Unpacking Race Fall 2017 Wrap-Up

In November 2017 T.O. Philly is holding its
workshop series about race and undoing racism.
Between sessions we are posting videos, articles, radio pieces, and writing prompts for participants. Feel free to follow along!

In this fifth and final workshop, we explored The Interlocking Systems of White Supremacy. We considered the Three Pillars (systems) that keep white supremacy in place:

1. Settler Colonialism and Genocide
2. Capitalism and Slavery
3. Xenophobia/Orientalism and War

Here are photos of the lists that we made. (Open image in new tab to zoom in.)

We explored these harmful interlocking systems in a game of Simon Says. As a group, we found that breaking out of these practiced systems was a difficult task, even when the stakes were low, especially when people we trusted were leading the activity. How does this inform us, as a community, to consider our anti-racism praxis in the future? To begin our journey, we used Images of Transition, an Image Theatre technique, to discover both the realities of white supremacy and possibilities for dismantling it.

The essence of the work is to embed an anti-oppressive praxis into our daily lives: in our art, in our communities, in ourselves. To this end, Linnea shared a piece of personal writing from their race journal that focused on friendship and the hope of wholeness that we strive for while also considering the challenges that we face. As we keep honing our individual and our collective tools to dismantle white supremacy consider these final materials:

1. WATCH AND LISTEN: To Jay Smooth break it way down to the beginning.

How do these words land with you 5 weeks later? Notice how Jay Smooth shares his knowledge about racism in an artistic way, using video art. What kind of art do you find yourself attracted to? How can you use this art to highlight racial disparities and/or marginalization?

2. READ: Open Letter to my (White) Yoga Teacher by Jessica Young (via Nicole Bindler).

Although the letter is to a yoga teacher, many similar connections to praxis exist in the theatrical, the educational and the movement arts realms. What are the themes you pick out from the article? The post ends with the words, "I have my work, and you have yours; I hope our praxis will allow us to connect in a way that heals generations, centuries, even millennia of injury." What work is your work to end this collective injury?

3. LISTEN: To the We Live Here podcast present "Hands Up, Mics On" where three playwrights who penned monologues share their experiences as black men in America.

One way to discover the racial experiences of others in the U.S. is to hear their stories. What struck you about the stories you heard? What emotions felt familiar? What emotions felt distant? How did you feel as you listened to the podcast? Here's another piece highlighting art in activism. If you could share your coming of age story of race and racism, how would you decide to share it?

4. READ: This is what white people can do to support # BlackLivesMatter from The Washington Post by Sally Kohn

The suggestions in this article come from activists on the front lines of anti-racism work within the U.S. How do the recommendations resonate with you? If you could create a list of three actions that you will do differently as a result of the workshop, what would they be? Look at your list, how specific are the actions? Why did you choose those three? Which is the most important? How will you check in to ensure your progress? (Note that although the article directly quotes Black activists, the writer of the article and the newspaper itself represent white institutions. How do the legitimacy and reach of Black and Indigenous narratives limit their power?)

5. READ: An excerpt from The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities edited by Ching-In Chen, jai dulani, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.

The book that this reading comes from explores transformative ways to dismantle oppression from within an activist community. The reading connects personal stories of marginalized people in creating new processes toward recognizing and addressing conflict.

I know some members of our Unpacking Race group are attending (and maybe even acting in??) the workshop.

7. REVIEW: This Google doc -  a compiled list from participants of the Fall 2017 Unpacking Race Workshop.

8. RACE JOURNAL: We hope that you will continue to keep a Race Journal as a tool in the work that you do within each of your own communities. Consider sharing excerpts with us and with the people in your day to day life, too.

Unpacking Race Fall 2017
Week 5: The Interlocking Systems of White Supremacy

In November 2017 T.O. Philly is holding its workshop series about race and undoing racism. Between sessions we are posting videos, articles, radio pieces, and writing prompts for participants. Feel free to follow along!

In week four, we explored our own nascent indigenous nature. We created an embodied practice:
  1. Collective improvisational sound and song
  2. Silent visualization and embodiment of personal stories and emotions that flow from them
  3. Authentic movement and dancing to music of different cultures 
Before we dug into the material too deeply, we, facilitators, paused to share our process with you, because transparency is a key value of liberation. It is important for anti-racist organizers and accomplices to understand that even people who teach liberatory practices struggle with interpersonal communication, which is the foundation for anti-racism praxis. Thank you for holding space for us to explore this difficult and salient topic.

