Chapter Nine: Notes on Educating Allies

(excerpt from Becoming an Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppressing in People, Third Edition (Black Point NS: Fernwood, 2015))


Much of my work for the past forty years has been in the field of adult education, specifically popular education. The term "popular education" is a translation from the Spanish, "educación popular."  Although it was developed in all of the Southern continents--Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands—it made a specific journey to Canada from the grassroots organizations of Central American during the 1970s.1 Its aim is to overcome the internalized oppression that marginalized people have learned from our oppressors and give us the analysis and action tools to move toward liberation.2 It is based firmly in a structural and historical understanding of oppression, where people are seen as part of larger systems, products of history, rooted in a class system that makes us very unequal in our access to power, legitimacy and resources.

By contrast, liberal education assumes that if we increase the knowledge and change the attitudes and behaviours of individuals, then organizations, institutions and society as a whole will also change.  This is, in general, the approach of "diversity education" and "cultural competence," although the naming of educational approaches can be quite flexible. Sometimes a teacher of facilitator who  refers to what they do as "diversity education" or "cultural competence" will turn out, on close inspection, to be taking a structural approach. Sometimes the individual educator is taking a structural approach within a program named "diversity education" by the institution within which he or she works. On the other hand, it is quite common for someone who refers to what they do as "equity" or "anti-oppression" education, terms that usually indicate a structural approach, to be working from a liberal perspective.

There is nothing wrong with building skills and knowledge in individuals, as "diversity" and "cultural competence" approaches seek to do, as far as it goes. Skill-building is an important component in the growth and development of allies. The problem is the assumption is that this activity by itself will change larger structures.

Popular education assumes that our institutions and culture can change only if we fundamentally change their patterns of status, power and resources, and this can happen only through collective organization and action informed by reflection. The process can be illustrated as a spiral, moving from experience to reflection, then to analysis, strategy and action, beginning again with the experience gained from taking action (See page 1).

As I began to think about my own role as oppressor as well as my experience of being oppressed, I joined many other educators experimenting with popular education, designed to dismantle oppression, adapting it to "unlearn" our role as oppressors. Sometimes called "unlearning oppression," "anti-oppression education" or "the pedagogy of the oppressor" (in reference to Paulo Freire's seminal work on popular education, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) (Curry-Stevens 2007, Schacht 2001), I tend to think of it as "educating allies."


What is the process of "Unlearning" Oppression?

My years of teaching would-be (and wouldn't-be) allies has given me many opportunities to observe how we think as oppressors. In Chapter Eight, I explained my division of workshop participants' responses roughly into four groups; "backlashers," "deniers," "guilty" and "allies."  (Read the relevant excerpt from Chapter Eight here)

The "allies" are already engaged in reflection and action, on a journey of liberation from their own experiences of oppression while taking responsibility for their privilege in the areas where they have it. For this group, the classic spiral of popular education works well. They are, however, a very small group of people. As I said in Chapter Eight, of the approximately 5000 individuals I taught during five years of leading mandatory employment equity courses for provincial civil servants, I met five individuals who fit into this category, although many others, particularly if their education was in the field of nursing or social work, knew the language of "structural oppression," "privilege" and "allies," but did not firmly grasp the concepts.

The challenge is to lead the "backlashers," the "guilty" and, by far the largest group in my Canadian context, the "deniers," to the point of becoming allies. In order to define the route through the barriers that stand in the way, it is necessary to understand what those barriers are.

As I said in Chapter Eight, "backlashers" like to repeat the worst stereotypes of oppressed groups and insist they are "true," that they have seen the behaviour in question personally or others close to them have witnessed it. "Backlashers" are deeply committed to individualism. Their approach to anyone different, let alone belonging to an oppressed group, boils down to what American anti-racism writer Jona olsson calls "the three crown jewels of U.S. social propaganda: the Rugged Individual, the Level Playing Field, and the Bootstrap Theory" (1997).  Their thinking is also deeply dualistic: "us" and "them," "normal" and "other," "natural" and "unnatural," "good" and "bad." In order to move toward becoming allies, they first need to have this binary approach to the world broken down and their view the oppressed and the oppressor groups expanded to see the humanity and complexity in both. This is very difficult for them, because their own sense of identity and "rightness" often comes from seeing themselves as "us" in opposition to "them." They need to see the complex web of oppression and privilege and understand their involvement in it. For that, they need to see the structural nature of oppression. In order to get around their extreme resistance and familiar "logic," these learning tasks must be accomplished by surprise, including humour, which they do not expect in these circumstances (other than the nasty, aggressive form of humour they use to control the room).

"Backlashers" will also usually distrust your leadership and, since they have not chosen to be present, they will resent being forced to attend. Humour and surprise help overcome their resistance. You must also pass the test of being honest, knowledgeable and completely unflappable.

For the "guilty," individualism takes the form of too much personal responsibility, an overblown sense of their own power, or rather, the power they think, in theory, they should have. This group suffers from a feeling of helplessness. They need to grasp the structural and historical nature of oppression to get a more realistic view of their place in it. This will aggravate their sense of helplessness, because the centuries-old dance of oppressor and oppressed can be overwhelming. In order to accept themselves as actors in a more realistic way, they need to see that our task is to do what we can in whatever realm of influence we have, joining with others for impact and support. They need to know that the struggle toward a more humane and compassionate world has gone on before them and will continue after them. They need activist role models.

Those who react to oppression and privilege with guilt also tend to have a strong notion of "good" and "bad." Dualistic thinking assumes that one is either racist/sexist/heterosexist/etc or not. If the "guilty" come to understand they are part of an oppressor group, therefore they must be racist/sexist/heterosexist/etc and "bad." Like the "backlasher" group, the "guilty" need their dualism expanded into more humanity and complexity. They need to separate guilt, which rightfully belongs to the realm of conscious choice, from responsibility, which includes action to change circumstances handed to us by history and structures outside our personal control.

The largest group, the "deniers," are, understandably, viewing the world through a liberal ideology—understandably, because liberalism is by far the dominant ideology in Canadian society. In Chapter One, I described the liberal approach to the world, which stresses common humanity and good intensions, ignores the ongoing impact of history and conceives of the world as made up entirely of individuals. A liberal worldview is so strongly individualistic that the systemic structures of our collective life, particularly wealth and power, are invisible.

A liberal worldview is also dualistic, with much focus on "good" and "bad" individuals, strongly identified with "good" and "bad" intent. When they come to understand the structural nature of oppression, "deniers" response can be that they are, therefore, "bad" people, or being labelled as such, which can lead to defensiveness and reinforce their denial. The defensiveness/denial often takes the form of defending intentions: "I'm a good person; I didn't mean to hurt anyone; therefore I can't be racist/sexist/heterosexist/etc." This group, like the "backlashers" and "guilty," needs to have its dualistic notions replaced with a more complex worldview. They often also need to learn how much of human action is based in unconscious biases and attitudes, so that they can grasp how little intention has to do with it and take responsibility for their own privilege without seeing themselves as "bad" people. This group, in particular, cannot move forward without grasping the structural nature of oppression.

If the session is mandatory, "deniers" will sometimes resent being forced to attend because they don't feel they need it and have other pressures on their time. Very early in the session, they must be surprised by what they don't know. Some of the same exercises that catch the attention of the "backlashers" with surprise and humour also work to pique the interest of the "deniers," letting them know there might be something for them to learn from the session.

Given my understanding of the three main groups I find among the participants in ally education, I cannot overemphasize my belief that when ally education is effective, it is because it successfully challenges the three key blocks in participants' thinking: their ahistorical, individualistic and dualistic worldview.  It does this by leading them to understand the structural nature of oppression.

Having come to this conclusion several years ago, I was delighted to discover The Emperor has no Clothes: Teaching About Race and Racism to People Who Don't Want to Know by Tema Okun (2010). Ms Okun is an anti-racism educator with experience in both community-based organizations and the National Louis University in Chicago, where she teaches in the Department of Educational Leadership. Building on a thorough analysis of our "normal" and invisible "white supremacy culture" and the dynamics of "privileged resistance," she lays out a process for a fundamental cultural shift away from racism. Her prescription centres on changing three deeply-held elements of North American cultural belief: the right to profit, individualism and binary thinking.

The right to profit Okun defines as the cultural valuing of money over human life, making the growth and metastasization of cancer capitalism, as portrayed by John McMurtry (2013), possible. Because the global system of private wealth and power is an evolution of colonialism, the exploitation of the peoples of Africa, Asia, North and South America to benefit the people of Europe, it has white supremacy for its foundation.

Individualism, according to Okun, grows from the right to profit, embedding in us the notion that we are separate from community, culture, our species and our planet; that what we do or don't do does not affect anyone else, that we can get rich without making someone else poor, that our personal experience defines reality. Individualism makes it almost impossible for us to see larger structures of wealth and power, oppression and privilege. It also makes it possible to believe that oppression is a matter of intent: if I don't intend to participate in racism, then I'm not racist.

Binary thinking, Okun's third cultural keystone, is also an outgrowth of colonialism/capitalism, in that it divides what and who is valued from what and who is not, who has the right to own from who is owned, the side we are on from the side we fight against. This simplification of, and therefore ability to control, the world, unfortunately traps us in an understanding of ourselves as either good or bad, right or wrong, making it extremely difficult to grasp the complexity of the systems of oppression and privilege in which we live.

Tema Okun boils down the essential beliefs that provide the foundation for oppression and privilege into these three: the right to profit, individualism and binary thinking. I feel that much of what she says about the right to profit complements my analysis in Chapters Two and Three, describing how oppression came about and how it is held in place. Her emphasis on individualism and binary thinking matches mine on individualism and dualism. I have adopted ahistorical thinking as my third cultural barrier; that is, Western culture's failure to understand how history has shaped structures that continue to operate, giving privilege to some at the expense of others. In order to overcome oppression, the past must be confronted and healed. Remember the quote from Ann-Marie MacDonald's eleven-year-old daughter in Chapter Four: "If you forget the past, it grows inside you," a saying as true for cultures, nations and institutions as it is for individuals. Yet one of the most frequent objections of "backlashers" and "deniers" is: "That's all in the past; they should just let it go." Okun places the history of colonialism at the heart of her analysis of the right to profit.

We have carved up the concepts and named them a bit differently, and yet I feel that we are talking about the same educational task. My feeling while reading Tema Okun's work was delight and recognition, not only at this similarity in our understanding of the cultural underpinnings of oppressor thinking, but in many other aspects of our teaching practice as well. I think that The Emperor has no Clothes should be required reading for every educator working against oppression.

Returning to the three key ideas that block people from becoming an allies as I have named them, individualism, dualism and an ahistorical worldview, I feel that leading potential allies past these barriers requires that they grasp the concept of a structural worldview. The next question, obviously, is: how?

Part of the task is the content of ally education. It must successfully communicate the concept of a structural worldview to people who have been conditioned all their lives to see themselves as individuals in an ahistorical, binary reality. The second piece is facilitation, learning to approach the "backlashers," "guilty" and "deniers" skillfully with exercises and discussion designed to overcome their particular blocks to becoming allies, but before discussing either, I want to talk about the context of ally education. No matter how effective the content or skilled the facilitation of ally education, it cannot be effective without a larger organizational context of structural and cultural change.


The Organizational Context of Ally Education

When many educators picture education, we tend to see a group of people gathered in a room for a course or workshop. This is sometimes all we, as teachers and facilitators, are given to work with, and if the course is long enough, an academic term for example, there is enough space, time and commitment for ally education to take place. All too often, however, organizations want a quick fix, a day or weekend of "sensitivity training" or "diversity training." One of my teachers called this kind of session "hit and run" education.3 When equity education is attempted without being grounded in a larger, longer campaign for organizational change, in my opinion, it does more harm than good. Even if we do accomplish some positive change in that group of people on that day, there are no structures in place to reinforce and carry it forward.

A true effort to make cultural change in an organization involves a very long time frame, measured in years, sometimes decades. Resources are required, not only to make change activities possible, but to signal to everyone that this effort is valued by the organization at the highest levels. Such an effort has at its core a group of committed individuals who are allowed the time to reflect, learn and plan, with the organizational power to implement those plans. The aim is to transform the way power and resources are used in and by the organization--that is, structural change--moving it toward greater equity and collaboration. New management and leadership skills must be developed and all must be held to account, including the highest levels in the hierarchy.

Such change is possible. My work with provincial civil servants was guided by a Diversity Roundtable representing all of the departments, support units and unions, For a time, conditions within the civil service were such that they were able to make some important changes, including employment equity and respectful workplace policies, education and criteria for management training and hiring, supported by the uppermost levels of the organization. Later, it seemed to me, the loss of some key people and collisions with barriers, particularly in some departments, caused the momentum to fade. I was not close enough to the situation to know why, or even if my perception is accurate; however, my point is that during my work under the guidance of the Diversity Roundtable, they referred repeatedly to the cultural change that had been accomplished in the organization by the inter-departmental committee working on issues of health and safety. This campaign, over a couple of decades, had transformed the civil service into a workplace where there was universal awareness of health and safety, and universal support for correcting problems that came to light.

If courses and workshops are not grounded in a long term, committed organizational effort to achieve change, they can generate, at best, token change. The organization checks "diversity" off its list, posters appear on walls and the "right" books are purchased for resource shelves. People pick up "politically correct" language, helping them pass as open-minded and tolerant without really grappling with the continuous, structural, collective nature of unlearning oppression. This can lead members of oppressed groups to trust them when they shouldn't and it becomes more difficult to identify the real sources of injustice.

At worst, "diversity" education out of context can create a backlash in which the most vulnerable people, the very minority employees the program was designed to support, are further victimized. In the presence of bullying, corruption and poor management, justice is not possible. All the "education" does is erode the fragile ledge the "different" employees or other participants in the organization are standing on, "blowing their cover," as the expression goes, making it more difficult for them to "play along" in whatever way they must to survive in the organization. They become scapegoats for their colleagues' anger over the pressure to take part, particularly if the "education" is mandatory.

Mandatory diversity/equity education can be controversial (Kalev et al. 2006, Bell et al. 2008, Bregman 2012). It can comes under attack for generating backlash as described above and it is a pale cousin when compared with the depth of organizational cultural change that can be generated by voluntary education in a setting where people have the motivation to take part (Velasquez 1998). However, I strongly believe that mandatory education has an essential place in organizational efforts to achieve equity, especially in the early stages. Later it can take its limited place alongside voluntary education. Mandatory education makes it clear to all employees that the organization places a high value on its equity policies and practices, and that everyone in the organization will be held accountable to them. It can make talking about equity less scary by "breaking the ice" and introducing respectful language for discussing the issues. It can establish basic concepts and reach those who need it most, those who would never volunteer to take part given the choice.

However, mandatory education carries great risks, as described above, generating backlash, exposing already vulnerable people to increased bullying and harassment, making it possible to claim that what can be done has been done and disguising the roots of the inequity that continues to plague the organization.

Mandatory education can backfire completely if it is not compulsory at all levels. While working with provincial civil servants, I frequently heard: "If this is so important, why isn't our manager here?" Although I admit I would rather have participants challenge me over the absence of their manager than deal with a hostile manager. When it is the managers undercutting the intent of the session, everyone else follows their example or at least stays silent. On the other hand, when a manager is present and taking the session seriously, even with high resistance in the group, the tone was respectful. Some of my best sessions took place in departments notorious for their harassment and rough culture, but with a skilled and thoughtful manager modeling the line between honest questioning and destructive bullying.

In order for mandatory education to contribute what it can and minimize the risks, it must have a well-thought-out place in a much larger campaign for organizational change and it must be competently designed and facilitated by teachers skilled and experienced in this type of education. A teacher who does not thoroughly grasp the concepts and demonstrate being an ally in their own actions, who does not have the skills to deal with the deep emotions that will be stirred up, panics under attack, or gives up control of the room to the "backlashers," can solidify oppressive attitudes, contributing to backlash against the most vulnerable people involved.

If you are considering leadership of ally education and are not completely clear on the concepts involved or do not have the skills and experience to deal with attacks and strong emotional reactions, please do not experiment. Find an appropriate opportunity to learn or apprentice with someone more experienced, The aphorism "every little bit helps" does not apply in this case. The risks are such that doing nothing is sometimes the better choice.


The Basic Structure of Popular Education

Let us assume that you have a sound context for educating allies: a community or organization with a long term commitment to develop a structure and culture of equity. Let's also assume that you have the skills and experience to facilitate this type of education. Now it's time to design your workshops or course. What will it look like?

The basic structure of popular education includes: naming ourselves (Who are we?), reflecting on our experience (What's happening?), analysis (Why is it happening?), strategy (What are we going to do about it?) and, finally, action. The next round begins with naming experience again (What happened as a result of what we did?), analysis (Why did it happen that way?), strategy (What are we going to do next?), the next action, and so on. The process can be illustrated as a spiral:


Spiral Model of Learning

See the handout here.


