Practices that Prepare for Going Forth

It is appropriate that the close of a gathering, or series of gatherings, would prepare participants for applying insights, experiences, and new information to their daily lives. The range of exercises presented here allows for internal processing, problem solving with small groups, bearing witness to one another’s commitments and transformation, and trying out new responses through role play.

As our online community develops, we hope you will share the ideas and practices that you find helpful for integrating group work and preparing for the new responses and experiences that come with a broadened awareness of race.

Index of Practices

  1. “Free-writing”
  2. “Building relationships with people of color”
  3. “Specific Application”
  4. “Allies and Intervention Playback”
  5. “What am I taking away?”
  6. “Truth Circle” modified for Going Forth
  7. “Toning”

Return to Practices or Manual for Group Work table of contents page

“Free-writing” – 10-20 minutes

This simple practice can be a powerful way for participants to begin to integrate what they have experienced in a private, reflective way. Have paper, writing implements, and hard surfaces (if necessary) available for individuals who need them, and ask that each person find a quiet place in the room where they can write. The idea is not to spend a lot of time deliberating over the words, or rewriting in order to produced a final outcome. The emphasis here is on process: just write what comes up in your mind, without judgment or effort. Even if it is surprising, or “uninspiring”, or “incorrect”, just spend the time writing freely, as a way to create space for your thoughts and associations at this moment in time.

If not enough writing supplies are available, you can have the group share extra paper and pencils/pens by placing them in the middle of the circle. While this wouldn’t, generally, happen “on purpose”, creating and drawing upon group resources is a powerful experience to integrate into this work. (back to Index of Practices)

“Building relationships with people of color” – 20-30 minutes (small group/large group share)
The premise of this exercise is that building meaningful, peer based relationships with people of color plays a significant role in building racial awareness, as white people. While this premise is significant to White Awake, not all participants will share this assumption. This activity allows for time and thought about building authentic relationships with people of color, as well as whether or not participants feel comfortable intentionally pursuing such relationships.

It is interesting to note how often white people have relationships with people of color who are not their peers (with children, for example) or with whom there is an imbalance of power (employer/employee; volunteer/community member “in need”; etc).  The hope is that, at the very least, this exercise prompts white participants to question whether or not a balanced racial perspective is possible when these imbalanced relationships dominate our personal experiences with people of color.

Begin with a reading or story that emphasize the benefit of authentic, peer based relationships with people of color. An example is the story from bell hooks’ article, “Representing Whiteness in the Black Imagination”, in which she describes a white man whose perspective on race has changed dramatically based on his relationship with his partner, who is an African American woman.

Ask the participants to divide up into small groups of 3-4 people each, and have them begin a discussion based on these three questions:

  1. Do they agree that intentionally building meaningful, peer based relationships with people of color is a significant factor in countering the racist, social conditioning they have received as white people? (This question builds on the core assumptions outlined in the Waking up to Race page.)
  2. Do they have such relationships in their lives now?
  3. What can they do to build these types of relationships in their lives?

Allow about 2-3 minutes for each person in the group to speak to these questions themselves. Remind the groups know that it is important for each person to speak to their own experience, rather than critiquing one another or offering advice. That said, one way that a participant in the group may use their time is to ask for feedback or ideas from the group. In this way, their can be discussion and contribution that is guided by the participant receiving input.

At the end of these discussions, ask each small group to share highlights of their experience with the entire group. Allow about 1-2 minutes per small group during this process. The facilitator may want to close this particular exercise with some thoughts for further reflection, outside of group work. The goal is to point out potentially problematic thinking in a generalized way that does not shame individual participants. One way to frame this kind of feedback is, “I heard … (from the group), which causes me to wonder if …(something in particular has been considered)“. It is constructive to also point out helpful insights or strategies that were shared. (back to Index of Practices)

“Specific Application” – 15-20 minutes (group discussion)

Building upon the  “Levels of Racism” activity, have participants brainstorm ways in which different forms of racism show up in their daily lives. Often personal and interpersonal forms of racism are most easy to identify. Challenge the group (by giving examples to jog thoughts, if necessary) to think of ways that cultural and institutional racism can be seen in their daily lives as well.

Have participants think of spiritual, educational, professional, and/or civic organizations they may be a part of, as well as dynamics reflected in their work place. Emphasis can be given to the dynamics present within these settings, as well as dynamics that lead up to the way in which power and privilege is currently experienced in these settings (considering such factors as educational discrimination, nepotism, etc.)

This exercise can be used in two ways: as a way of grounding generalized principles in our actual, daily experiences; as a way of collecting stories that can be used in the “Allies and Intervention Playback” exercise.

Share informally within the larger group. If the group is so large that having this kind of discussion is cumbersome, this exercise can be done in by using small groups that share their process with the larger group as in the exercise, “Building relationships with people of color”, above. (back to Index of Practices)

“Allies and Intervention Playback” – 1.5 hours – 2 hours (with 10-20 participants)
This exercise is written in such a way that participants brainstorm their own stories for re-enactment during the group setting. Another way to do this, which is very powerful, is to collect stories from people of color who are members of the organizations and/or spiritual communities that are represented by the white participants doing group work. This kind of story collection was initiated by the original IMCW White Awake group, and it allowed IMCW participants to reflect upon the fact that racism was being expressed and/or experienced in their own spiritual community in ways they were not previously aware of.

Brainstorm “micro-aggressions” (interpersonal forms of racism), as well as specific stories of ways that institutional/cultural racism shows up in a particular setting (see “Specific Application” exercise). Look for stories that can be easily acted out by members of the group, using the simple props we have at hand: chairs, maybe some books or papers, but primarily just our bodies and our voices.

Ask participants to divide into small groups of 3-4 individuals each. Decide, with the large group, upon the stories that each group will use – so that each group is acting out a different story. Once the small groups are clear of which story they are enacting, ask the small groups to spend time recreating the story as a skit. Then, within the skit, elect one participant to “intervene” in the racism that is currently underway. Encourage participants to keep an open, nonjudgmental attitude, and not be afraid of taking risks. Ask that each small group member come up with a different type of intervention, so that at the end of the planning phase their small group will present the skit multiple times, with a different form of intervention each time (according to who is playing the intervening role).

It is good to allow as much time as possible with each step of this activity. Participants enjoy acting the different stories out, and can gain a lot of confidence and insight by trying out many different possibilities before presenting their series of skits to the group. A minimum of 20 minutes should be allowed for this portion of the exercise, but 30-45 minutes is encouraged when time permits.

Once each group is ready to perform, have one group take “center stage” and the other groups arrange themselves to be their audience. For each skit offered, invite audience members (once the skit has been performed in its entirety one time) to take the place of the original actors and try out their own type of intervention (or) play the part of another character in the story differently than the original group members did.

Keep the pace moving, but allow as much time as possible for experimentation, laughter, and jostling around. While a lot of other exercises in the White Awake curriculum are serious, intellectual, or emotionally challenging, this activity gives participants the opportunity to try out new responses to racism with irreverence, humor, and creativity. Allow for a minimum of 10 minutes per small group skit, with 20-30 being ideal. Allow for about 10-15 minutes of group reflection at the end of the entire experience. This can be done through a round robin in which participants speak about what stood out for them, what they learned, things that were surprising, or things that they might want to try sometimes themselves.

Note on intention: One thing to take note of, during this exercise, is what source of motivation we are acting from as white people when we attempt to interrupt racism through our actions. Because of social conditioning that instills a false sense of superiority in white people, it is important to be clear about these motivating factors, while maintaining a curious, compassionate, and nonjudgmental attitude.

Acting as an ally to people of color can be done in a way that is paternalistic, comes from a “savior” mentality, or is otherwise springing from this superiority training. We will need to have a strong sense of why developing racial awareness, and taking anti-racist action, is important to ourselves as members of the dominant group in order to act from a pure source of motivation.