The essence of the work is to interrupt our learned unconscious biases around the value of whiteness. But what keeps the system of white supremacy in place? Next week, we will be exploring the connections between white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy (meaning the centering of institutional power in cis-gender men and their straightness), settler-colonialism, war and capitalism. To continue the conversation . . . 

1. WATCH AND LISTEN: Committed performs Lift Every Voice, the Black National Anthem, a cappella. Music by James Weldon Johnson, Lyrics by John J. Johnson, 1900.

How familiar are you with this song? Why do you think that is? In the 1970s, Many U.S. Americans sang this song in public school after singing the National Anthem. What do you notice about the melody? What do you notice about the rhythm? What kind of imagery do the lyrics evoke? How would you compare or contrast this to the United States National Anthem?

2. WATCH AND LISTEN: Youth Iroquois Smoke Dancers: The 170th Tuscarora Nation Annual Picnic on Saturday July 11th 2015 in Tuscarora Nation Reservation, New York, USA. Lead singer & drummer Jordan Smith is from the Bear Clan.

This dance is in the Longhouse tradition that we read about last week: A Haudenosaunee dance, Smoke Dance has multiple tales of origin. The home-grown theory: At Haudenosaunee longhouses, the open fire pits would create thick smoke. Young men would dance to create enough air movement to push the smoke upward toward longhouse vents; young women would help out with movements of their own. Yet though this is the theory that most closely relates to the dance’s name, it’s also the most unlikely. Osage and Haudenosaunee elders talk of the dance as a transfer between nations: The Osage did a dance until the mid-19th century that accompanied gift-giving, either to visitors or within the Osage community.
Are there any traditional songs + dances in your cultural history? What do those songs and dances celebrate? How familiar are you with these dances? When did your family stop participating in cultural song + dance ceremonies? Why? How do dances and songs help preserve our indigenous nature?
3. LISTEN: To We Live Here from PRX. Where do you land on The Woke Spectrum?

During the podcast, the hosts Kameel Stanley and Tim Lloyd, talk about the path of waking up to white supremacy in the U.S. Where do you land on the spectrum? Notice the fine line between remembering indigenous practices and appropriating others' culture. What are some ways you can approach indigineity without crossing the line into appropriation?

4. READ: Andrea Smith's essay, Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy: Rethinking Women of Color Organizing

White supremacy is buttressed by interlocking and often contradictory systems that preserve the value of whiteness. What surprised you about this article? How does the framework challenge your vision of anti-racism work? How does it complicate anti-racist organizing? How does this framework simplify it? How does this framework speak to using indigenous practices to challenge white supremacy? What are ways that you can embody the principles outlined in this article?

5. READ: How MSG Got a Bad Rap: Flawed Science and Xenophobia by Anna Maria Barry-Jester

Many aspects of white supremacy are embedded into our established cultural norms of health and beauty. What are other subtle health and beauty cues that influence white standards of beauty? How is anti-blackness created and sustained through mythologies of beauty, health and value?

6. RACE JOURNAL:What images of white violence come to mind from your own life? We made images of white violence during the fourth class. What are your reactions (emotional, physical, mental) to images of white violence, either from our work or that you encounter in your week?

Think also about journaling in ways that break the patterns of white supremacy. How can you expand upon your journal entries to share embodied emotions and tell stories in unfamiliar ways? Try drawing or painting pictures and writing poetry. Share your creations with others!

Unpacking Race Fall 2017
Week 4: Finding Our Inherent Indigeneity

In November 2017 T.O. Philly is holding its workshop series about race and undoing racism. Between sessions we are posting videos, articles, radio pieces, and writing prompts for participants. Feel free to follow along!

In week three, we considered whiteness through three lenses:
  1. What have we learned about what it means to be white?
  2. What are stereotypes that we've heard about white people?
  3. What have we heard from people of color about white people?
After listing aspects of these three lenses through which we might look at whiteness, our Image Theatre work turned the lens from one view to another: What does whiteness look like in our bodies? How do we project whiteness in subtle and not so subtle ways? How do POC perspectives see images of whiteness? What are stereotypes of whiteness that show up in our communities, our homes, ourselves? 

The essence of theatre is being able to to shift the lens. Next week we will spend some time embodying the indigenous parts of ourselves that often lay dormant in our bodies and acknowledge and strengthen those parts of our moving selves. We will also create an indigeneity of our collective group, creating tools for surviving and thriving as agents of anti-racism.


1. WATCH "How To Do Thanksgiving Makeup That Has Nothing To Do With The 566 Federally Recognized Tribes." Content Warning: language.

How have you interrupted race this week? Sailor J used humor as a strategy to dismantle whiteness as a colonizing, violent, and appropriative force. In what ways in your life can you imagine using humor to combat anti-blackness and native erasure? Try to be as detailed as possible here.