Naming Ourselves

Popular education does not assume that we are individuals on a "level playing field," as liberal education does. We come to our gathering with different genders, skin colours, ability, age, education, backgrounds, genetic heritage, class and class origins, ideologies and beliefs, sexual orientations and access to power and resources. Popular education is never impersonal or "objective." In a short learning experience, a workshop for example, there may not be time to do much reflection on who we are, but our differences will have an impact on our collective learning experience nonetheless. In a longer time frame, a course for example, it is important to build in reflection on who we are, coming back to it from time to time, deepening the exploration with each round. In a shorter time, it is important to at least learn everyone's name and something about that person—why they are there, what they are looking for from the session, some hopes, fears and expectations. Even the act of hearing each person's voice breaks the ice for his or her contribution later.

In any session longer than a day, and many educators would say any session regardless of length, it is important to discuss ground rules. What do people expect from one another? What does respectful interaction look like? What is the line between honest self-expression and disrespect? What will happen if someone is not keeping to the agreed-upon ground rules?

In the Toolbox later in this Chapter, you will find a small selection of exercises appropriate for  "Naming Ourselves." Many others can be found in the resources listed at the end of the Toolbox section.

The "Naming Ourselves" part of a session is especially important for "denier" and "guilty" participants, who need to deepen their analysis of who they are in their structural context; however, when a group or a significant part of it is hostile, the "Naming Ourselves" component gives the "backlashers" an opportunity to set the tone. When teaching mandatory sessions, I began cutting this section quite short, just a brief  go-around of introductions and expectations, so that I could move as quickly as possible into "Reflection on Experience" with an exercise that included humour and surprise.


Reflecting on Experience

In popular education as it was originally conceived, the subject of reflection is the experience of oppression. As explained in Chapter Eight, athough we are taught not to recognize our experience of being oppressed, it is there to be observed, because oppression can be seen, heard and felt by those who are its targets. The experience can be hidden under layers of fear, shame and denial, as discussed in Chapter Six, and making it visible can be painful, but the end result is relief, healing and new sources of power and support.

Our experience as a member of a dominant group is much more difficult to see.  For one thing, a basic feature of the oppression is that we are cut off from our ability to empathize with those we oppress. If we are aware of it at all, we tend to get defensive or write it off as not very serious—“They are just whining” or "playing the race card." For another thing, the privileges that we obtain from oppressing others are invisible to us. For a third thing, oppression is structural. We derive benefits from being male or white or straight or able-bodied without taking any personal action against a woman, a racialized person, an LGBT person or a person with a disability.

Discussing our experience as members of oppressor groups directly can only be done, as mentioned earlier, with experienced allies. Learners who fall into the "backlasher," "guilty" or "denier" groups have internalized "scripts" filled with stereotypes about "us" and "them." Any attempt to simply talk about the experience of privilege in our lives encourages participants to insist on these stereotyped responses more strongly. When you expect that a substantial proportion of participants will fit into these three groups, which is almost always the case in Canada, the experience component must be built into the session and contain an element of surprise. Examples of exercises to accomplish this, such as "Barnga," "Step Forward; Step Back" and simulated reversal exercises, can be found in the Toolkit section at the end of this Chapter.

An important principle of popular education is that the teacher or facilitator is also a learner. It is typical for a facilitator to share the agenda before beginning and negotiate the process along the way. Research has demonstrated that life-changing learning can result from leaders making themselves vulnerable and expressing their own struggle with their role as oppressor or oppressed (Griffith 1982). Making yourself vulnerable in a session however, is appropriate only when reflecting on an experience of oppression or working with experienced allies. In the presence of "guilty" or "denier" participants, it causes confusion, defensiveness and leads to unproductive arguments and tangents. In the presence of "backlasher" participants, it can be a disaster. They tend to have a "power-over" mentality which does not hesitate to take advantage of the leaders' vulnerability and use it to control the session.


Analysis

After reflecting on the experience of oppression, it is important to move on to exercises designed to help the group understand what oppressive structures are, and how and why they are put in place and maintained. There are many tools for this process: drawing diagrams, making human sculptures, acting out skits, doing research, putting yourself in the position of someone responsible for creating an oppressive society (as in the example used in Chapter Two).

In my experience, there is a temptation to skip over analytical work, perhaps because it is a critical, intellectual process, and we live in a society where many people have been put down and shut out by those who use only this method of teaching or make it into a competitive activity, in our schools and universities. Do not skip over it. Analysis in small groups can be exciting and revealing, and provides an essential basis for the steps that follow.  I have described two of my favourite exercises for analysis in the Toolkit later in this Chapter and there are good instructions for many others in resources such as those listed at the end of that section.

If you plan to present content--a talk, video or some other form of presentation--the analysis segment of the process is the place to do it, building on the participants' discussion during the naming, reflection and early analysis pieces of the process. It is at this point in an educating allies workshop that I make a presentation on the structural nature of oppression. By this time I always have a great deal to work with, picking up on the usually liberal analysis that participants have produced and using their own words to expand their understanding. The Toolkit section includes "The Iceberg,"  my favourite handout and talk for accomplishing this.


Strategy and Action

Popular education, is not complete without action. The toolkit includes a handout with steps for planning a strategy for action. Participants who will be taking action together can work through all or part of it, and bring their plan back to the rest of the group. At the very least, look at what changes people want to make, who has the power to make those changes, who should be involved and what leverage points are available to the participants to move the process forward.

If people take part in a session as individuals, they must work out their action plans on their own, but they can share them and make contracts to call one another at some point in the future to ask how each other’s plans are coming along. When people take part as members of groups or are all part of one organization, the process of building a strategy for action is a more complex and satisfying one. The plan can be very specific and can include determining different roles for different people and setting meetings in the future to evaluate progress and adjust the plan.

In my experience, the strategy and action component of popular education can be used in the process of educating allies only when the participants have chosen to be present. They can be experienced allies, or members of the "guilty" group. In fact, strategy and action are particularly important for the "guilty" group.  "Deniers" can move on to strategy and action only once they have ceased to be "deniers," but "backlashers" should not be lead into strategy and action at all. The strategies and actions they think about are not what any anti-oppression activist would want to encourage. If you are able to surprise some of the "backlashers" into catching a glimpse of what oppression is and feels like, challenge their stereotyped thinking and introduce them to the concept of the structural nature of oppression, in my experience you've done very well and should leave it at that.


Teaching Skills

Part of the strategy and action component of a session can include teaching participants skills for identifying and responding to oppression. Sample exercises can be found in the Toolkit and Resource sections. If participants are working toward specific action, this is an opportunity to learn the skills they might need to carry it out. If the session is more general and participants will not be taking specific follow-up action together, the strategy and action component of the workshop can consist almost entirely of skill-building exercises followed by reflection on how the skills might be applied in their life, organizations or work.


Reflection, Evaluation, Closure

When the time available for a workshop or course is very full, as educating allies sessions always seem to be, it is tempting not to save enough time to close properly. This is a mistake. The closing process ties together the loose ends, gives a sense of completion and helps participants become conscious of their learning and take the experience away in a useful form.


Reflection is a time for participants to go back over the session and talk about what they have learned.


Evaluation means collecting feedback from the participants, aloud or in writing, that will help improve the session the next time it is offered.


Closure should be quick and energetic, something to get people on their feet, say a final word, and feel a clear ending to the process. There are many tools for this.


A Note on Emotional Responses

As explained in Chapter Four, at the core of our roles both as oppressor and oppressed is the unhealed hurt of our own experiences of oppression. As a result, any educational activity designed to unlock these experiences, no matter how academic, will also arouse strong feelings. For those who experience the oppression under discussion, the frustration comes from the defensive, angry or guilty reaction of those who don’t. It can be yet another experience of oppression. For those who are in the dominant group in relation to the oppression under discussion, there is frustration because of their difficulty in seeing the oppression, as explained in Chapter Eight.

In “Teaching About Diversity: Navigating the Emotional Undercurrents,” Kate Kirkham of Brigham Young University talks about this source of emotional response on the part of dominant group members when race or gender are discussed in a university classroom:


Individual majority group members do not hear or see in their day-to-day interactions the very examples the minority person offers as proof of the existence of racism or sexism. Certainly majority group members do not pass on stories to each other about what they did to contribute to sexism in their organization. The research on sexual harassment, for example, has recorded that it is a few of the men who do most of the harassing. The problem is that the behaviors of many of the men may not make it obvious who is the one who will later harass. Several men may “enjoy” a sexist joke but only one may continue his “enjoyment” of sexism by harassing women he works with in the organization. However, the men that allow the joke, all “look” like potential harassers. The men may individually (i.e., personally) dismiss or tolerate the joking without seeing how it fuels the one or two men who will continue to bring inappropriate sexual conduct into the workplace. The women who hear or hear about the joking may be weary of all those who allowed it. The men who allow joking, language or inappropriate discussion of women’s appearance to occur at one point in time will not be present later when the behavior of other men becomes even more severely sexist. (1988/89:53)


Kirkham’s example illustrates the frustration of a discussion on gender or race for members of the dominant group, particularly if they understand human relationships to be personal only and fail to see the structural elements. Another of her examples, also mentioned previously, shows this gap in understanding even more clearly:


When asked to respond to the question who really is racist and/or sexist, many majority group individuals, in my research and teaching experience, assume: “If I didn’t intend something as racist or sexist then it is not racist/sexist.” In other words, the general criteria they use in testing for racism/sexism is an overpersonalized one. They believe that personal motive determines the presence of racism or sexism in interactions.

