Let’s play with our racism

Five people in a tableaux showing various responses to the workshop: Four with open arms, many open palms and one person on the floor her head threaded through someone's leg.

An open space session I facilitated at the G I I symposium on Friday morning 17 May.

How I introduced the session:

I am a racist. Not because I intentionally discriminate or harm people outside my own race, but because I was brought up in a racialised system. Because of this, I may behave and speak in a discriminatory and hurtful manner without noticing. Some call it “unconscious bias“. I think it is time we take responsibility and become conscious.

To experiment with new and unfamiliar behaviour, we need a safe space to fail. What better way to create such a space and to experiment with new behaviours then through improvisation?

So, five of us got together and played with our racism. This is the session design, but it does not contain people’s stories. These remain confidential.

Session design

This session was designed using one of the techniques from the Strategic Narrative Embodiment TM suite. We call it the ‘Pig catching signature move’ – it is designed around the archetype of the flying pig, but for this session, we used it to play with racism – an equily illusive concept. The structure is great for working with any number of abstract ideas. For a full description and facilitator guide for the technique, contact petro@playingmantis.net

Note: All sessions are designed according to the SNE STORI-model (What is STORI?)

SNE = Strategic Narrative Embodiment TM (What is SNE?)

S – Strategic intent

The strategic intent is set at the start and ‘parked’ outside the space to define it, but not drive it.

Facilitator note: Setting up the strategic frame is the most important part of holding the facilitation when working with applied performance. It is the contract that helps us know which possibilities to choose and work with. These possibilities arise each time an individual interacts with the story in the room. The disruption itself is welcome and part of the point and it is framed and made sense of through the lens of the strategic frame. This strategic frame along with the ‘rules’ of the various exercises hold the safety and structure of the work where there is hardly any particular content or ‘script’.  Also, when working with something as complex and potentially triggering as racism, these structures and safety measures are important.

We were clear about our frame as we set up the open space session: To play with racism so we can better make sense of our own relationship to it.

We further refined these intentions by sharing stories of racism where we ourselves were either a perpetrator, witness or victi of racism. These stories clarified to us our individual stance for the session.

Four people in a tableaux: One person on the floor looking up hlding something on her lap, the others standing. Two with open arms, one with hand on his chest.
What we got from this session

T – Transition

Facilitator note: When we work with the arts in OD processes, it is really important that people transition from their minds only to include body and emotions, from past and future to the present and from individual mindset into collective mindset. Also, people need to practise following the ‘rules’ of the game. These ‘rules’ keep them safe when we let go of our scripts and experiment with new ways of thinking and doing.

 

Walking exercises are great for this.

Examples:

http://www.playingmantis.net/walking-exercise/

http://www.playingmantis.net/exercise-walking-with-enlarged-body-parts/

O – Open experimentation

Pig Catching Signature move:

  • The facilitator asks people to work in pairs. They should try to work with someone they are curious about.
  • Each person thinks about the character of racism in their own story. They will represent this form of racism as a character with body, movement and voice..
  • Flow is as follows:
    1. Person A uses movement and sound to show their racism character to person B.
    2. Person B mirrors the character back as accurately as they can.
    3. Person A looks to see if it expresses what they want it to and offers an adjustment, or simply enlarges what is already there.
    4. Person B mirrors this adjustment or enlargement.
    5. Person A again adjusts and enlarges.
    6. Person B again mirrors.

Note: Sometimes it is useful to allow participants to interrupt the mirroring for a short clarifying conversation, especially if B battles to express the essence of the racism character as A sees it. However, the showing and moving is always more important than the talking.

  • A and B swop roles working with person B’s racism character.
  • Facilitator asks participants what this is like for them and gets a few responses.

Note: Participants who do this for the first time may need to talk about its awkwardness, or how impactful/difficult/funny it is. Debriefing these feelings is important to help them engage with the next step which takes them deeper.

  • Facilitator now asks participants to show each other how they usually react to their racism character – or how they reacted that day when the story happened.
    1. Person A: ‘When my racism character goes [show character as refined through previous round] then I go [show their own response through sound and movement].
    2. Person B: ‘When your racism character goes [mirror character] then you go [mirror movement and sound].
    3. A adjusts or enlarges only their own sound and movement, not racism character too.
    4. B mirrors
    5. This happens three times as before and then they swop. Again a short conversation in between may be useful, but keep it short.
  • Now each pair will work with one story at a time as follows: Person A play themselves while B play their racism character. The racism character begins with the sound and move assigned to him. Person A reacts as rehearsed but now they let the scene play out. The pig reacts again and Person A responds until it runs its course. Run the scene again but Person A chooses a different reaction – again the scene runs it’s course. Repeat three or four times until A is satisfied that the scene has been transformed.
  • Repeat with B’s story.

Note: The partner plays the character so that the person whose story it is can try out alternative ways they could behave.

R – Reflection

Have a conversation with each other about what this experience was like and what it means for you in relation to the intent you set for the session.

What gift did you receive from your partner in the interaction?

What shift can you see occurring in relation to your real life situation?

What else we got from this session

I – Integration

Talk about possible changes in attitude or action you can make as a result of the interaction between you and your racism character.

In our session, we used images to express 1. What this session gave us. And 2. What we want to say to others about racism, We also had three people join us at the end who witnessed the final conversation and also provided their embodied responses to what they heard.

 Facilitation note: People can end up sharing very deeply with their partners and a round of appreciation is essential to allow people’s gratitude to be expressed.  On another note: ot ALL the integration necessarily happens in the space of the workshop, or session. It is worthwhile drawing participants’ attention to this.