4.3b - Developing our Analysis - Examining Familial and Cultural Stories

4.3b – Developing our Analysis – Examining Familial and Cultural Stories (1 hr 20 minutes)

Materials needed: Familial and Cultural Stories handout, Expanding our Worldview resource handout, pencils or pens.

Note: If desired, you may want to locate, copy, and distribute copies of Parker’s original essay as a take-home resource. It was published in Soul Work: Anti-racist Theologies in Dialogue, edited by Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley and Nancy Palmer Jones, pp. 171-185. Essay not provided due to copyright restrictions.

Purpose of piece: For group members to reflect on the power of stories to shape a worldview that uplifts white norms and recognize the need to interrogate familial and cultural mythology.

Facilitator’s Note:  Distribute Familial and Cultural Stories handout and allow for silent reading of the paragraph highlighting Rebecca Parker’s analysis.

Say to group: To start, let’s take a moment and read a short passage from Living in the Tension that highlights what Rebecca Parker says about the story of the Garden of Eden. This is an example of the kind of re-considering we each need to do of the stories we have heard over and over again since we were young. With the Garden of Eden story as just one possible example, what stories were you told when you were a child that acculturated you into cultural norms? They could be family stories, fairy tales, stories from books, scriptural texts, or anything from movies to TV to radio, etc. (5 minutes)

  • Which stories from your childhood stand out as your favorites? Jot down your top 5 on the worksheet. (Give a minute or two for reflection.)
  • Now, pick one and circle it. This is the one you will focus on for the rest of this exercise.

Facilitator’s Note: It may be useful to have thought of an example from your childhood you can share, one that allows you to make an overall statement about how it was part of an acculturating process. For example, I might say, “For me, I’m thinking of how much I loved to watch the Brady Bunch and read Nancy Drew books when I was young. I’m sure it conveyed messages about what was expected of me as a white girl in this society.” The point is to prompt participants to orient toward their favorite stories that were likely to have reinforced cultural stereotypes.

Say to group: We’re now going to do a guided meditation to delve into our childhood experience with the story we picked as our favorite. (10 minutes)

Facilitator’s Note: Be sure to provide sufficient pauses between statements in the guided meditation. If you’re facilitating a meditation for the first time, you may want to practice a segment with a partner prior to the workshop to get feedback on your pacing.

Guided Meditation Script: (Read slowly, pausing between sentences so participants can integrate the statements and questions)

I invite you to sit comfortably, with your hands and feet in a relaxed position. Feel free to allow your arms and legs to relax into whatever surface is supporting you. If you’re comfortable doing so, close your eyes or allow them to lose focus as you gaze toward a neutral spot in front of you. I invite you to notice your breathing, whether your breath is deep or shallow.

If you’re comfortable, think about the story you circled earlier. What do you remember about how this story entered your life? Did your parents tell you this story? Was it on TV or featured in a movie? Did a teacher introduce it to you? Were there dolls, toys, parks, or other places that encouraged you to play with the ideas from the story? Was this a story that you could act out with friends?

I invite you to consider what this story meant to you as a young child. What did you like about it? How did it make you feel? Why did you like it so much?

Making a shift, I invite you to think about the story through the lens of your current awareness. What was the primary message of the story? Is this a message you currently value? What other messages are contained within the story? How does race play a role? What about gender? What does the story say about who should be attracted to whom, what a family should look like, who is valuable in a society? What does it say about class?

Did the characters in the story represent your racial group? If the characters were a member of a different racial group, would it have made a difference to the story? To your experience of the story? Why or why not?

When you think of the various messages contained in the story, are there any you would like to complicate, trouble, or otherwise challenge?

If you could return and speak to your childhood self, what would you say to your young self about how to understand the story?

As we complete this process, I invite you to take a few moments to notice how your body feels. Are there some areas where you feel tension, or where you are at ease? Is your breathing deep or shallow? Feel free to take another breath or two before opening your eyes and returning to the group.

Say to group: For the next five to eight minutes, answer the cultural mythology questions on the worksheet. Focus on the following: (Individual reflection/writing – 8 minutes)

  1. What was the primary message you took from the story when you were young?
  2. How did it feel to hear this story and receive its message? What did it mean for you?
  3. What additional messages does the story contain, messages you may not have noticed while you were young?
  4. How does this story relate to issues of privilege, whiteness, or other aspects of race?
  5. What does it feel like to return to this story and analyze it with a critical eye?

Say to group: At this time, let’s move into small groups of 4 or 5 to share our experiences. Use the answers you completed on the worksheet to guide the discussion. (Small group discussion – 20 minutes)

Say to group: Let’s extend our thinking to other stories we heard about our families, our community, our country’s history, or any other story that involves real people. This may not be a story we heard directly from family or friends. It could be stories told through any type of media, television, movie, magazine, etc., anything that had an influence on you as you grew up. Jot down a few examples that you recall as having shaped your worldview as a young person. Select one to use for the final writing exercise and complete the four prompts on the page. (Individual reflection/writing – 5 minutes)

A story I heard when growing up was…

  • When I first learned about this story, I felt…
  • It taught me….
  • At some point later, I found out…
  • Now, I feel….

Facilitator’s Note: After people finish writing, invite each person to take a turn reading the answers to the prompts aloud. The participants all remain silent while all answers are read in full. Participants can say “pass” if they don’t want to share. (Large group share – 10 minutes – depending on group size)

Large group discussion: (20 minutes)

  1. What can we learn about our racial group experiences by reviewing our familial and cultural stories?
  2. How did stories we grew up with include characters portrayed as exhibiting racialized or stereotypical behaviors?
  3. How have the racialized behaviors or racial composition of story characters shaped our worldview?
  4. What can we do to expand and challenge our worldview? (Distribute the Expanding our Worldview resource handout if desired.)

Wrap up: People tend to develop a set of assumptions about the world (and how it should work) through ingrained messages received during our formative years. Without consciously analyzing the resulting beliefs and values, they remain locked in the psyche as expected norms. A significant problem is that far too often, they are based on white cultural norms. For this reason, reconsideration of our basic ideas about our family, community, and country’s histories is necessary.