An example of this assumption is present in the pattern of reactions of a majority group member in a graduate organizational behavior course during a discussion of racism and sexism in the workplace. Every comment made by a woman or minority student in the class was responded to by him (as soon as he had a chance) as if they had been directing their comments to him personally therefore indicting his intentions. He resented this and kept saying so with increasing emotional intensity. With some assistance, he identified the core reason for his reactions. He became aware that he was using what he thought was intended as the only legitimate criteria. If the point someone was making did not fit what he thought was intended in an example, then it was not an example of racism or sexism. Because he was emotionally defending what he thought were personal and unfair accusations, he could not broaden his understanding of racism and sexism. Once he realized that others were using criteria that included intended and unintended outcomes of behavior, he could better understand their examples.

An additional insight came from the above class discussion and indicates the usefulness of surfacing underlying assumptions that trigger emotions in a discussion. Many of the majority group members, who had been quick to label a minority group member as over-sensitive, became more aware of how their own version of over-sensitivity was showing up with just as much emotional conviction behind it. (1988/89:51)


I once asked a colleague how he became an ally to women. He said: “I finally understood that I may not be a perpetrator of violence against women, but I’m a perpetuator.”6 Many others have not yet taken this step from understanding oppression in personal terms to understanding it as a structural reality. The result is that they cannot hear the structural reality discussed without feeling accused of something terrible and reacting with either guilt or anger.

When the setting is one in which deep feelings are expected, the framework and skills will most likely be in place to deal with emotional responses when they emerge. For example, in Margaret Green’s work with women exploring their racism, the setting was a therapy group and Green herself is a therapist (Green 1987). This is an ideal situation, with concepts, tools and skilled facilitation specifically designed for exploring the  emotion and painful memories that underlie oppressive behaviour.

In other settings, the emotions connected with the topic may not be as easily integrated into the discussion. As Kate Kirkham illustrates in her article quoted above, she uses classroom discussion to explore the underlying assumptions students have about the legitimacy of the subject, their definitions of racism and sexism, their concept of what constitutes “proof” that racism and sexism exist and their methods for defining what is a problem and how big or small a problem it is. As she says in her article: “Ferreting out the core assumptions … enables the emotional intensity to be more richly explored for all involved in a discussion” (1988/89:49).

Whatever tools you have for processing the emotion in your educational setting, you will be called upon to use them when you enter the arena of educating allies. If you are not confident of your skills in handling emotional response, get some training before trying any experiments. As explained above, you can easily do more harm than good by venturing into ally education without the proper tools.


Knowing What to Say

One of the issues for facilitators of ally education is knowing what to say when participants make comments that come from a guilty or denier perspective, and even more so when the comment comes from a hostile "backlasher." With experience, you develop a collection of effective responses that are appropriate and comfortable for you and specific participants.

For example, when working with people, particularly men, who come from an outdoor, hunting and fishing culture, the target of attack is often Aboriginal people because of conflict over hunting and fishing rights. The specific stereotypes in their negative comments are based on the symptoms of poverty and cultural destruction in Aboriginal communities. I found an image that worked very well in this situation, borrowed from Malidoma Patrice Somé, a teacher, author and Elder of the Dagara people of Burkina Faso. In The Healing Wisdom of Africa (2002), he says:

"Readers may be wondering how this harmonious picture of villagers chanting and singing together as they shape pots or grow yams fits with the more common picture they have been shown of African children starving and of the grim specter of death bearing down upon tribal communities. What I must emphasize here is that the energy required to sustain the harmony we are talking about is so delicate that it can easily be destroyed by the slightest intrusion, and such intrusion has clearly taken place through colonialism. Africa today is not what it used to be. … These images have cemented a certain stereotype of Africans, a stereotype created by the destruction wrought through colonialism. When colonialism, old or new, disrupts the energy working like an umbrella to protect people, the people under the umbrella will be exposed to the elements. Like fish in a lake whose water has suddenly evaporated, the fish will die. The great problem is that the fish have been brought to public attention after the drying of the lake; beholders may not remember the fish as it was or could have been in a full lake." (69)

The image of fish dying in a drained lake resonates so well with people used to the outdoors that I have had participants refer back to it, interrupting their own negative stereotypes, half expressed, with a comment like, "Oh yeah, the fish in the empty lake."

Another example comes from the fact that I am a lesbian. When the target of participants' hatred is LGBT people, I can sometimes stop the attack in its tracks and bring about a more positive learning discussion simply by coming out. Occasionally this does not work and the rest of the session can then be a difficult challenge.

In learning how to respond well to negative comments, I appreciate the work of Dr Ishu Ishiyama, who teaches education and counselling psychology at the University of British Columbia. He has developed a workshop model called "Anti-discrimination Response Training" (2006). It's purpose is to build participants' skills in what he calls "active witnessing," or responding constructively to remarks and situations of racism, discrimination and disrespect. During the workshop, participants watch vignettes and practice responses. I have never had the privilege of attending one of Dr Ishiyama's workshops, but there is a sample trainer's manual online [static.diversityteam.org/files/79/a-r-t-trainers-manual.pdf?1268182977] and a friend shared a workshop handout with me. What I find useful is the organization of different possible responses into categories. For example:


Assertive Interjections ("I don't mean to put you on the spot, but I can't remain silent.");

Personal Emotional Reactions ("I don't feel comfortable with what you just said.");

Naming the Racism or Discrimination ("Maybe you don't mean it, but that sounds like a racist remark.");

Disagreement ("I disagree.");

Questioning the Validity of the Statement ("Always? Everyone?);

Pointing out the Hurtful or Offensive Nature of the Comment ("If you said that to me, I'd be really upset.");

Putting the Offender on the Spot ("Are you really saying that women aren't as smart as men?");

Empathic Confrontation ("Would you mind sharing with me what led you to say this?");

Supporting the Victim ("I want you to know you're not alone.");

Approaching External People ("We need your advice and guidance. This is what happened today…")

Approaching Co-witnesses ("Did you hear what I heard?").


For someone like me who does not think quickly on my feet, having these categories in my head helps me select a response I think might be effective in the circumstances.


A Note on Homogeneous and Mixed Groups

It makes sense that members of an oppressor group should work together to overcome our problem. We should avoid taking any energy away from the group we oppress by making them listen to our ignorance or asking them to teach us. Some have used such settings very effectively, particularly because being away from those we oppress allows for completely open exploration of attitudes without fear of hurting someone. Margaret Green in her method of working with women to unlearn racism demonstrates such work at its best (1987).

The pitfall of all-oppressor groups, however, is that they can easily slip into being too comfortable. Good education treads an important line between being too comfortable and too threatening. The facilitator of an all-oppressor group must be careful to create an educational design that presents challenges to the participants.

When I first decided to deal with my own racism and contribute to the struggle against racism by developing a workshop, I began by talking with several African-Nova Scotian colleagues and friends about the idea. All but one opposed the idea of a white facilitator leading an all-white workshop on racism. They felt that the misconceptions white people hold about Black people and our tendency to deny racism would go unchallenged. It is hard for us to see our own racism, no matter how long we have been working at the process of unlearning it.

Because of these tendencies to develop blind spots and too much comfort in oppressor-only groups, mixed groups do work well for educating allies. However, it is very, very important that the members of the oppressed group present understand the purpose and process of the workshop and agree to take part. If possible, they should be paid or honoured in some way as resource people.

Another way of dealing with the inequalities between oppressor and oppressed in a workshop might be to design two parallel processes that interact. Members of the oppressed group work on the questions from their point of view; for example, “What are the stages you have gone through in coming to understand your oppression?” Members of the oppressor group work on the questions from their point of view; for example, “What are the stages you have gone through in your process of becoming an ally?” Later both groups report and reflect together.

A third method is to design a session intended to look at several forms of oppression and how they interact. Small groups or individuals reflect on their oppression, all using the same questions. Later they make presentations and all reflect together on the relationships among oppressions. The “Oppression/Privilege Workshop” described above is an example of such a process. Years ago a group in Halifax planned to test a two-day version of such a workshop, but could not find enough resources or participants.

When a workshop is reflecting upon an invisible form of oppression, there is no way at the outset to tell who is or is not a member of the oppressed group. In this case, always assume you are working with a mixed group and make sure your language is inclusive. It also works well to make a rule at the outset that members of the oppressor group must hide their identity. In a heterosexism workshop, straight people learn a great deal from having to hide their wedding rings, change pronouns when talking about their partners and refrain from saying, “of course, I’m heterosexual, but.…” It is very important to reflect on this experience later in the workshop.

Homogenous or Mixed Leadership Teams?

The questions that come into play when deciding about homogenous or mixed groups of participants all play a part in decisions about the leadership as well. There is a spectrum of opinion, from those who believe the leadership should be made up only of those who experience the form of oppression in question, through those who prefer mixed teams, to those who believe that the oppressor group should be working on their own problem separately. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these options.

Leadership by the oppressed group in question can be limited by lack of understanding of the processes potential allies must go through and the risk and pain involved. Also, there is always the question of whether the energy required could perhaps be better used in the struggles of the leaders’ own people, rather than in educating allies. It is easy as well to put participants in a position of “damned if they do, damned if they don’t.” For example, when I participate in heterosexism workshops, I want participants to express their oppressive attitudes so that I can work with them in the learning process, but sometimes I do not want the pain involved in hearing those sick old clichés once again.

On the other hand, leaders from the oppressed group have direct experience of the oppression to communicate, and the experience in a workshop of reversing the usual roles of oppressor and oppressed can raise responses which provide rich opportunities for reflection.

Leadership by and for an oppressor group has the same problems as a homogenous group of participants—the facilitators can reinforce misconceptions and the process can become too comfortable. However, it is very important for members of the oppressor group to take responsibility for the oppression and to push one another to make changes without asking the oppressed group to spend energy on them once again.

Mixed leadership has the benefits of both—the communication of experience and challenge of having members of the oppressed group in leadership; and the comfort and knowledge of becoming an ally that members of the oppressor group can provide. A mixed team can model a respectful working relationship for participants. One potential drawback is that the leadership team can become so involved in their own struggle to maintain a good working relationship across divisive histories that attention to the participants’ needs can suffer.

Reflections on Educating Allies

I have done many different kinds of adult education in the past forty years. No two sessions are ever alike, but I have found nothing as unpredictable as educating allies. Even if the sequence of exercises is exactly the same, the workshops are totally different experiences. Difficult emotions are involved: hostility, guilt, denial, fear, embarrassment, pain. The experiences being communicated are powerful. Both of these things can also be said for sessions where people are working on their own form of oppression, but for some reason the mix in a group of allies is more complicated and explosive. As I have experimented with ally education, the process has gradually become more predictable to me, although there are still many surprises. I expect this learning to continue far into the future.

Educating allies is also a very satisfying form of education. Bridges are built on the spot, goodwill and risk-taking are obvious, communication takes place across the barriers of centuries and experiments are initiated which have immediate importance in the process of building a new, more cooperative society. According to my analysis, this is exactly what we must do if we can hope for a future on this planet. Any degree of new learning or successful experimentation that unfolds during these sessions gives me great hope.



Endnotes

1.The story of this migration of an educational approach can be found in:

Arnold, Rick and Bev Burke. 1983. A Popular Education Handbook: An Educational Experience Taken From Central America and Adapted to the Canadian Context. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Anrold, Rick, Deborah Barndt and Bev Burke. 1985. A New Weave: Popular Education in Canada and Central America. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.


2. The basic principles of popular education can be found in the work of Paulo Freire Freire, Paulo. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Seabury.

———. 1972. Cultural Action for Freedom. Harmondsworth UK: Penguin.

———. 1973. Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: Seabury.


3.Thank you to Hélène Moussa for this term. She used it many years ago and I have used it ever since.


4.A film, entitled The Eye of the Storm, recording the original “Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes” experiment, was made in 1971 (Elliot 1971). In 1985  PBS Frontline interviewed the students fifteen years later and produced a documentary called A Class Divided (Elliot 1985). More recently, the video, Blue Eyed (Elliot 1995), includes footage of a group of adults participating in the exercise and an interview with Jane Elliot. There is also a book on the exercise, including interviews with the original grade-three students twenty years later (Peters 1987). Another powerful video of a classroom experiment in learning about race and class, useful in the education of allies, is War Between the Classes (1985), from Marlin Motion Pictures, 211 Watline Ave., Mississauga, ON, L4Z 1P3.


5. This quote appears in many places, usually accredited as "paraphrased" or "derived from" First Century Jewish scholar Hillel the Elder, who said: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I and if not now, when?"


6. Thank you John Hugh Edwards.



Toolkit

The purpose of this toolkit is to provide a small selection of group exercises which I have used for many years in ally education. They are "tried and true," and I can give you advice from my experience on what they can and cannot accomplish. Some of the exercises come from specific resource books and websites where you will find many other ideas and techniques for ally education. I have listed a few at the end of the Toolkit section.

"The Flower of Power," "Powerline" and "Step Forward, Step Back"

History: The “Flower of Power” was invented by Enid Lee (1985) and further developed by members of the Doris Marshall Institute in Toronto (Arnold et al. 1991:87). I learned the Powerline from Eileen Paul of Resourcewomen. "Step Forward, Step Back" exists in many forms and places. The version I use comes from the website "Organizing for Power, Organizing for Change." [organizingforpower.org/anti-oppression-resources-exercises].


Use: These exercises are useful in the Naming  and Reflection components of the popular education process, and work with both willing and unwilling participants.


Description: The Flower of Power is a handout, illustrated below.  Each participant receives a copy. In the centre of the flower, various forms of oppression, such as sex, race, ethnicity, and age, are listed. The inner petals are blank. Participants fill in their own social identity in relation to each form of oppression listed in the centre—are they male or female; white or racialized, LGBT or straight; have they suffered from ethnic oppression. In the original exercise, the outer petals are also blank; working together, participants fill in the group they think are dominant in our society in regard to each oppression. If the time for the exercise is short or if you suspect the group will spend all their time arguing about which group is dominant and miss the point of the exercise, the outer petals can be filled in before the flower is photocopied for the participants.

After the inner and outer petals are filled in, it is helpful to have participants colour in the sections where their inner and outer petals match with one translucent marker or highlighter, the pairs where they do not match with another. This makes the participants’ experiences of oppression and privilege in different parts of their identities stand out vividly.


The Flower of Power

See the handout here.


Powerline is an alternative to the “Flower of Power.” Participants are asked to imagine a line drawn down the middle of the floor. One side has power and privilege, the other side is oppressed. As different forms of oppression are called out, people go to one side of the line or the other. For example, when the issue is sex, men go to the privileged side of the line, women to the oppressed side. When we are considering ethnicity, those who have experienced oppression by another ethnic group go to one side, and those who have experienced being in a dominant ethnic group go to the other. There are sometimes people in the middle who have experienced both or neither side of a given form of oppression.


In "Step Forward, Step Back," participants begin on the same line drawn across the room. They step forward or back in response to a series of questions. For example, step forward if your family owned their own home, or step back if your family taught you that police are something to be feared.

A note of caution applies to all three of these exercises. People often have to, or prefer to, keep their identities in some of these categories hidden. Don't ask participants to step forward or back, or to one side of the line, on issues such as sexual orientation, addiction, psychiatric diagnosis or childhood abuse. It works to mention the category as one that has an impact on people's experience of oppression or dominance and explain why you are not asking people to move in response to the question. I have had people upset because this approach denied them the opportunity to "come out," but most are grateful and the point is made regardless.

The “Flower of Power” works best when group members are intellectually oriented and all have literacy skills. The “Power Line”  and "Step Forward, Step Back" are more active, bring laughter and energy into the workshop and avoid the question of who in the group cannot read and write the dominant language. The “Flower of Power” provides more room for learning about which groups are dominant in our society; the “Power Line” gives less room for this discussion and is useful when you think a group is likely to spend all of its time debating who is dominant, diverting attention from the primary lesson of the exercise: that is, that we all have experience on both sides of the line. As mentioned above, the discussion of which group is dominant can also be avoided with the “Flower of Power” if the inside spaces are already filled out before the flower is copied for the participants. "Step Forward, Step Back" can provide the surprise necessary to begin engaging hostile participants.

All three exercises give a good starting point from which participants can reflect on their experiences on both sides of the line and the lessons learned on each side that can be useful when one is on the other side. The group can focus their discussion around the questions: “What did you learn from filling out the “Flower of Power”/participating in the “Power Line/Step Forward, Step Back?” “What are your experiences in the areas where you are a member of the oppressed group?” “What are your experiences when you are a member of the dominant group?” and “What have you learned from your experiences of oppression that could be useful to you when you are the oppressor trying to become an ally?”

