What Our Students Know About Racial Justice, Systemic Violence and Law Enforcement. A Report From Political Economy Days.
Description: This hands-on workshop will use the techniques of The Pedagogy and Theatre of The Oppressed to collectivize the participants’ knowledge in order to broaden and deepen our understanding of race relations in the USA. Together will examine our perceptions of the root and systemic conditions that have erupted into the devaluing of Black lives and those of other People Of Color, especially at the hands of Law Enforcement.
With this technique, we use our bodies to represent images of individuals, organizations, institutions, concepts and actions. The goal is to arrange the images in a way that reveals the complete power relationships and dynamics between the individuals and the social structures contributing to the problem.
. . . and this is what happened
In our brief 85 minute workshop, we just scratched the surface of our understanding of the systemic aspects of racism and violence. But, the two analytical models we developed revealed some insights and connections. Extrapolating on these images can take us further into the understanding of this complex subject.
WE BEGAN the workshop with a brief demechanizing warm-up to loosen our minds and bodies, followed by a very quick exploration of making images with our bodies. Participants responded to the following prompts: Halloween, The Election, The world Series, Pokemon Go, Poverty, Racism, Systemic Violence. I was personally pleased to see little interest in Pokemon Go.
COLLECTIVE BRAINSTORMING: In this initial phase, participants were asked to consider various categories needed for a complete and true depiction of the problem: Individual People, Groups of People, Organizations, Institutions, Concepts, Actions & Who Benefits. With plenty of markers to go around, practically everyone added their thoughts to the lists. We then matched specific actions with the appropriate actors listed on the other papers. These connections and associations primed the pump for our first image. Also, The contents of the lists are are revealingling in itself. (click on the thumbnails below for a larger view).
IMAGE ONE: The Traffic Stop. The initial image showed a situation that has become ubiquitous and infamous in our nation. A black, make motorist with hands up, held a gunpoint by a police officer, and a passenger recording the interaction on a cell phone. Added to the image was a group of protestors calling for equality and non-violence. Next, the group added Donald Trump with his back turned away from the event standing above his supporters characterized as “angry, disempowered, uneducated, white men.” Finally, they added the American Couch Potato, flipping past it on t.v. with his remote.
During the creation of this image, we had the opportunity to talk about having empathy for all the individual people portrayed in the action. The search for solutions requires transcending the desire for blame and finger pointing. We also discussed that the impact of racism is not exclusive to Black people. We opted, in most situations to identify as P.O.C. (People of Color) When asked what percentage of the problem this image represents, the answers was, “Maybe 1%.”
IMAGE TWO: Profiteers. This image began with the desire to show the relationship of capitalism to the situation. This took the form of representing the profiteers of the Prison Industry and Gun Manufacturers holding a sign of blood money. Added to this image were two P.O.C. (People of Color) Inmates with a note to see the statistics about the incarceration rates of People of Color. The third addition to this image was intended to show the cycle of ex-convicts returning to prison after failing to find employment opportunities. One P.O.C. inmate is shown departing prison and seeking employment while a mirror image of that person is shown returning to prison due to the inability to secure a job. This image took a significant step towards recognizing the systemic aspects of the problem, particularly by connecting the cyclical nature of incarceration for communities of color with the profiteering of corporations, benefitting mostly people of privilege. The links between poverty, prison and privilege are undeniable.
(Special thanks to Professor Teresa Laughlin who spontaneously helped to facilitate this workshop with me.)
Workshop participants and readers of this blog can use the “Add Your Thoughts” box below to respond to the workshop and analysis.