Unpacking Race Fall 2017
Week 3: Seeing 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!

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: Realizing Race

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 Love Discussing Race

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:

Free Tuesday Night Workshops in West Philly

October 10 + 24 • 7–9PM
The Rotunda • 4014 Walnut St.
Free for all • Donations welcome
Sign up for one or both here

T.O. Philly kicks off its fall 2017 program with a pair of free sessions open to anyone with or without experience working in Theatre of the Oppressed. Each workshop will incorporate T.O.'s embodied ice-breakers and theatrical games that are used by actors, activists, educators, organizers, and anyone else who works with groups. These games hone skills that we then combine to do the deeper work of Theatre of the Oppressed in rehearsing strategies for a new society.

In the October 10 session, Hariprasad Kowtha leads a workshop about contradictions and how they relate to community organizing. On October 24,  participants with work with Morgan FitzPatrick Andrews to make momentary monuments as a gateway for discussing what public monuments represent today, and what they could become tomorrow. 

Click here to sign up for one or both of these sessions. Each workshop is free. We will also be accepting donations for our sliding scale and scholarship fund that helps keep T.O. affordable for all. Hariprasad and Morgan will also be co-facilitating our 5-week Unpacking Race series starting in November.

Got questions? Email "tophilly@gmail.com" or call 267-282-1057 and someone will get back to you.

a Theatre of the Oppressed workshop
about moments and monuments

Saturday, September 23
11:00 am – 4:00 pm
(includes one-hour lunch break)
Part of Bodyworks
at Moore College of Art
20th Street and The Parkway
FREE—Click here to register

The Galleries at Moore College of Art & Design present Bodyworks, a festival of performances, workshops and collaborative projects that examine the body as both material and tool in contemporary performance. Incorporating practices of dance, theatre, costume and sound, this exhibition brings together a diverse group of Philadelphia artists who use their bodies to engage viewers with their craft and create new spaces for social action, dialogue and representation.

As part of Bodyworks, T.O. Philly offers Occupy the Gallery, a public workshop that bridges the disciplines of visual and performance art through politics and improvisation. This workshop will shine a spotlight on the history and current dialogue around monuments, what they mean, why they're here, and how people interact with them locally, nationally, and globally. This workshop is free and open to all. Registration is not required, but we'd like a sense of how many people are coming. You can help with that by registering here.

Bodyworks is presented in conjunction with CraftNow, a citywide exhibition examining the fluid boundaries that exist between, among and surrounding varying practices in art, design and craft. Moore's Levy Gallery for the Arts in Philadelphia will transform into a multi-use performance space with a robust calendar of performances and community events—Click here to see the full roster.

BORDERLANDS: A Forum Theatre Event
with the Philadelphia Fringe Festival

Friday • September 8
Part of Asian Arts Initiative's
Hurry Up and Wait opening
1219 Vine St. Philadelphia
Art at 6PM • Performance 8PM
Friday • September 15
Studio 34 • 4522 Baltimore Ave.
7:30 PM show • Free

I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing...I will have my serpent's tongue--my woman's voice, my sexual voice, my poet's voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.” — Gloria Anzaldúa

Come break the fourth wall as Philadelphia Theatre of the Oppressed explores the personal journeys of immigration and homecoming from prison. Devised and performed by formerly incarcerated Philly women who have reentered society, Borderlands is a live Forum Theatre event where we blur the boundaries between spectator and actor.

Created and performed by Bambi Friday, Crystal Walker, Hariprasad Kowtha, Kilo Martin, Natasha Cohen-Carroll, Christian Hayden and Paloma Irizarry,  Borderlands has two performances in two locations: September 8th's show takes place in the theatre at Asian Arts Initiative and will be preceded by Hurry Up and Wait, a multi-artist show about migration in AAI's gallery with work by Pritha Bhattacharyya, Sanjana Bijlani, Melissa Chen, Yujane Chen, Maria Dumlao, Monica Kane, Caroline Key, Ahree Lee, JJ Lee, Hye Yeon Nam, Jermaine Ollivierre, Keven Quach, Yumi Janairo Roth, Rea Christina Sampilo, Catzie Vilayphonh, and curated by Adriel Luis. September 15th's show will be at Studio 34 in West Philly.

Note: Some tickets are available at the door although Fringe Arts' website says that the event is "sold out."

photo credit: Natasha Cohen-Carroll

Press for Borderlands: