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Global Flipchart #20



March 2021

Systemic racism and the challenge for IAF facilitators in 2021

By Basil Manning

Two pandemics became major challenges for the whole world in the last year:

  • A major resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement once more drew attention to the pervasive nature of systemic racism globally
  • COVID 19 exacerbated clearer recognition of how deep the disparity between the haves and have-nots is, with black people, not surprisingly – given the systemic nature of racism- at the heart of the suffering, yet again!

Yes, you may say: ‘It is indeed a serious challenge for the whole world, and you can add the White Supremacist attack on the US Capitol to the list, but why any more of a challenge for me as a facilitator in a Global Association?’

From what I remember in my training as a facilitator and the ToTs I’ve done, a recurring Facilitator Prevention (e.g.  Gail Bingham lecture 1980) is: Stay neutral, stay out of content as much as possible. OR more pronounced: ‘Manage the process………….. leave content to participants’.

I suppose my discomfort on that approach is reinforced by my own writing on neutrality on the issue of racism in a Chapter in ‘Community Work and Racism’ (RKP co-edited with P. Curno and A. Ohri, 1980). There I talk about ‘non-racist racists’ or ‘unawarely racist’, people who fail to acknowledge the pervasiveness of racism as a force within institutions or groups. This neutrality does nothing to challenge racism and is often ‘colour blind’ - we see only people, no difference in need, because we see no difference: the same for all approach.

So the challenge is how to avoid this collusion with systemic racism.

Some basic principles we should embrace:

Whilst we can agree that not every process we facilitate is about systemic racism, we can agree that in the introductions to the workshop (e.g. the opening circle, check-in) we can set the tone on how we will deal with systemic racism and other issues of social exclusion. The Centre for Anti-Racism and Anti-Sexism (CARAS) delineated 14 guidelines for dealing with Power differences between Co-facilitators (July 1999). These can apply equally to differences between facilitators and the group: e.g.  Clarify our anxieties about working together: on process, content, different values in the group.

If the issue of systemic racism does not come up naturally from the group, facilitators are duty bound to ask the question of how we, as a group, will deal with contributions which reinforce racism or any other issues of social exclusion (e.g. sexism, classism, adultism etc.)

Agree, that if we (as facilitators) have differences on systemic racism (or any other issues of oppression) these will not be allowed to come out in the workshop in the presence of participants. We will be very fortunate if we and a co-facilitator always share the same values 100%

These are offered as some preliminary thoughts. I hope they stimulate further thought. If they do we invite you to get in touch with the Special Interest Group for Social Inclusion Facilitators at