In my experience, these exercises quickly bring out participants' readiness to learn to be allies. People who are already allies will have no problem with the premise of the exercise, moving quickly into reflection. People with a liberal worldview will argue with the exercise's structure-based ordering into oppressed and dominant groups. People who are guilty will use the information that surfaces in the exercise to be hard on themselves. Deniers will become angry about sorting themselves into oppressor and oppressed. "Backlashers" will resist the process altogether. Regardless of the response, the exercise serves to introduce the basic concept of structural dominance and oppression and can stimulate a discussion of our different group histories and identities.



Differences

History: Differences was created by the brilliant Tiagi (Sivasailam Thiagarajan) and is included in Tiagi's 100 Favourite Games (2006)


Uses: Differences works in the Naming component of a session, with willing or unwilling participants.


Description: In the Differences exercise, participants answer the question "I am a(n)…" ten times, listing their responses on a piece of paper. These are placed on a central table, written side down. Each person picks up someone else's list and, using a handout of categories such as "age," activity level," "gender," "language," "profession" and "marital status," places each response in a category. Together the group gathers information on what category was most common for a first response, what categories were most common overall, which identities are associated with dominant or oppressor groups, were dominant or oppressor identities more common on people's lists, etc. The exercise provides information for naming the makeup and attitudes of the group and can lead to reflection on membership in oppressed or dominant groups.


Barnga

History: Barnga is another simulation game developed byTiagi (1990).


Uses: This is one of my favourite exercises for the Reflection component of a workshop. It is fun and produces an amazing number of insights in just forty-five to ninety minutes. It works with a range of approaches from cross-cultural communication to anti-oppression. Above all, it provides the kind of laughter and surprise that can turn a hostile group of "backlashers" around and get them started on the right foot early in a session.


Description: Barnga , named after a West African town where Tiagi learned a powerful lesson in cross-cultural collaboration, is based on a card tournament. Because the impact of the exercise depends entirely on surprise, if I give it away, your experience will be spoiled should you have the opportunity to take part. I hope you do have this opportunity, but even if you do not and need a dependable exercise for all groups, especially hostile ones, order the game manual from Intercultural Press, P.O. Box 700, Yarmouth ME 04096 USA.


Oppression/Privilege Reflection

History: This exercise has emerged from various facilitation teams I have been part of.


Use: This form of Oppression/Privilege Reflection, as its name would suggest, is useful in the Reflection component of a session. It can follow The Flower of Power, Powerline or Step Forward, Step Back and works only with willing participants.


Description:. At the beginning of the exercise, people are asked to form small groups of two to six members who experience the same form of oppression. This can be done in an open “marketplace” style, where one person might call out “Who would like to work with me on language oppression?” and another person, or several others join her/him. When the groups are formed, each gathers around a sheet of flipchart paper to answer the question: “I know I am in the presence of _______ (the form of oppression chosen) when …” For example, “I know I am in the presence of body image oppression when someone makes a nasty comment about my dress size.” The group should label their page with a heading at the top and fill in as many indicators of that form of oppression as they can fit on the page.

When the groups have filled their pages, put them up on the wall with enough room between them to fit in another set of flipchart sheets. Ask each group to share what they have written. If there is time, allow them to expand upon their points and answer clarifying questions from the rest of the group.

After all the groups have spoken, ask the participants to form new groups, also with two to six people in them, based on shared membership in a dominant group. Again the “marketplace” method can be used. This time, ask the groups to complete the sentence: “What privileges do we get from being ___________?” For example, “What privileges do we get from being white?”

When they have filled their pages, have them put them on the wall between the pages that are already there. If there is a pair, put them together; for example, if you have a page for oppression based on disability and one for the privileges of being able-bodied, put them side-by-side. Again, ask each group to present their page, expanding and answering clarifying questions if there is time.

When all the pages have been presented, put up three flipchart pages labelled “Oppression” “Privilege” and “Both.” Ask the group to identify patterns that they see in the sheets on the wall. For example, a pattern under the heading “Oppression” might be “Stigmatization, assumed to be bad and inferior.” A pattern under the heading “Both” might be “Rigid boundaries, no shades of grey.” Under the heading “Privilege,” the participants in a 1996 workshop saw one pattern as: “See yourself more (in the media, etc.) but recognize yourself less!” Take time to discuss them. When there are as many patterns identified as you have time for, ask the question: “What can we learn from our experiences of oppression that helps us become allies when we are in the dominant group?”


Simulated Reversals

History: "Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes" was developed for a grade-three class by Iowa teacher Jane Elliot in response to Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. It has been used by her and many others in different settings all over the world ever since (Elliot 1971, 1985, 1995].4 “The Poverty Game” (Monkman et al. 1983) was developed by a group of low income single mothers in Dawson Creek, B.C. "Imaginary Journey" comes from Cooper Thompson’s A Guide to Leading Introductory Workshops on Homophobia (1990).


Use: Simulated reversals are exercises that put the participants from a dominant group briefly and partially into the shoes of those who suffer that form of oppression. They belong in the Reflecting on Experience component of the workshop and work equally well with willing and unwilling participants. Unwilling participants will react with anger. Help them see that the injustice they have briefly tasted is the full-time experience of the oppressed group.


Description: Sometimes just listening to members of the oppressed group tell stories about their experience can be a reversal in itself, since it is unusual for members of the oppressor group to listen to the stories of the oppressed. Participants sometimes react with anger and a feeling of being “silenced,” “made powerless” and “forced to listen.” These responses provide an excellent opportunity to help participants understand that these experiences and feelings are common for members of the oppressed group. Listening to stories can also bring out feelings of guilt. It is important to reflect on this response, making clear the distinction between feeling guilty (bad, wrong--a liberal response) and taking responsibility for changing a structural inequality that is not your fault but gives you unfair privileges.

Other reversals take place in structured simulation exercises. An excellent example is the “Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes” simulation for understanding racism. The Association of Black Social Workers of Nova Scotia has used this exercise effectively in their racism workshops. When participants arrive, they are divided according to eye colour. Brown-eyed people are taken into the meeting room and given a briefing on the next exercise, a quiz on Black history in Nova Scotia. People with lighter eye colours stay in the hallway. They are told to line up against the walls, standing, and refrain from talking to each other. Conversation draws an immediate rebuke from the supervisor of the hallway.

When the blue-eyed people are allowed into the meeting room, they sit around the edges of the room, behind the brown-eyed people. The Black history quiz begins. The brown-eyed people, already briefed, have the answers and are praised for giving them. A blue-eyed student is occasionally recognized. If the answer is correct, she or he is told: “That’s pretty good for someone with blue eyes.” If the answer is not correct, the hapless person is belittled and told: “What can you expect from blue-eyes?” The effect is very rapid. When I went through the exercise it took me about ten minutes to completely lose my self-confidence and begin making wrong answers even when I knew the correct ones.

When the issue is poverty, an excellent reversal simulation is the board game and workshop “The Poverty Game” (Monkman et al. 1983). A group of low income single mothers in Dawson Creek, BC developed the game, from their own experience. A group of Halifax NS low income single mothers used it as the basis of a one-day poverty workshop they presented to church groups, social services staff and the boards of public housing communities. They played the role of social workers, challenging participants on some bit of money they may have been given or won, insisting they pay it back, pulling them out of the game to inspect their homes for signs of a live-in boyfriend and making them miss turns while waiting to see their worker. Participants were furious. Many insisted, "You're making this up," and were shocked when the leadership team told them the stories from their own lives on which they had based their actions. One wealthy man, sitting on a public housing board as his contribution to charity, became so frustrated with his situation in the game that he spent the debriefing session repeating: "There was no way out. I couldn't find a way out."

Another way to bring about a reversal is through a well done guided fantasy. An example is "Imaginary Journey."  Participants are instructed to shut their eyes and are led though a short series of relaxation exercises followed by an imaginary journey through a typical workday in a world where same-sex relationships are the norm. Heterosexuals must hide and lie to preserve their jobs, apartments, loved ones and personal safety. Fantasies can put people deeply into an imaginary experience. They should be led only by a facilitator experienced with the method.

Any kind of reversal simulation requires plenty of time for reflection afterwards. Debriefing follows the spiral—a mini-spiral within the larger spiral of the overall design. Participants are guided through reflection (What happened? How did you feel about it? etc.), analysis (Why did it happen this way? Who benefited? Who had power? Who had to live with the results?) and strategy (What can we do about it? Who would be our allies? etc.)