When we take action against racism, it is on our own behalf – as individuals who long for justice and all the social benefits that a just society affords – as much as it is on behalf of those who are being actively discriminated against. It is this sense of integrity that gives us the strength to act even at personal risk to ourselves. And, while it is important to listen thoughtfully to the feedback people of color may give us when we take anti-racist action, it is again this awareness of our own personal motivation that allows us to understand and honor our intentions even if we are misunderstood by another. (back to Index of Practices)

“What am I taking away?” – 10-15 minutes (small group share)

This activity is a helpful way to allow participants one last chance of integration and reflection before leaving the group work setting. Similar to the free-writing exercise, the focus here is not on anything conclusive (there is not even a group share back designed as part of the exercise), but simply to allow participants to give voice to what is emerging within them, and bear witness to what is arising in others in a small, manageable format.

Have the participants divide into small groups of 4-5 individuals each. Ask that each person respond to the question, “What am I taking away from the work we have done together today?” Allow 1-2 minutes per person. Close the small group process after each participant has had the opportunity to share, and move on to a final closing activity. (back to Index of Practices)

“Truth Circle” modified for Going Forth – 30 min for 15-20 participants
The Truth Mandala is a powerful community ritual that opens a space for honoring grief, rage, emptiness, and fear. The original form of this community ritual can be found in Coming Back to Life, pages 101-104. A shortened version, adapted for White Awake, can be found in the “Honoring Grief and Strong Emotions” post. This version of the Truth Mandala has been adapted so that it serves not grief, but the “going forth” spirit that animates a group at the end of the gathering. This version of the Truth Mandala honors hope, action, and commitment.

Arrange the participants so that they are seated in a circle. In the middle of the circle place three objects: a stone, a stick, and a feather. The instructions for the ritual are as follows:

Each object in the center of this circle represents something we may want to express at this time. The stone represents commitment. The stick represents action. And the feather holds the space for hope.

Each of you is invited, as you feel moved, to step into the center of the circle, take one of these objects in your hands, and speak about an action you may be wanting to take, a commitment you are wanting to make, or a sense of hope that has built up in you as a product of this group work. If you have something to express which none of these objects represents, you are welcome to simply come to the center of the circle and speak. Likewise, you can come to the center and hold an object without speaking any words. You are free to take one turn, or multiple turns, and you are free to hold and speak with more than one object.

Keep in mind the time we have for this activity (state the exact amount of time), and notice whether or not other people have spoken before taking multiple turns yourself. When you speak, keep in mind that you are speaking directly to your own experience, and try to keep your words succinct. Please refrain from giving advice, responding directly to what someone else has said, or telling a long story. Do not feel the need to fill the void if no one is speaking. Moments of silence together can be equally powerful as the moments when we share.

When one participant is in the center of the circle, the other participants commit themselves to giving the person at the center their full attention. We can silently listen, or we are invited to respond with one or both of these two phrases: “I hear you” and “I am with you”. Stating these simple phrases affirms and strengthens the truth that each participant is sharing, without invalidating or explaining. These phrases simply give voice to our solidarity with one another.

One way to begin and end this kind of community ritual experience is with sound. The group can intone a simple “ah” syllable together, or the facilitator can ring a mindfulness bell at the beginning and close of the exercise. (back to Index of Practices)

“Toning” – 3 minutes
There are many different ways to close a group experience. The purpose of this practice is to create a container of loving attention in which we honor our time together as we bring it to a close.

Sit or stand in a circle, holding hands. Take three deep breaths together. Let each breath out with a tone. Ask that participants not create any words or song, just make one long, relaxed tone with their breath. When the group is silent, take the next breath and tone, again, together. At the end of all three breaths and tones, participants are invited to make eye contact with one another, and experience our appreciation of one another silently. In releasing one another’s hands, the gathering is closed. (back to Index of Practices)