Unpacking Race 2016, Part 6:
The Mirror and The Hammer

In early 2016, T.O. Philly hosted a workshop series on race and undoing racism. Each week we posted material here for folks both in and outside of the workshop to use. Each page archived here contains things to read, watch, hear and do: 
We opened this series with this Jay Smooth's talk, "How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Discussing Race." Watch it again. What's changed since you first saw it? 

In our final Unpacking Race workshop, we talked about the costs, risks and benefits of doing anti-racist work and used Image Theatre techniques to explore what solidarity looks like. We also danced to "Le Pétrin" ("The Grain") by La Tordue:
"On vient tous du même pétrin,
Qu'on soit froment ou sarrasin,
Herbe folle, maïs ou blé noir,
Du champ voisin ou de nulle part." 
"White, pumpernickel or rye,
Wheat, corn meal processed or blue,
From fields anywhere or nearby
We all come from the same grain,
Enriched by the same rain." 
La Tordue recorded this song with a cast of poets and musicians from all over the globe, each reinventing the lyrics in their native tongues, merging their various musical styles, instruments, and cultural references to unite against France's double peine law that sends immigrants convicted of a crime to prison and then deports them upon their release. The artists held concerts to protest the law, and all proceeds from the song funded the solidarity movement.

Art has this power to unite people against oppression. Oppressors know this, and that is why art and the artists who make it are often the first targets when quelling dissent. In 1930s Germany the Bauhaus School was the first thing the Third Reich shut down when they took over before waging genocide on the Roma and Jews. In the 1940s Spain's fascist regime purged books from libraries and artworks from museums. In 1960s Israel all designs printed in the colors of the Palestinian flag were outlawed. The 1970s dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, and Brazil rounded up and tortured actors and musicians. Mainstream media did not acknowledge hip hop culture throughout the 1980s until it became commercially viable. In the U.S. at the turn of this century, municipal, state, and federal agencies conspired to target low-power radio stations and puppeteers who were at the heart of organizing grassroots movements. And more journalists have been killed in Putin's Russia of the past decade than in any other nation that's not currently fighting a war on their own soil. Every time this happens, artists resist and persist, and their art lives on as a testament to that resistance long after oppressive regimes have fallen and been maligned by history.

William Shakespeare said that art was a mirror held up to reality. Centuries later, playwright Bertolt Brecht refuted The Bard, saying, "Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to break it." Theatre of the Oppressed sees both analogies—mirror and hammer—as steps toward unpacking and then dismantling oppression. As we close this round of Unpacking Race, what are ways that you use art, theatre, music, writing, speaking, photography, movement, film, or any form of creative expression to unpack race and dismantle racism? What are ways that you see others do this? What are the costs, risks, and benefits engaging in creative—and courageous—conversations about race? Share it by leaving comments below.

Unpacking Race 2016, Part 5:
"Solidarity Means Running the Same Risks"

In early 2016, T.O. Philly hosted a workshop series on race and undoing racism. Each week we posted material here for folks both in and outside of the workshop to use. Each page archived here contains things to read, watch, hear and do:
"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."
       -- Lilla Watson, Indigenous Australian activist and academic
In our workshop this week we discussed the risks and benefits of taking action against racism. We've started a list of examples: acts of solidarity that can look very different from each other, but all interrupt racism in their own ways.

What other acts of anti-racist solidarity do you know of? Journal about them. And send us links to more examples with by emailing "tophilly@gmail.com"

Below are some terms that are helpful in understanding this work. First the basics on Power, Privilege, and Oppression:
  • Institutional Power: The ability or authority to decide what's best for others, to decide who can access resources, and to exercise control over others.
  • Privilege: Personal, interpersonal, cultural, and institutional systems that benefit members of dominant groups at the expense of members of target groups. Literally means "Private law."
  • Oppression: The combination of prejudice and institutional power which creates a system that discriminates against some groups (often called “target groups”) and benefits other groups (often called “dominant groups”).  

Next are five main archetypes of roles played out in Theatre of the Oppressed, and also in real situations of oppression: 
  • Oppressed: Anyone who is subject to others having power over them.
  • Ally: A person with privilege who takes action in support of oppressed people. 
  • Potential ally: A person who has some power to help an oppressed individual or group but may not have taken actions to actually help.
  • Passive oppressor: A person who oppresses by taking actions that support oppression and/or failing to take action to help the oppressed.
  • Oppressor: A person who exerts power over another person or group of people. 