Analysis Questions

History: One of the basic tools of popular education.


Uses: In the Analysis component of a workshop, participants are asked to do the hard work of figuring out who benefits, who pays the price, who has power, where are they vulnerable and all the other questions that will round out their understanding of the experience they are reflecting upon.


Description: Analysis questions are usually worked out in advance by the facilitator or facilitation team and presented on a flipchart or handout. Participants can develop their own questions or add to those already provided by the leaders. Usually the participants are divided into small groups to discuss the questions, reporting back verbally if the reports will not be long. Few exercises can put a group to sleep more quickly than long report-backs. Alternative methods of reporting can involve posting flipchart sheets on the wall or publishing a photocopied "newsletter" while the group is on break or at lunch.

Here is a general set of analysis questions on the power dynamics of oppression and privilege:


What do people in a dominant group gain from oppression? (or white people from racism, men from sexism, straight people from heterosexism, depending on the topic of the workshop)

What do people in a dominant group lose from oppression?

What responsibility do people in a dominant group have to end the oppression? What power do people in the dominant group have to end the oppression?

What do those who suffer from a particular form of oppression need from members of the dominant group?

What do people in the dominant group need from those who suffer from the oppression in order to help end it?


The Iceberg

History: I developed this particular version of The Iceberg to teach the concept of structural oppression. I have seen others use various forms of it to demonstrate unconscious biases, individual personality and group culture, and other concepts where the larger part of the dynamic is difficult to see.


Use: The purpose of this version of the Iceberg is to communicate the structural nature of oppression.


Description: The Iceberg includes a handout, reproduced below, but I don't always use it, or sometimes give it out after the talk or during the next break. This leaves me free to build the talk around the language and illustrations that have emerged during the group's discussion up to that point.

The Iceberg is a talk, but it must build on questions and discussion designed to bring out participants' understanding of oppression and privilege. I find it helpful to divide the class into sub groups to discuss questions chosen to solicit a different response from someone  with a liberal worldview than they will from someone with a structural worldview. If the session has a focus on one form of oppression, for example, racism, the questions, of course, will relate to that form of oppression. If the workshop or course is more general in its approach to anti-oppression, I find it more effective to have each sub-group discuss a different form of oppression. One table might discuss ablesim while another discusses heterosexism, for example. Here are my favourite questions:


What kind of things would make you think "That person's racist (sexist/heterosexist/etc.)?

Are you racist (sexist/heterosexist/etc)?

What is "reverse discrimination"?

Can racialized people be racist towards white people(women be sexist towards men/etc)?


In response to the first question, participants with a liberal worldview will list aspects of attitude and personal treatment. They will be reluctant to call themselves racist, sexist or any other form of dominant-group discrimination, except perhaps admitting to unintentional offense. They will believe that "reverse discrimination" exists and that the oppressed group can be racist, sexist, etc. toward members of the dominant group. Participants with a structural world view are more likely to name the impact of policy, tradition, language, history, wealth and power in response to the first question, will understand that, as a member of a dominant group, they participate in the oppression whether they intend to or not and will grasp that an historical/structural relationship of dominance can't be reversed in any timeframe short of many decades or centuries. In my experience, the discussion groups report back almost universally from a liberal point of view.

This discussion, then, provides the basis for drawing the iceberg shape and waterline on a flipchart. I label the section above the water as the "Personal Level," defined by how people treat one another, and the section below the waterline as the "Structural Level," defined by wealth, power and status. Then I begin filling in other details as opposites:


the personal level is easier to see, the structural level harder;

the personal level is accessible to personal experience, the structural level must be figured out through analysis;

the personal level assumes that "majority rules"; on the structural level, more often "minority rules," because a minority hold the institutional wealth, power and status;

the personal level is individual, the structural level is collective;

the personal level takes place in the present, but history made the structural level. Even when the individuals who took the actions and made the decisions that shaped it are long gone, the patterns of wealth, power and status they created continue to impact people's lives, taking from some and giving to others. I sometimes use the image of a perpetual motion machine. The maker dies, but the mechanism continues operating, doing whatever it was designed to do, with no one's hand on the controls;

intention can play a role at the individual level, it is irrelevant at the structural level;

the individual level is easier to change than the structural level, because many will change their attitudes, but few will willingly give up wealth, power and status;

the personal level is reversable, because anyone can treat anyone else badly, no matter who or what they are; the structural level does not reverse except over centuries because, like the perpetual motion machine, it wa created to benefit one group at the expense of another and continues operating, even after its original makers pass on.


To illustrate this last point, I often talk about my experience working with Canadian volunteers returning from Africa, Asia and Latin America. The white volunteers would claim that they had experienced racism, because they now knew what it felt like to be the only white person on the bus, or have everyone notice them and remember their mistakes. However, during the two years they were overseas, the eighty percent of the world's resources consumed by the Northern countries did not suddenly flow back to the South, and if there had been a catastrophe, like an earthquake, the Canadian government would have used its resources, far greater than the resources of the host country, to find them first and get them to safety, or if there was a political disruption that threatened the lives of local people, the Canadian government would get them out as soon as possible. Certain privileges travel with North Americans and Europeans, no matter where we go, because we have citizenship in countries that have inherited the "white" side of colonialism.

Other examples come from the discussion that has already taken place in the workshop. For example, one group, answering the question about reverse discrimination, gave an example of a straight couple insulted in a gay bar. That is bad treatment and would be hurtful to anyone; however, there are probably a hundred other bars they can go to in the city. If the same thing happened to a gay couple, they might not have other options for an evening out. Also, the straight couple would not immediately think of the long history of others like themselves beaten to death for what they are and feel frightened, as any gay or lesbian couple would.

Another example is a brilliant, concise illustration of the difference between individual and structural equality I have borrowed from Robert Upshaw of the Black Educators Association of Nova Scotia [www.theblackeducators.ca]. He compares Black people achieving legal equality with gaining the right to join a Monopoly Game. When his people arrived on the board, every property was already bought up, with houses and hotels built on them.

When discussing the question "Are you racist/sexist/ etc?" my favourite illustration uses the fact that I am a white settler in relation to Aboriginal people. At the personal level, I try my best to be respectful to and supportive of Aboriginal people, although there is another factor, which I illustrate just at the waterline of the iceberg, and that is my unconscious and ignorant responses.

At the structural level, however, I have received benefits all my life, not only from the assumptions people automatically make about me because of my white skin, but because of the access to resources, income, education and opportunities that my ancestors received from the citizenship and land they were granted when they came to Canada. I have inherited all those advantages and continue to benefit from them, but whose land was that? What recompense has ever been made for the impoverishment of Aboriginal people when that land was taken from them and given to us? At this point I talk about how the phrase "I am racist" may not be totally accurate to describe this permanent, irreversible structural advantage I have, and introduce the phrase "white privilege."

Returning at some point to the waterline, I talk about how being constantly surrounded by messages about white superiority reinforces my unconscious biases, messages I don't even notice because they are invisibly encoded into the English language, our legal system, images in the media, the biases in the schooling I received and simply because privilege is invisible. I encourage people to visit the Project Implicit website at Harvard University [implicit.harvard.edu] where they can take tests designed to make their unconscious biases visible. I confess what a humbling experience it was, and continues to be, for me to check my unconscious attitudes out from time to time by taking these tests.

By this point in the talk, most people have grasped the concept of structural oppression and privilege and are depressed. It is time to talk about change. I draw a child's sun in the upper corner, make a joke about the fact that I am not praising global warming, and begin to talk about "melting the iceberg." The sun has access to the part of the iceberg that is above the water. Attitudes, stereotypes, language and biases are much easier to change than wealth, power and status. However, as the top layers melt away, the iceberg rises. Elements of the structural inequity that were hidden because they were so "normal" become more visible. For example, when an educational institution adopts an affirmative action admission policy to encourage groups that have not traditionally been able to enter their courses of study, at first the newer groups are simply happy to be there. It is later, when some of the immediate, personal barriers have been overcome, that deeper questions emerge, such as: "Why are we not reflected in the curriculum?"  Why are we assigned stereotyped projects? or "Why, when we have any trouble at the school is it assumed we are poor students until proven otherwise?" At this point, the institution/iceberg must make a decision. Will it continue to change, reaching ever deeper to transform its structures of wealth (resource us), power (governance) and status, or will it halt, choosing not to progress beyond token change, or even reverse direction, choosing a scapegoat to blame and expel, claiming to be changed while protecting the oppression/privilege relations at the structural heart of the organization? I have written about this process in detail in the sequel to this book, Beyond Token Change (2005).

