Inventory of Racial Experience
Learning Action: Inventory of Racial Experience
(adapted from Katz, 2003, pp.117-118)
Framing the Learning Action
This activity is designed to bring to the forefront for white people, people of colour and aboriginal people thoughtful discussion and analysis of particular racial dynamics in their past experience, in order that they explore issues of privilege, alliance, inaction, collusion, internalized oppression, confusion, guilt and fear that are common with specific instances of racism, whether witnessed or experienced. The exercise is critical for self-knowledge in the process of anti-racism work.
Logistics - Things to Consider
Minimum Time Required
Questionnaire: 40 - 60 minutes (completed before or during session)
Debrief: 30-40 minutes
Number of Participants: This learning action is appropriate for large or small groups, keeping in mind that the larger the group the longer the debrief.
Age Level: Most suitable for ages 12 and up.
Suggested Material: Handout - Inventory of Racial Experience.
Participants will also need materials for writing.
How the Facilitator can Participate
In addition to the information provided in the Role of the Facilitator, it is important for the facilitator to complete the exercise before facilitating it in order to provide examples of their descriptions of racial experiences. If you are a white facilitator your personal process through the questionnaire will provide white participants with ideas as well as demonstrating expectations for their answers. Acknowledging that the questionnaire is not easy to complete, and that you faced difficulties thinking it through and realizing the gaps in your knowledge provides support provides support for participants.
Facilitators must be aware of and discuss the some of the possible differences in the racial experiences between aboriginal people, people of colour and white people (see internalized oppression, internalized dominance, and white privilege). This discussion will provide a context and support for participants to work through the learning action.
How Participants can Participate
Participants will fill out their individual racial experiences and share what they are comfortable with in the debrief. Note that it might not be comfortable for racialized participants to share depending on how the numbers in the class play out – how many racialized participants and how many white participants.
Facilitating This Learning Action
Ask participants to examine the experiences listed on the Inventory of Racial Experiences handout and to select items that are most meaningful to them. Participants complete the inventory by describing a specific event or experience for the items they have selected. Encourage participants to be detailed in their descriptions using the 5 questions listed at the top of the handout for each experience. This process may take about one hour and can be given out before or during the session. Whenever you choose to give out the Inventory, it will be important to spend time with participants discussing your/facilitator’s process in completing your personal racial inventory before participants begin their inventories.
Describing your experiences and feelings that may have come up during your process is important to enriching participant’s process and creating an atmosphere of trust. Reminding participants that there are no right or wrong answers, and that they will not be expected to share their answers unless they want to, may also help them to be honest and go a bit deeper into their personal process.
The questions are meant to bring to the surface the feelings inherent in the experiences the participants describe. Ask participants to be aware of and discuss their feelings at the time of the experience and as they write about the experience – so how are they feeling now as they think back on the experience. Have their feelings changed and if they have changed how?
The questions are also meant to help participants get in touch with their attitudes and assumptions about people who are different from them. For white people this means supporting them to look at how their action or inaction is racist and how they might be reinforcing their own power and privilege. For people of colour and aboriginal people this means supporting them to consider how their inaction might reinforce racial discrimination and that in some cases they might be colluding in their own oppression.
This process assists participants in continuing to develop a language (see racism, racial discrimination, internalized dominance, internalized oppression, privilege, and whiteness) to talk openly and honestly about racism.
Note: It is important to support participants in their process and with their feelings, and it is as important to present them with perspectives that are different than their own. The debrief will vary depending on group's make-up and inherent issues.
Ask participants to share incidents that are most meaningful to them. Explore why the incident was meaningful and in what ways the incident may have change or not changed the participant’s perspective. When unpacking participants’ descriptions be aware of presenting alternative views. (See internalized dominance and internalized oppression/racism). Also note that often white participants want to describe incidents of racial discrimination towards white people and it is important to note the difference between racial discrimination and racism.
Discuss reactions to completing the inventory – be aware of participants’ similarities and difference in reactions. It is important to discuss what the difference are and why differences occur.
Ask participants to describe the feeling they experienced during this learning action, and why they thought they were experiencing these feelings (feelings may range from anger, sadness, guilt, shame frustration and so on). It is important that the facilitator present alternative actions or positive steps to move participants forward in their process in order to move through their feelings. This is not to say that participants should not feel the feelings, but not get stuck in them unable to move forward.