2. LISTEN to the first episode of "Who Is This Restaurant For?" from The Sporkful:

This episode reminds us that the spaces we inhabit and the way we relate to people in a space are full of racial cues and contexts. How do your spaces invite in people of color? How does the space you inhabit work to dismantle white supremacy? What can you do differently to your space to make it more inviting for people of color in your community? How can you relate differently to people of color in your neighborhood to make them feel safer?

3. WATCH this excerpt from press conference held by Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail and family members of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls:

When is a time that you used your tone or your whiteness to silence people of color? How about a time in the last week? Whiteness gives us the ability to harm others despite our best intentions. How can you apologize for pain you may have caused people of color in your life? Write a brief letter thanking a person of color in your life for their patience and apologizing for your behavior.

4. READ "White Supremacy On My Mind: Learning to Undermine Racism" by Chris Crass.

Chris Crass is a racial justice educator that "woke up" during the Rodney King brutality and trial in the early 90s. When did you officially "wake up"? How are you continuing to challenge yourself to wake up? There is a lot to learn from white anti-racism activists. What surprised you about Chris' writing? What will you be taking with you?

5. READ "Bring Us Back into the Dance: Women of the Wasase" by Kahente Horn-Miller.

Kahente Horn-Miller reminds us that returning to her indigenous roots gives her the strength to resist the violence against her and her community perpetrated by the state. What are indigenous practices in your culture? Think about your family, your roots and your community. You might have to actually study your own history here. How can you begin to strengthen your naturally occurring indigenity to subvert white supremacy?

6. RACE JOURNAL Keep thinking about your relationship to whiteness. What behaviors do you engage in that support white supremacy? What behaviors are you currently becoming aware of? How can you use your unearned power to dismantle whiteness as a reality (and as a corollary to anti-blackness from last week's reading)? What do you stand to lose by dismantling white supremacy (think money and also reputation, family, support, etc.)? Be honest in your assessment. What is stopping you from acting?

Unpacking Race Fall 2017
Week 3: The Heavy Burden of Whiteness

In November 2017 T.O. Philly is holding its workshop series about race and undoing racism. Between sessions we are posting videos, articles, radio pieces, and writing prompts for participants. Feel free to follow along!

In week two, we looked at the benefits of keeping the system of white supremacy in place. We thought about how keeping a system of white supremacy in place benefits white people, or people of European ancestry, as well as how keeping a system of white supremacy in place benefits people of color. We considered possibilities of where whiteness began and what were some of the characteristics of whiteness and white culture. As you move through your week, ask yourself, "How does white supremacy benefits me?" and maybe journal about it. 

Some of the terms we considered collectively were:
  • Institutional Racism: Racism at the institutional level is reflected in the policies, laws, rules, norms, and customs enacted by organizations and social institutions that advantage whites as a group and disadvantage groups of color. Such institutions include religion, government, education, law, the media, the healthcare system, and businesses/employment. 
  • Societal/Cultural Racism: Social norms, roles, rituals, language, music, and art that reinforce the belief that white (European) culture is superior to other cultures reflect cultural racism. Normative assumptions about philosophies of life; definitions of good, evil, beauty, and ugliness; normality and deviance; and the perspectives of time provide the justifications for social oppression. Cultural racism can also be expressed through the appropriation rather than appreciation of the cultural creations of people from marginalized groups.
  • Personal/Interpersonal Racism: Racism at the personal/interpersonal level is an individual phenomenon that reflects prejudice or bias. Individuals may intentionally express or act on racist ideas and assumptions. More common are covert, unconscious, or unintentional actions of individuals who may honestly believe they are not racist. This implicit bias or aversive racism, because it is typically not explicit or conscious, is frequently more difficult to identify and address.
Adapted from: "Racism and White Privilege" by Lee Anne Bell, Michael S. Funk, Khyati Y. Joshi, and Marjorie Valdivia in Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook (3rd edition). Routledge, 2016. 

Our homework for the week:

1. WATCH Aamer Rahman's stand-up routine about "reverse racism":

How many institutions, societal and cultural norms, and interpersonal relationships are represented in this video? Take another listen, can you find any more?

2. LISTEN to "White Flight and Reclaimed Memories," in which two women, a generation apart, sift through the scars of segregation and returning to a neighborhood that doesn't resemble what they remembered.

Ask yourself, "How am I engaging in a system that purposely separates black and brown folks from white folks using economic means? How does this benefit me? How do I feel about these systems?" Make a list of ways you can begin to challenge these artificially created and societally supported separations.