Finally some terminology that's specific to (though not unique to) Theatre of the Oppressed:
  • Image: A motionless sculpture made from human figures.
  • Image Theatre: A form of Theatre of the Oppressed that uses collectively constructed still images to convey meaning.
  • Objective Observation: Responding to an image or situation with commentary on its physical nature alone.
  • Subjective Observation: Responding to an image or situation with commentary based on investigative perception, speculation and intuition. 
  • Dynamization: The process of adding movements, sounds and words into a piece of Image Theatre.
  • Spect-actor: A participant in the Theatre of the Oppressed, both spectator and actor.
For more terminology used in Theatre of the Oppressed, see our glossary.

Unpacking Race 2016, Part 4:
The Internal, The Fragile, The Subtle

In early 2016, T.O. Philly hosted a workshop series on race and undoing racism. Each week we posted material here for folks both in and outside of the workshop to use. Each page archived here contains things to read, watch, hear and do:
“The struggle is inner: Chicano, indio, American Indian, mojado, mexicano, immigrant Latino, Anglo in power, working class Anglo, Black, Asian--our psyches resemble the bordertowns and are populated by the same people. The struggle has always been inner, and is played out in outer terrains. Awareness of our situation must come before inner changes, which in turn come before changes in society. Nothing happens in the "real" world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.” ― Gloria E. Anzaldúa
In Week Three of our Unpacking Race workshop series, we shared aspects of our racial and ethnic identities, both those that are assigned to us and those we choose for ourselves. In our sub-groups we used techniques of Image Theatre to unpack specific institutions of racism: health care, media, housing, and the criminal justice system. The reading and video materials are posted here.

We will shift gears a bit toward unpacking microaggressions, internalized subordination, white privilege/fragility. Start by reading or watching something under each topic. When an article or video resonates with you, go deeper into that topic by looking at the other resources.


  • "Internalized Racism" (short video, above) Definition and examples.
  • "Connecting the Disconnected" (article) Cultural appropriation and colonialism as an erasure of history and an impediment to solidarity.
  • "Dear Young Man of Color" (short spoken word film) Internalized duality of tokenism and cultural pride in the Asian American community.

4. JOURNALING: In reading,writing, and.or experiencing aspects of the above topics, what are the similarities? The differences? What are the parallels and points of intersection between these experiences?

5. ONE MORE SHORT VISEO: A fictitious company explains the services that they provide and why. Check out their website for more info.

Next: Building solidarity.

Unpacking Race 2016, Part 3:
Unpacking Racism

In early 2016, T.O. Philly hosted a workshop series on race and undoing racism. Each week we posted material here for folks both in and outside of the workshop to use. Each page archived here contains things to read, watch, hear and do:
In Week Two of our Unpacking Race workshop series, we warmed up with The Vehicle Game before laying out some broad ways that racism takes shape. These were the definitions for racism we worked from:
Institutional Racism: A system of advantage based on race and supported by institutional structures, policies and practices that create and sustain advantages for the dominant white group while systematically subordinating members of targeted racial groups. This relative advantage for Whites and subordination for people of color is supported by the actions of individuals, cultural norms, and values, and the institutional structures and practices of society. 
Individual Racism: The beliefs, attitudes, and actions of individuals that support or perpetuate institutional racism. Individual racism can occur at both unconscious and conscious levels, and can be both active and passive. Examples include telling a racist joke, using a racial epithet, or believing in the inherent superiority of Whites. 
Active Racism: Actions that have as their stated or explicit goal the maintenance of the system of racism and the oppression of those in targeted racial groups. People who participate in active racism advocate the continued subjugation of members of targeted groups and protection of “the rights” of members of the advantaged group. These goals are often supported by a belief in the inferiority of people of color and the superiority of white people, culture, and values. 
Passive Racism: Conscious and unconscious beliefs, attitudes, and actions that support the system of racism, racial prejudice, and racial dominance and contribute to the maintenance of racism, without openly advocating violence, discrimination, or an ideology of white supremacy. 
These definitions are from Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, (2nd ed., Routledge, 2007).

This week each of our four working groups unpacked one of these forms of racism, using The Vehicle Game structure to illustrate aspects of it through the language of theatre. In week three we will further unpack institutional racism, and each group will focus on a particular area. 
  1. A VIDEO for everyone to watch
  2. RACE JOURNALING for you to do on your own
  3. AN ARTICLE for everyone to read
  4. SELECTED LINKS for each of the four groups to focus on
1. A VIDEO: Hari Kondabolu on "Ethnic Needs": This 90-second clip sums otherness and ethnic needs in a hilarious manner.

2. RACE JOURNALING: In Theatre of the Oppressed we make images and then look at them objectively before we talk about them subjectively. Bring this practice into your race journaling by asking yourself first, "What did I notice?" and then journal your objective observations. Then ask, "How did I feel?" to generate your subjective experiences. Try journaling this way for the week.

