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Activity to Explore the Impact of Skin Color

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The goal of this activity is to illustrate the different experiences participants may have based on the color of their skin. It will help provoke thinking and dialogue about different experiences and perceptions. This activity can be emotional and uncomfortable, and should be used with groups that have already worked to developed trust and/or have done other activities that explore the impact of race.

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Activity to Explore the Impact of Skin Color

  1. 1. Activity on Exploring the Impact of Skin Color (60 minutes) This can be an emotional and uncomfortable activity. It should be used after the participants have already worked on developing trust and taken part in other activities that explore race. The facilitator for this activity will need a high level of skill and understanding about structural racism. Goals:  To illustrate the different experiences participants may have based on the color of their skin.  To provoke thinking and dialogue about the different experiences and perceptions. Part 1: Skin color survey (35 minutes) 1. Introduction: This activity is meant to help us go deeper in our discussion about race. It may make some people uncomfortable and some may think this is contrived. Remember, one of the goals is to put the issues some people in our community are thinking about on the table. After the activity, we will discuss your reactions, thoughts on the issue, and how it impacts our community. 2. Ask each person to fill out all of the questions in the survey. They should answer according to skin color only! This exercise is not about ethnicity, social status, gender, or sexual orientation. It is solely about how they are perceived based on their skin color. 3. Participants should mark “True” for any statement that is usually true for them or if they have never thought about it before. Write down an “False” for any statement that is rarely true. 4. After completing the survey, each person should add up and write down the number of “True” statements. 5. Ask participants to stand up and get into numerical order from highest to lowest based on the number of “True” statements they have. 6. Debrief the activity with the group. Give them time to think between questions. It’s okay if there is silence for a while. Make sure they say out loud what they notice. Stay aware of how different participants seem to be feeling.
  2. 2. Ask them to discuss the following questions:  What do you notice?  How do you feel when you look at the other end of the line?  How does this connect to what other people feel? Part 2: Thinking about privilege (20 minutes) After there has been a good discussion following the skin color activity, read the following statement and ask people to react to it: “In this society, people with light skin have advantages-or privilege-over people whose skin is darker. This advantage is often invisible and people who benefit from it often do not see it.” Discuss the following questions:  What do you think of this idea?  Is it true in your experience? Part 3: Closing (5 minutes) Tell the participants: There were lots of feelings of frustration, sadness, and anger today but, I want to remind you that dialogue to change is a process. Now to get some of the feelings out into the open, I will read some words that express the feelings that other study circle participants have told us. After each word, raise your hand if the word is how you are feeling right now. You can raise your hand for every word that relates to your feelings:  Frustrated  Surprised  Hopeless  Embarrassed  Guilty  Empowered  Victimized  Vindicated  Validated  Angry
  3. 3. Skin Color Survey Directions: 1. Read each statement. 2. Write True in the box if the statement is usually true for you or if you have never thought about the statement before. 3. Write False in the box if the statement is rarely true for you. 4. At the end of the list, add up how many statements you wrote “True.” True/False 1. I can be around people with my skin color most of the time. 2. If I go shopping, I never think that a sales person or security guard will follow me around because of my skin color. 3. I can turn on the television or look at the front page of the newspaper and see many people with my skin color in a positive way. 4. School curricula and books frequently show people with my skin color. 5. I can use checks or credit cards and not worry that my skin color will make someone think that I don’t have the money. 6. I can swear or be rude without worrying that people will think it’s because people with my skin color have bad morals. 7. I rarely talk (or think about talking) to my child or the children in my life about how they might be perceived because of their skin color. 8. I rarely feel like I am being asked to speak for all people with my skin color. 9. Communities that have large numbers of people with my skin color are considered “good” communities. 10. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge,” I will be facing a person with my skin color. 11. If a police officer pulls me over (or if store security stops me in the hall), I can be sure that I haven’t been targeted because of my skin color. 12. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, and children's magazines featuring people with my skin color.
  4. 4. 13. American history books show many people with my skin color. 14. I can get a job or get into school without worrying that people will think I got the job or got in because of Affirmative Action. 15. I never worry that my skin color will impact the way I am treated by a doctor or nurse. 16. I can comfortably avoid, ignore, or minimize the impact of racism on my life. 17. I can sign up for most clubs, activities, or organizations without worrying that I will be one of the few people with my skin color. 18. If I have a bad experience, I rarely ask myself if it had anything to do with my skin color. 19. When I attend conferences in our field, most attendees have my skin color. 20. I can wear casual clothes to most meetings without worrying that my skin color will make people think that I am poor or uneducated. Number of “True” statements: Adapted from the Pacific Educational Group and Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege.

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