3. READ "What's at stake for white people in the struggle for racial justice?" an interview with white anti-racist organizer Chris Crass conducted by local Quaker activist Lucy Duncan. This is just one short segment of a five-part conversation posted the conversation, and the links to the rest are listed at the bottom. Pick a another one (or more!) that interests you and read it too.

Now that there are costs associated with the benefits of the system of white supremacy in which we live, ask yourself, "How do those costs affect me?" What are other costs you can think of? Are the costs worth the benefits? Why or why not?

4. GO SEE Chris Crass and Jude-Laure Denis this Friday at the Friends Center, 1501 Cherry Street, from 7–9PM. More info here.
5. KEEP JOURNALING about race. As you begin to journal about your week in terms of race: a) Notice the benefits of the system of white supremacy that you experience personally and list them out. 2. Notice the costs/burdens of the system of white supremacy that you experience personally and list them out. Compare and contrast. This is where we will begin next week.

Unpacking Race Fall 2017
Week 2: Understanding Whiteness

In November 2017 T.O. Philly is holding its workshop series about race and undoing racism. Between sessions we are posting videos, articles, radio pieces, and writing prompts for participants. Feel free to follow along!

In our first session we got to know each other through games and discussions about where we're from, who our communities are, and ways that we interact with race and interrupt racism. We share definitions for race and ethnicity based on this text:

Ethnicity is often confused with, but is distinct from, race. While “race“ relates to physical features (skin tone, hair texture, eye color, bone structure), ethnicity relates to nationality, region, ancestry, shared culture, and language. It is also socially constructed. Racial designations tend to eclipse or render invisible specific ethnic and national origins. Ethnicity is an attribution that signifies a group affiliation with others who share values and ways of being. As social categories, ethnicity and race function differently.

Racial categories are imposed from outside for the purpose of ranking and hierarchy. Historically, racial categories insured that European adventures, colonists, and settlers could seize land for cultivation and enslave people for profit. This theft was justified by a belief system that asserted Europeans/whites are superior to others deemed inferior (indigenous peoples, Africans, Arabs, Asians). Ethnic categories are generated from within, to maintain a people‘s sense of community and connection, especially if they are peoples in diaspora, living among others whose ethnicity (and perhaps race) differs. Communities sometimes prefer to describe themselves using ethnic rather than racial designations.

Source: "Racism and White Privilege" by Lee Anne Bell, Michael S. Funk, Khyati Y. Joshi, and Marjorie Valdivia in Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook (3rd edition). Routledge, 2016. 

Our homework for the week bridges what we did and discussed in our first session and preps us for the next. These materials are also in conversation with each other, and you may find yourself going back to them:

1. WATCH this short video in which people talk about the first time they noticed race (something that we also did in the workshop):

This is part of MTV's Decoded series of video shorts about race. Here are links to some others about white pride, a history of the word "Caucasian", a "white-splanation" about white-splaining, and classist epithets about working class white people.

2. READ Gloria Naylor's introduction to Children of the Night, an encore to Langston Hughes' anthology The Best Short Stories by Black Writers. In her essay, Naylor touches on the institutions of racial oppression, and speaks to the power of art and affirmation as a path to liberation.

3. LISTEN to "How Race Was Made" on the Seeing White podcast series. For much of human history, people viewed themselves as members of tribes or nations but had no notion of “race.” Today, science deems race biologically meaningless. Who invented race as we know it, and why? 
4. JOURNAL about race. When you notice something in your life that relates to race, write about it. While we can learn lots from reading, talking, performing, and engaging in workshops about race and racism, making time for self-reflection is also essential. Your journal could be a daily practice, or a few times a week, or maybe you've always got it with you, ready to jot down your thoughts about race as they occur. No matter how you do it or how often, keep a race journal. 

5. PRACTICE our Five Agreements of Courageous Conversation:
  1. Stay Engaged:  Staying engaged means “remaining morally, emotionally, intellectually, and socially involved in the dialogue.”
  2. Be Uncomforatable:  This norm acknowledges that discomfort is inevitable, especially, in dialogue about race, and that participants make a commitment to bring issues into the open.  It is not talking about these issues that create divisiveness.  The divisiveness already exists in the society and in our schools.  It is through dialogue, even when uncomfortable, the healing and change begin.
  3. Speak Your Truth:  This means being open about thoughts and feelings and not just saying what you think others want to hear.
  4. Heavy Lifting:  We ask that white people take on some of the weight that targets of white supremacy are carrying by: a) listening, b) asking open questions, and c) believing in the experiences of people of color. Remember, we acknowledge white supremacy as an abusive relationship, and we urge you to consider this paradigm as well.
  5. Expect and Accept Non-closure:  This agreement asks participants to “hang out in uncertainty” and not rush to quick solutions, especially in relation to racial understanding, which requires ongoing dialogue.