I sometimes draw a little stick person standing on top of the iceberg and talk about the discouragement I sometimes see among people who have been leading institutional change for many years. "Why are we not making any progress?" they often ask. "When we started out, I thought we'd be finished in ten years, but it just gets harder." When I hear questions like these, I ask what the battles were when they started out and what they are now. Usually, the early battles were at the personal level, over respectful treatment and sometimes involving open protest when groups not traditionally included in the organization first arrived. Current battles tend to be more structural, over governance, use of resources, changes in policy or deeply entrenched privilege within the organization. Using the iceberg metaphor, it is easy to see that the little person on top cannot see the organization's progress, because as they work at melting the top layers, the iceberg is rising, bringing ever deeper structural levels to light. They perceive no change, because the distance from their perch to the waterline remains the same.

Discussion about personal and structural change is also an appropriate time to talk about the difference between guilt and responsibility. Guilt is shame over some action that was a choice, something intentional or in our control. Responsibility refers to holding ourselves accountable for a wrong that we inherited from the generations who went before us. A common and relevant quote is: "If not me, then who? If not now, then when?"5

Another point to be made is the difference between liberal and structural notions of accountability for change. If one takes a liberal approach, to do nothing means no responsibility for harm. It is like floating on an air mattress in the middle of a lake. If you don't paddle, you stand still. You are neutral, not involved. According to a structural approach, the harm is happening regardless, moving forward as a result of historical injustice. It is more like riding an air mattress down a flowing river. If you are not paddling against the current, you are going with it. There is no standing still. You are either part of the problem or part of the solution.

The river image is also useful for explaining why there is often conflict between those who take a liberal approach to change and those who take a structural approach. A liberal approach tries to relieve individuals' suffering. A structural approach looks for root causes. An old story tells of two people walking along a river when they see a young child trying to swim against the current, but being carried relentlessly downstream. They immediately wade in and save the child. Then they spot another child and save him, then another, and another, and another. Finally, one of the people says to the other: "I have to go upstream and see where these children are coming from."

The other objects: "But if you leave, I won't be able to save all the children."

Despite feeling badly about walking away as her friend flounders in and out of the water trying desperately to save every child, the first person leaves and walks upstream. There she finds a wharf reaching out into the current and an adult throwing children into the water. She runs back to convince her friend that they must work together to stop the person on the wharf.

When my task was to teach employees about employment equity policy, I found I could use the Iceberg to help people understand that employment equity, a form of affirmative action, is not "reverse discrimination." I would explain that other laws and policies such as human rights legislation and anti-harassment policies are about individual's treatment of one another. They address the part of the iceberg above the waterline and apply to everyone. The purpose of employment equity and affirmative action, on the other hand, is to overcome historical discrimination and achieve structural change in institutions and their distribution of wealth, power and status. When women, racialized people, people with disabilities and other oppressed groups have the same access to wealth, power, status, employment, resources, choices and benefits as members of the historically dominant group, the policy becomes obsolete.

An example is the "Pandora case," which came before a Nova Scotia Human Rights Tribunal in 1992. Pandora was a publication by, for and about women. In 1990, the volunteer collective responsible for the magazine refused to publish a letter by a male author. He took the case to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, where it was accepted as a case of discrimination. Pandora based its case on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom's provision that allows a disadvantaged group to band together to "remedy or alleviate their disadvantage," a classic definition of affirmative action. A series of expert witnesses testified to women's lack of access to the media, publishing industry and the field of journalism relative to men. The Tribunal ruled that Pandora's policy of publishing only the work of women was permissible. By definition, if and when the same kind of challenge might be brought in a time and place where this basic inequity did not exist, the ruling would go the other way. The point of affirmative action, as well as its specific expression in employment equity policies, is not to advantage women over men, but to correct women's structural disadvantage until a "level playing field" is achieved (Christensen-Ruffman 1995:378).

After using it for many years, I know this Iceberg talk is effective. Many participants in workshops and courses, even those who already knew the language of structural oppression, speak during the closing reflection about what a revelation the Iceberg was to them and what a difference it will make in their understanding of equity.


The Iceberg

See the handout here.


Skills

Another important aspect of educating allies is building participants’ skills for identifying and responding to oppression. Possible activities include examining our everyday language, identifying the keys to recognizing oppression, developing role-plays of typical situations in different settings, and working with clippings or photographs to develop awareness of oppression. These exercises can be used in the Reflection, Analysis or Stategy parts of the workshop, and are best with willing participants. Participants with denial or backlash tendencies will disrupt the exercise by arguing with the basic premise.  This can be turned into learning, but takes a great deal of time from more open participants that could better be spent doing other things.

In the racism workshop I developed with Valerie Carvery (Bishop and Carvery 1994) we used an exercise from Judith Katz (1978:115–16) to reflect on racism in language. Small groups list all the words or phrases they can think of with “light,” “fair,” or “white” in them; then all they can think of with “dark” or “black” in them. Next they mark which of these have a negative and which a positive connotation. They share their lists and reflect on them. This exercise invariably makes people take a new look at language they have always taken for granted. It can also lead to a discussion of liberal/individual discrimination versus structural oppression. Participants with a liberal worldview will focus on the intent of those using words with an oppressive history, their innocence because they were not aware of the buried meaning. In a structural worldview, the development of language and its subsequent impact on those who use it is structural and unconscious. It is another "perpetual motion machine," not dependant on any individual's intension for its effect.

For identifying oppression at work in various settings, we included an exercise from the Doris Marshall Institute called “When I see, hear, feel” (Arnold et al. 1991:89–90 and CUSO 1990). In small groups, participants complete the sentences: “When I see … when I hear … when I feel … I know that racism is at work.”

Working with photographs and clippings can be fun and revealing. It is depressingly easy to collect a portfolio of examples of any form of oppression. You can then make several copies for participants to analyze in small groups and report back. The challenge is to see how many examples they can find in the documents they have been given.



Strategy and Action

This is my favourite handout for working with a group to develop a strategy for action. It outlines a detailed and time consuming process. If there is less time, the Spiral works well.


Building a Social Change Strategy

See the handout here.



Closing

Closing exercises need to be short, fun and summarize the experience in some way. For example, ask people to sum up their feelings about the workshop in one sentence or even one word, and then have each say their sentence or word in rap-rhythm, to the accompaniment of everyone clapping their hands and snapping their fingers.

Another method uses a ball of yarn. One person sums up her or his feelings about the workshop and throws the ball to someone else, holding on to the yarn. The next person says how they feel and throws the ball, again hanging on to the yarn. At the end you have a web of yarn woven back and forth, connecting everyone in the group. Comment on the connections among you, and lay the web carefully on the floor.


Other Sources

There are many, many learning exercises appropriate for use in ally education.  I have contributed exercises to the following collections:


CUSO Education Department. 1985/88. Basics and Tools: A Collection of Popular Education Resources and Activities. Ottawa: CUSO.

Bishop, Anne, and Valery Carvery. 1994. Unlearning Racism: A Workshop Guide to Unlearning Racism. Halifax, NS: OXFAM/Deveric.


Bishop, Anne, with Jeanne Fay. 2004. Grassroots Leaders Building Skills: A Course in Community Leadership. Black Point NS: Fernwood.


A few more of my favourite sources are:


Arnold, Rick, Bev Burke, Carl James, D’Arcy Martin, and Barb Thomas. 1991. Educating for a Change. Toronto: The Doris Marshall Institute for Education and Action and Between the Lines Press.


Central Vancouver Multicultural Society Diversity Team.  Diversity Resources. [www.diversityteam.org/resources?list_options%5Bwith_tags%5D=training]


Curry-Stevens, Ann. 2003. An Educator's Guide for Changing the World: Methods, Models and Materials for Anti-oppression and Social Justice Worskhops. Toronto: Centre for Social Justice

[www.socialjustice.org/uploads/pubs/EducatorsGuideforChangingtheWorld.pdf].


Lopes, Tina and Barb Thomas. 2006. Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations. Toronto: Between the Lines.


National Campus and Community Radio Association, 2013. Anti-oppression Toolkit: Workshop and Exercise Outlines for Anti-oppression Training at Community Radio Stations [www.ncra.ca/equity/ncra-anti-oppression-toolkit.pdf].


Organizing for Power, Organizing for Change. Anti-oppression Resources and Exercises [organizingforpower.org/anti-oppression-resources-exercises].


Thiagarajan, Sivasailam. 1990. Barnga. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.


Thiagarajan, Sivasailam. 2003. Design Your Own Games and Activities. San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons.


Thiagarajan, Sivasailam 2006. Tiagi's 100 Favourite Games. San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons.


I encourage you to check out other resources in book form and on the Internet, participate yourself in ally education and learn from experienced practitioners what works for them.