3. AN ARTICLE: "Ultimate White Privilege Statistics" provides s a comprehensive list of cited statistics indicating racial bias in many sectors including Education, Wealth, Employment, Criminal Justice and Voting.
4. SELECTED LINKS: Please read/watch/listen-to the following for your color group for next week. The articles are ranked in order of importance, so if you are strapped for time, please read the first article first. If you have extra time/curiosity, check out the links for the other groups.

  1. "Racial Bias and its Effect on Health Care" (short interview transcript) Primer on the racial bias in health care today
  2. Tim Wise at the Public Health Commission (three-part video) The health effects of microaggressions, racial bias in health care, and the pathology of white supremacy.


  1. "The Average Black Girl" video (above): Ernestine Johnson's poem on how the media depicts African-American women.
  2. "Lives Fit For Print" (article) How the media defines global terrorism by focusing on specific acts of terrorism and largely ignoring others

  1. "Malcolm X, Gentrification, and Housing as a Human Right" (article) A history of housing discrimination in the U.S.
  2. "Historian Says 'Don't Sanitize How Our Government Created Ghettos'" (podcast+article) On government collusion with real estate and financial industry to create and maintain racially segregated urban slums while raising white folks’ property values
  3. "Environmental Racism Explained" video (below) Connects access to housing and other geographic resources to negative public health vectors for people of color and to the inaction of governmental structures to prevent and protect them

  1. "14 Examples of Racism in Criminal Justice System" (article) Reality of racial inequality sequenced from the initial brush with law enforcement to life after incarceration
  2. "The Coalition to Combat Police Terrorism" video (below) Framing police officer violence as terrorism against Black folks
  3. "Mass Incarceration Since 1492" (article) history and continued criminalization and poverty for Native American population as a means of erasure and silence

    Next: Externalized privilege, internalized oppression.

    Unpacking Race 2016, Part 2:
    Defining and Journaling

    In early 2016, T.O. Philly hosted a workshop series on race and undoing racism. Each week we posted material here for folks both in and outside of the workshop to use. Each page archived here contains things to read, watch, hear and do: 
    In Week One of our Unpacking Race workshop series, we defined race and ethnicity and shared some of our experiences through movement and discussion. The definitions we used:
    Race: A social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly skin color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation or history, ethnic classification, and/or the social, economic, and political needs of a society at a given period of time. Scientists agree that there is no biological or genetic basis for racial categories.

    Ethnicity: A social construct that divides people into social groups based on characteristics such as shared sense of group membership, values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history, and ancestral geographical location. Members of an ethnic group are often presumed to be culturally or biologically similar, although this is not in fact necessarily the case. Examples of ethnic groups identified in the U.S. are: Cape Verdean, Haitian, African American; Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese; Cherokee, Mohawk, Navajo; Jamaican, Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican; Polish, Trinidadian, Irish, and French.

    Racial and Ethnic Identity: An individual's awareness and experience of being a member of a racial and ethnic group; the racial and ethnic categories that an individual chooses to describe themselves based on such factors as genealogical or ancestral heritage, physical appearance, cultural affiliation, early socialization, and personal experience. Puerto Ricans, for example, may be racially European, African, indigenous, or various blends, yet they refer to themselves collectively as Boricuas. Despite color differences, Puerto Ricans share a culture which shapes food, language, music and customs.

    These are from Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, (2nd ed., Routledge, 2007).

    We also split up into four groups that will work together over the course of the series. For next week, we have three assignments:
    1. A VIDEO for everyone to watch
    2. WRITING for you to do on your own
    3. LINKS to essays, an illustrated poem, and a documentary
    A VIDEO: Aamer Rahman on "Reverse Racism": In this 3-minute clip the Bengali-Australian comedian explains the conditions under which reverse racism is possible and gives a great introduction to major systems of institutional racism. 

    WRITING: Maintain your own Race Journal: 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. 

    Also: As part of your journaling, look at the definitions (at the top of this page) for race, ethnicity, and racial/ethnic identity, and then write about your own race, ethnicity, and racial/ethnic identity. We will be tapping into ideas generated by our journaling when we regroup each week.

    1. Read "The History of the Idea of Race...and Why it Matters" by Audrey Smedley, detailing the history of race in the United States.
    2. This history of race in the U.S. is also covered by the documentary, Race: The Power of an IllusionWatch the first part here. Seeing the first part may compel you to watch the rest, so here are links for Part 2 and Part 3 and Part 4.
    3. Listen to and see "White Supremacy Loves To Kill", a poem by Dana Rivers set to images.
    4. The essay "Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy" is a primer to the complex systems of how racism can be barriers to organizing  This is a scanned PDF, and this version is better for text-to-speech devices.. 
    Next: Passive vs. active, individual vs. institutional.