ve accepted the history we’re taught, allowing it to become part of our formation. Even so, ironically, that story itself must go through this: Learn to unlearn.

Unlearning is a concept that might sound awkward at first. However, it’s necessary to develop a more true vision of how the world works. Have you not really thought about or questioned why things are what they are, knowing that there are other realities? This possibility encourages unlearning.

One of the great Latin American decolonial feminists, Ochy Curiel, mentions in Descolonizando el Feminismo: Una perspectiva desde América Latina y el Caribe that we should start from a certain awareness of our own realitiesーthat is, that even if we make the change, the change comes from within and not from authorities determine should be the correct way to think (Curiel calls it hegemonic thinking or hegemonic feminism). For this reason, letting go of the known and starting from scratch, being objective and diverse in the face of new possibilities, is the harmony that unlearning fosters. The point of this strategy is not to try and reject one thing or the other, but to consider all the possibilities next to each other to discover true form and meaning.

With just these words, I invite you to reflect on what it truly means to unlearn. Don’t be afraid to question, be curious, and contradict what is given as a fact because the reality is that there are other realities that have been systematically censored. The world is neither vertical nor linear. Diversity is inclusive, decolonial, horizontal, without order and hierarchy. The Earth is for everyone, but to understand this, we have to build a path of unlearning.

Yarelis Ortiz Rivera is an undergraduate student at the University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras Campus. She’s studying a bachelor's degree in Political Science and a minor's degree in Human Rights. When she isn't doing college work, she has her nose buried in a book or reading academic writings for gain of knowledge and research. Yarelis Ortiz Rivera is out here to do was right with passion in her heart!
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