    Based on "Four Agreements of Courageous Conversation" from 
    Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools by Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton (Corwin Press, 2006). 

Unpacking Race Fall 2017
Week 1: Learning to See Race and Racism

In November 2017 T.O. Philly is holding its workshop series about race and undoing racism. Between sessions we are posting videos, articles, radio pieces, and writing prompts for participants. Feel free to follow along!

Prior to our first session, watch Jay Smooth's short talk, "How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Discussing Race". Jay is the host of Underground Railroad, New York's longest running hip-hop radio show, and he also has a video blog about race. This video sets the tone for how we'll be approaching our own process in Unpacking Race:

Unpacking Race • Fall 2017 Workshop Series

5 Tuesdays: Nov 7–Dec 5
Each session 6:30–9:00 PM
led by Hariprasad Kowtha,
Linnea DeRoche and
Morgan FitzPatrick Andrews
at the Rotunda • 4014 Walnut St.
Tuition: $45–$125 sliding scale


On Tuesday nights this fall we bring back our popular series on race and interrupting racism.  Over the course of five weeks we'll excavate this topic through exercises, discussions, and techniques from the Theatre of the Oppressed, and equip participants with things to read and do between sessions. Our aim is to unlearn systemic racism we’ve been taught throughout our lives, to heal from racial privilege and oppression, and to offer starting points for structural and personal change for ourselves, our communities, and our world. 

REGISTRATION IS CLOSED for the Fall 2017 Unpacking Race Series To inquire about or book a future series, email "tophilly@gmail.com" or leave a message at 267-282-1057. 

Philadelphia Theatre of the Oppressed has run the Unpacking Race curriculum for Widener University, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, the Philadelphia Theatre Company, Action Reconciliation Service for Peace, Circle of Hope, and at the Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference, as well as several times as a public workshop in Philadelphia.

About the facilitators:

Hariprasad Kowtha has dedicated his life to performance as a vector of identity and resistance. He sang bhajans with the South Asian community in Phoenix, Arizona, practiced Carnatic vocals and performed Bharathanatyam. He began practicing large and small group facilitation skills in early high school through the Unitown/Anytown camp program. He currently teaches yoga, meditation and movement at the Ahimsa House and at the YMCA. Hariprasad's work through T.O. Philly has included Playgrounds for Useful Knowledge in collaboration with Mural Arts, the Borderlands workshop series with Paloma Irizarry, and Forum Theatre Performances at the Philly Fringe. He has led the Unpacking Race workshop for the Philadelphia Theatre Company, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, Widener University, at the Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed in Detroit, and with the general public in Philadelphia and New Jersey.

Morgan ​FitzPatrick ​Andrews helped found Philadelphia Theatre of the Oppressed in 2008 with training from TOPLAB in New York, with Jana Sanskriti in India, and with T.O.'s late founder Augusto Boal. He's brought T.O. to LGBT youth in Philly, globalization activists in Brazil, German citizens doing holocaust reconciliation work, and with the general public. Morgan also teaches yoga at Studio 34 and performs a solo show called CONES about dis/ability and passing. He holds an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts from Goddard College.

Momentary Monuments: an introduction to Theatre of the Oppressed

Tuesday • October 24 • 7–9PM
at the Rotunda • 4014 Walnut St.
Free • donations accepted as well
Click here to reserve your spot

All monuments have a lifespan. People create them with a purpose and an agenda, and inevitably each will disappear. Many change during their existence, either due to exposure to the elements or through further human intervention. And these monuments also mark  changes in us as individuals, societies and nations.

Theatre of the Oppressed is built on games and techniques that make theatrical monuments (called "images") out of living actors. Unlike wood or stone or bronze, actors are immediately adjustable, meaning that we can make and change and dismantle our monuments in an instant. In this workshop, everyone will play both sculptor and sculpture as we make and remake the monuments we see—and would like to see—in this very moment.

This workshop is free and open to all. While it serves as an introduction to the theory and practice of Theatre of the Oppressed, people with more experience in T.O. will get a lot out of it. T.O. Philly will also be accepting donations to support our sliding-scale and scholarship fund. Contact "tophilly@gmail.com" for more info.

The photo above is of a monument to Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay. After the people ousted the dictator in 1989, artist Carlos Colombino proposed that the statue appear as if crushed between two giant concrete blocks. Here's a radio piece about it, produced by PRI's The World: