"The Color of Fear" Project

at The College of New Jersey

a packet for facilitators
  Return to The Color of Fear at TCNJ Homepage

  1. Introduction
  2. Background on "The Color of Fear"
  3. Biography of Peggy McIntosh
  4. Diversity Workshops

  5. Facilitation Guidelines

    Working with Challenging Situations

    Sample Workshop

    Serial Testimony

  6. Bibliography
  7. Readings


Community Ethic Against Racism Website: http://www.tcnj.edu/~kpearson/color/color.html

Packet assembled by Janet Gray, Patrice Coleman-Boatwright, Kim Pearson, and Connie Titone as members of the "Color of Fear" Committee. This is the second edition, printed August 24, 2000. For masters of revised editions to copy and distribute, please contact Janet Gray, gray@tcnj.edu.

I. Introduction: "The Color of Fear" at TCNJ

On October 24 and 25, 2000, Peggy McIntosh and Victor Lewis will visit TCNJ to speak and conduct workshops on systems of privilege. In preparation for their visit, we are scheduling showings of "The Color of Fear," a film which documents a weekend-long conversation about race among eight men. Peggy McIntosh is an influential and groundbreaking scholar in the study of privilege (see her biography in brief, page 4); Victor Lewis will become familiar to TCNJ audiences as a participant in the weekend captured in the film. Made in 1994 by filmmaker/community therapist Lee Mun Wah, "The Color of Fear" has proven an effective instrument for opening discussion of race and privilege in a variety of settings, including TCNJ.

"The Color of Fear" Committee aims to contribute to the 2000-01 campus theme, "Race, Power, and Privilege: Local and Global Perspectives." Our project is also one of a number of coordinated initiatives serving the College’s long-range goals for diversity by developing resources for inclusive pedagogy, curriculum development, and institutional change. We hope that the Color of Fear Project will help to raise awareness about racism, foster a community ethic against racism, and build community leadership in the promotion of social justice.

The purpose of this packet is to encourage TCNJ community members to arrange additional showings of "The Color of Fear" for students, staff, and faculty. The contents offer support for prospective facilitators and point toward connections between the film and academic course work.

As Roberto Almanzan, a participant in the film, writes in "Background on ‘The Color of Fear’" (see p. 3), most viewers have strong reactions. The racially mixed group of men in the film tackles topics about which there is often silence. The men speak about their ethnic identities and about their experiences with racism from whites and among minorities. One of the white men, David Christensen, becomes a focus of the discussion as the other group members respond to his claims that racism does not exist in his area, that people of color take racism too seriously, that the others should simply stand on their own ground as white men do. With help from Gordon Clay, another white participant, the men of color struggle to make David—and white viewers—hear them: Do not dismiss our experience. Understand yourself as a white person, not just as a "person" or an "American." Support one another in opposing racism.

Peggy McIntosh recommends showing the ninety-minute film in a two-and-a-half-hour workshop, using a technique called Serial Testimony, which allows everyone to speak while the other participants listen, suspending their reactions. (See p. 9 for a description of this technique.) Participants respond to three questions: With whom did you identify most strongly in the video? What is difficult about talking about race? What moment in the film is most memorable for you, and what did it teach you?

Beyond the workshop format, the film is rich with material for courses in a variety of disciplines. One could look closely at the social and psychological dynamics of the group’s interaction, and ask, for example, what to make of David Christensen’s change at the end. Or one could explore how race and privilege inflect with philosophical themes, such as authenticity, and sacred processes, such as transformation and connection with the past. The men offer contrasting informal definitions of cultural difference (history and artifacts versus taste, smell, feel, see); what are the implications of each definition? The film shows privilege to be an epistemological problem, a resistance to knowing the lived experience of others, and suggests that trauma shapes that resistance. As they explain their experience, the men of color make references to historical events (the conquest of Mexico, forced miscegenation in slavery, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II) and to the history of ideas (liberty, democracy, individualism); a class could explore these histories. Or one could raise the question of what it means to be an historical agent engaged in present efforts to transform systems of race and privilege—as are the men in "The Color of Fear," and as we are.

II. Background on "The Color of Fear"

Roberto Almanzan

In the documentary film "The Color of Fear," a group of men at a weekend retreat engage in an open and candid dialogue on race and ethnicity. The filmmaker, Lee Mun Wah, a Chinese American community therapist, gathered a group of eight men, myself among them, who were willing to spend a weekend in an honest and unconstrained discussion about our experiences, beliefs and values related to race, color, ethnicity and culture. We met at a house belonging to a friend of the filmmaker. The house was about ten miles outside of Ukiah, a small rural town in Northern California. Two of the men were African American, two were Latino American, two were Asian American and two were European American or white. Lee Mun Wah functioned as the facilitator for the weekend.

Often, those who see the film wonder how the participants were chosen for this project. Mun Wah, as a community therapist, had been working with various men’s groups and consequently had a wide circle of connections. From this pool, he picked men he thought could be honest, open and expressive on race and ethnicity issues while being filmed. With a few exceptions, the men did not know each other before attending the retreat. To show that all Asians, Blacks or Whites do not think alike and are diverse, two men from each ethnic/racial group were included. The number of participants was kept small to increase group safety and intimacy and to give each person an opportunity to express himself fully.

The dialogue during the weekend was spontaneous and intense. I did not know that Mun Wah as the facilitator had prepared a list of about twenty questions to stimulate our dialogue. It did not matter because once he asked his first question about how we identified ethnically or racially, we never stopped talking. Fear, tears, rage, frustration and confusion filled the room as each of us revealed how we had been impacted by racism and our coping strategies. Slowly, hesitatingly, we also talked about the prejudice we’ve experienced and seen directed at our own ethnic group by other people of color. We saw that through no fault of our own, all of us have internalized messages that devalue people of color and that portray White people as more intelligent, able, moral and credible. Becoming aware of this can often precipitate anxiety and personal discomfort in people but it is fundamentally a healing experience that opens new vistas and possibilities. By the end of the weekend, by talking openly, listening intently and reflecting on each other’s experiences, we all came to a deep understanding of, connection to and epathy with each other.

Most people who view this film are deeply moved. Long after it is over, they continue to talk with each other about the feelings, thoughts and memories the video stirred in them. The dialogue in the video—real, arousing and eventually hopeful—is an example of the national dialogue we all need to have on race and ethnicity.

III. Biography of Peggy McIntosh

Peggy McIntosh, Ph.D., the Associate Director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, is the founder and co-director of the National S.E.E.D. (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) Project on Inclusive Curriculum. A renowned lecturer, she consults with higher education institutions throughout the United States and abroad on creating multicultural and gender-fair curricula. An influential writer on women's studies, curriculum change, and systems of privilege, she has taught at Harvard University, Trinity College (Washington, DC), and the University of Durham (England), among other institutions.

"White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," one of Dr. McIntosh’s most frequently cited articles, is included in this packet (following page 11).

IV. Diversity Workshops*

Facilitation guidelines

The role of the facilitator is to create an atmosphere where everyone can express their thoughts and feelings, and listen to and learn from the different perspectives offered by each participant. Facilitators are also responsible for helping to clarify discussion goals and for maintaining a safe, respectful group process. What follows are guidelines that help create such an atmosphere.

Listen to each other with respect.

Speak about your own thoughts, reactions, feelings, and experiences, not those of others.

Do not debate someone else’s experience; do not argue with their statements.


Working with challenging situations

Racism is often difficult to talk about. It elicits strong feelings and very different perspectives. The following are suggestions for ways to respond effectively to situations that might occur in workshops on race.

Arguments: Interrupt the argument and take this opportunity to point out that differences of opinion come out of different life experiences and represent what we mean by "diversity." Remind the group participants about the ground rules they agreed upon. Then move on.

Dominating the discussion: Intervene and point out that the discussion should benefit from the input of many people. Mention that any discussion about differences is most valuable when many perspectives are involved.

One-sided discussions: If you sense that there are opposing views that could benefit the discussion but that participants are reluctant to express, welcome them to speak by making a comment that introduces the opposing view. You might begin by saying, "I could really see how someone might feel that . . . ."

Speech-making: Try not to allow participants to ramble or preach to the rest of the group. You might guide participants, for example, by directing them to focus on what they have learned from the workshop experience itself.

Emotional outbursts: Allow the participant to express him or herself, then validate what has been said by restating what you heard.

Difficult questions or comments (contributed by Hugh Vasquez): Before conducting a workshop, think about what kinds of responses from participants might be difficult for you. The following are examples of comments that may (or may not) be challenging to facilitators; use them to stimulate your thinking about what statements you might find difficult and how you would respond.

"This makes me realize we haven’t come very far in this society . . . all the work done in the civil rights days was a waste."

"I’m so tired of hearing about how bad people of color have it."

"This workshop is too focused on white people, it’s always the white people who have to change—what about racism from people of color toward whites?"

"I agree with the white students who said they should not be held responsible for what their grandparents did—I should not be blamed for the past either."

"This brought back painful memories of being taught that I (as a person of color) was not good enough."

"I could have heard the point better if he/she hadn’t been so angry—if he/she would just say it differently, then I could hear it."

"I think we all just need to overlook our differences and just treat each other like human beings."

Sample workshop outline

Variations on the following format for presenting "The Color of Fear," based on Peggy McIntosh’s recommendations, have been used successfully in a variety of settings. Facilitators may want to vary the format for their purposes. The questions posed to participants, for example, could be fine-tuned for specific settings, or a follow-up session could be planned for discussion of other questions.

The crucial feature of the format we offer here is that it allows all participants to speak and listen to one another’s responses to the video. This format takes about two and a half hours. The video is shown in three half-hour segments, and the remaining hour allows short breaks for participants to reflect on and speak about their responses. "Serial testimony," an effective technique for bringing forward divergent viewpoints, is described on page 9.

  1. Welcome and Introduction (15 min.)

  2. Introduce the purposes of the workshop and the video. You may want to use a warm-up exercise to help the participants become engaged with one another and with the topic. (See, as an example, "Colloquialisms" on page 8.)

  3. Video—"The Color of Fear," Part I (30 min.)
  4. Reflection (5 min.)
Participants write their responses to the question: With whom do you most identify in the video? Why? V. "The Color of Fear," Part II (30 min.)
  1. Serial Testimony (20 min.)
What’s scary or hard about talking about race? After writing about this question, participants speak in turn as the others listen. (For this stage, facilitators may wish to break the participants into small groups.) VII. "The Color of Fear," Part III (30 min.)

VIII. Serial Testimony (20 min.)

What was a moment in the film that you won’t forget, and why? What did that moment teach you?

Participants write about this question, then speak in turn as the other participants listen.

Colloquialisms: A Warm-Up Exercise

P. Coleman-Boatwright

J. Boatwright

Colloquialism: a local or regional dialect expression.

Individuals in the group are each given an index card.

Each person is asked to write a phrase, expression, slang, or tradition that is unique to their ethnic/racial/cultural background. They are also informed that these cards will be collected and shared with the group.

Cards are collected by the facilitator and randomly read aloud (or cards can be exchanged within the group and read aloud). Number of cards read aloud may vary depending upon the time available.

Individuals are asked to identify their term after each is read, and explain the significance to them.

Example: "High Yaller"—a fair-skinned African American.

Time frames

Six minutes to individually think of and write down a statement.

Ten minutes (or more) to share statements with the group.

Serial Testimony

Testimony: bearing witness, giving evidence; speaking the truth of one’s experience and perspective; bearing responsibility for one’s own truth. This group activity is very simple in concept: the facilitator poses a question, and each participant speaks in turn without reaction from other group members. Under other names (Quaker dialogue, Claremont dialogue), this technique has been used for many years, particularly in settings (such as international relations institutes) where the participants’ views may diverge so radically that they have difficulty hearing each other.

This technique does not aim to solve large problems or create intimacy among participants. In small, cohesive groups that already have a high degree of trust and agreement, the facilitator may wish to use discussion rather than serial testimony. The strength of this method is that it challenges participants to speak their own truth while protecting individuals from becoming the focus of discussion. By providing the opportunity for everyone to hear a wide diversity of perspectives, serial testimony can be remarkably effective in building participants’ mutual respect.

As simple as this technique is, to many participants it will feel unnatural, especially in settings where they are accustomed to discussion. The facilitator must carefully prepare the group in advance. Ask the participants to honor the following ground rules:

You might tell the group that they will probably have strong reactions to the process; ask them to hold onto and reflect on their thoughts and feelings. Assure them that there will be ample opportunity to continue the dialogue in other settings.

Move systematically through the room rather than asking for volunteers to speak. You may want to use a Talking Stick (see below) to reinforce the ground rules. Allow people to pass if they wish to do so; return to those who pass after everyone else has spoken to see if they now wish to speak. If someone speaks out of turn, the facilitator should gently but firmly restate the ground rules; otherwise, the facilitator, too, should refrain from comment.

Closing serial testimony may be done in several ways:

A minute (or more) of silence

A minute (or more) for participants to write their reactions

A few minutes of debriefing about the experience or open discussion in response to an overall question about the workshop

Talking Stick

Using any item available—a marker, paper cup, or rolled up piece of paper—establish the rule that participants speak only when they have this object in their hand. After one person speaks, the item gets passed to the next person.

V. Bibliography

The following is a preliminary (and very partial) list of monographs and essay collections recommended for their relevance to the issues raised in "The Color of Fear." Please send any additional recommendations to gray@tcnj.edu for inclusion in future editions of this packet.

Adams, Maurianne, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, eds. Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. Routledge, 1997.

Aguirre, Adalberto, Jr., and David V. Baker, eds. Structured Inequality in the United States: Discussions on the Continuing Significance of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender. Prentice-Hall, 2000.

Crenshaw, Kimberle, Neil Gotanda, Garry Peller, Kendall Thomas, eds. Critical Race Theory : The Key Writings that Formed the Movement. New Press, 1996.

Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic, eds. Critical White Studies: Looking Behind the Mirror. Temple University Press, 1997.

Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic, eds. Critical Race Theory : The Cutting Edge. Temple University Press, 2000.

Fine, Michelle, Lois Weis, Linda C. Powell, and L. Mun Wong, eds. Off White: Readings on Race, Power, and Society. Routledge, 1997.

Frankenberg, Ruth. The Social Construction of Whiteness: White Women, Race Matters. Minnesota, 1993.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Continuum, 2000. (New edition of the classic text on inclusive pedagogy.)

Funderburg, Lise. Black, White, Other: Biracial Americans Talk about Race and Identity. William Morrow and Co., 1994.

Hutado, Aida. The Color of Privilege: Three Blasphemies on Race and Feminism. University of Michigan Press, 1999.

Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Harvard University Press, 1998.

Kincheloe, Joe, and Shirley Steinberg, eds. White Reign: Deploying Whiteness in America. St. Martin’s Press, 2000.

McCarthy, Cameron, and Warren Crichlow, eds. Race, Identity and Representation in Education. Routledge, 1993.

Minnich, Elizabeth. Transforming Knowledge. Temple University Press, 1991.

Segrest, Mab. Memoir of a Race Traitor. South End Press, 1994.

Shor, Ira. Freire for the Classroom. Heinemann, 1987.

Smith, Lillian. Killers of the Dream. W.W. Norton, 1994.

Sollors, Werner. Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture. Oxford University Press, 1986.

Takaki, Ronald. Iron Cages : Race and Culture in Nineteenth-Century America. Reprint ed., Oxford University Press, 2000.

Wink, Joan. Critical Pedagogy: Notes from the Real World. 2nd edition. Longman, 2000.

Community Ethic Against Racism Website


This website, mounted by Kim Pearson, offers links to resources for inclusive pedagogy and curriculum. We envision it as a seed for a campus-wide internet resource on diversity.

VI. Readings

Peggy McIntosh, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack."

A longer version of this groundbreaking essay, titled "White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies," appears in several anthologies, including Race, Class, and Gender: An Anthology, edited by Margaret L. Andersen and Patricia Hill Collins (3rd ed., Wadsworth, 1997 ).

"The Construct We Call ‘Race’" (excerpt). www.afn.org/~dks/race/index.html.

Michael Robertson, "A Newer White Consciousness," from Unbound.

Beverly Daniel Tatum, "Teaching White Students about Racism: The Search for White Allies and the Restoration of Hope," from Teachers College Record 95:1 (Summer 1991).

Connie Titone, "Educating the White Teacher as Ally," from White Reign: Deploying Whiteness in America, edited by Joe Kincheloe, Shirley Steinberg, Nelson Rodriguez, and Ronald Chennault (St. Martin’s Press, 1998).

Kathleen Manning and Patrice Coleman-Boatwright, "Student Affairs Initiatives Toward a Multicultural University," from Journal of College Student Development 32 (July 1991).

John A. Powell and S. P. Udayakumar, "Race, Poverty, and Globalization," Poverty and Race Research Action Council, May-June 2000 .