Mainstream & Margin
Note: Because this exercise is lengthy and usually moves the group into an area of its own strong resistance, we recommend that trainers not try to use it without previously experiencing it as a participant, preferably with a TFC trainer. The exercise was designed to “push the envelope” and is especially useful for those who have an investment in their own cluelessness about racism or other isms, but it can backfire.
- To assist participants to identify with both marginal and mainstream roles that they play in society.
- To boost awareness of the oppressive characteristics of the mainstream role.
- To gain hope through identifying how they can support social change while in a mainstream role.
- To practice the skills of an ally.
How to Lead
1. Keep the introduction simple, like “Tonight we’re going to explore some dynamics of diversity in groups.” Don’t reveal the goals of the exercise except in the most general way.
2. In small groups individuals share a time in their life when they felt marginalized. Earlier in life is better (pre-adult may be most productive, but don’t be rigid about this.) Give your personal example. After each has shared, ask the small groups to talk about how the mainstream appeared to them to be at the time they were on the margin, “What were the characteristics of the mainstream?”
3. Ask the small groups to prepare skits/short dramas in which they show the rest of the group some characteristics of mainstreams. Explain that they have only five minutes to prepare their skit, but give them more in fact although you need to keep the pressure on or they will take too long. Ten minutes is enough to create a skit.
4. Make it fun, introduce the skits with fanfare. “Mainstreams I have known” is the theme of the theater! The groups perform, one at a time. Applaud each, then applaud all at the end.
5. Harvest the work so far by listing “Characteristics of the mainstream,” based on the skits. Be relaxed, give lots of expansive energy. Get as close as you can energetically to the group, love them because it’s going to get harder.
6. Back into the same small groups: ask participants again to remember what their experience was of being marginalized. Ask them to imagine “an initiative that they would have liked to come from the mainstream that would have assisted them to re-negotiate their relationship to the mainstream.” Repeat this memorized instruction several times. Give your own personal example. Point out that you’re not asking them to fantasize the mainstream incorporating them, but instead to re-negotiate their relationship with the mainstream. [Be patient with how difficult this instruction is!]
7. Harvest the work of the small groups with list titled “Initiatives the mainstream could take.” Be satisfied with a fairly small list; add a couple of your own if appropriate.
8. Ask them if they themselves have any aspects of themselves that is mainstream, or any roles they play that are mainstream. Get hands. Ask for examples. Add examples of your own.
9. [The key moment:] Announce to them that they now know 90% of what they need to know to be ready for a world of diversity. What they now know contains both good news and bad news. Share with them the bad news that in their mainstream roles, the list of Mainstream Characteristics applies to them. Follow immediately with the good news: as a mainstreamer, they can take these initiatives and change the hardship of marginalized people.
10. Explain that they will now get to practice using their own wisdom about what mainstreamers can do (the Initiative list). Organize a mingle with one-way interactions, in which whoever starts says “In my mainstream role as _____________, (do one of the Initiatives). Demonstrate how this works with co-facilitator or a participant. Take questions, then start it.
11. Closing. This can take a variety of forms depending on time and cultural appropriateness: sharing in buddies, journal-writing, meditation, go-round in which everyone shares (for example, a feeling, or a brief insight), music for reflection, a group song, a prayer.