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.


  1. Thank you for the reminder that Europeans and people of European descent are only 10% of the worlds population. This is oddly reassuring to me, as an American of European descent, perhaps because it helps me understand that this system cannot last. I also appreciated the challenge about calling myself white. I had already been uncomfortable with that appellation; its been clear to me that "whiteness" and "white culture" is a social construct, but speaking about it has seemed to also be denying the system of white supremacy and white privilege. So from now on I intend to refer to myself as a person of European descent or European American, while freely acknowledging that I have benefitted from the system of white supremacy/white privilege.

    I also have come to appreciate more fully my parents who made a sincere attempt to raise me and my siblings in an antiracist manner way back in the 1950's & 60's. Although I do not think that they quite understood the enormity of the task or even just how insidious the system of white supremacy was and is, they were brave and loving in the attempt to live out their new-found Quaker faith in this way. There were costs: my Dad worked for an inner city Quaker service organization which was very low paying. Also, my father's family disapproved of what he was doing and although they didn't officially disown him, they often left him out (and therefore, us) of family gatherings and other events.

    I also appreciated hearing how difficult and heart-wrenching it is just to wake up every day and have to fight racism; never getting a break. This touched me deeply.

    It has, also become clearer to me that we, European Americans, get material benefits from white supremacy/white privilege, but that we are also damaged by it. Our hearts and minds have been compromised: we are self-indulgent to a fault and think this is evidence of loving ourselves, we mistake license for freedom, and try to fill our emptiness with consumer items! but by far the most damaging is that all movements for social welfare and general uplift in this country have ultimately failed because of racism. Without real solidarity, no movement can fulfill on its promise.

    This series was challenging, fun, heart-breaking and inspiring. Thank you to each and everyone!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. Look forward to more soon!