Antiracist Torino, Second Act

Nuove Narrazioni
10 min readNov 2, 2020

In June, the City of Torino launched a call for application to participate in writing a Pact of Urban Commons on anti-racism. Once the application were received and selected, the Municipality summoned a first meeting before Summer break (how did it go? I wrote about it here) to set a the road map for the future.

The first full-day activity was conveyed in September; in this article I will present it, focusing on the organization (how) rather than on the results (what). Not only because the concrete output (the actual draft of the Pact) is still in its early stages, but mostly because — as I stated from the beginning — the goal of this diary is to provide inspiration. In this perspective, a replicable (or adaptable) methodology is more useful than the specific, context-related outcomes.

The second meeting

Goals

The second meeting had three “process objectives” and three “outcome objectives”.

The expected outcome was a draft list of definitions, values ​​and objectives of the Pact. We did not expect (or sought) definitive formulations: partially to give associations that missed the meeting(with sixty on board, chances are low that all of them can be present at every meeting) the opportunity to participate in the process in the next occasions; and partially because such a strict expectation would have chocked the debate, stressing participants to rush to “get the homework done”, or else it would have trapped the discussion into never-ending debate about the minute detailes of commas and synonyms. What we really expected was to gather as many point of views and inputs as possible, leaving polishing up the final text for later.

During the first meeting, participants had highlighted some needs regarding the group dynamics: building a safe working space, including city officers in the activities on equal level, strengthening internal relationships and mutual knowledge among the group members. These became the process objective for the second meeting.

The partners

The preparatory group that organized and facilitated the first appointment was composed only of public officers, a choice at odds with the inclusive philosophy of the Pact. Thus, the organization of the second event was open to cooperation and two associations volunteered to help: Altera and Giosef. I introduce them briefly:

  • Àltera is an association working on culture as a trigger for social and political emancipation. It is a member of ENAR, the biggest anti-racist network in Europe, and counts among its members high-level international experts in anti-racism and anti-discrimination;
  • Giosef — GIOvani SEnza Frontiere Marti Gianello Guida APS focuses on youth work, non-formal education and facilitation of participatory processes. It works with the Council of Europe and is a founding member of the European network HREYN.

Altera activists provided a valuable contribution on the contents, helping frame the fights against racism into a broader international political framework; Giosef members worked on the methodology of the event, which was based on non-formal education practices.

Let’s have a closer look at the latter.

The methodology

Non-formal human rights education is an approach that pays particular attention to: the flow of activities, designed to facilitate both the working on contents and the development of positive group dynamics; the building of a safe space to allow participants to freely express themselves; and the use of experiential and physical activities (with all the limitations due to social distancing measures), which stimulate the emotional dimension of learning.

Non-formal education is particularly suited to facilitate participatory processes, especially in diverse groups. In our case, an external facilitation made it possible for public officers to participate on an equal level with other actors.

The logistics

Social distancing measures due to the Covid-19 pandemic strongly affected the logistics of the day, limiting participation to one person per each association/group and forcing the reshaping of some of the activities.

The meeting took place once again at Open011, a training center and youth space owned by the City and managed by the DOC Cooperative.

Responding to the requests of the group of letting more time for building personal relationships and increasing mutual knowledge among actors, the meeting was a full-day experience. To facilitate the participation of activists with a weekly job, the meeting was organized on Saturday (19 September).

How did it go?

My conclusion is that the expected objectives have been largely achieved; participation was as high as in the previous meeting (over sixty participants including public officers and facilitators) and the external facilitation allowed for the public officers’ active participation and fostered the networking among associations. Content-wise, the group produced a vast amount of reflections on definitions, values ​​and objectives that will constitute, if not the definitive formulation, at least the backbone of the text of the Pact.

Diving deep into the flow: a review of activities and methodologies

In this section I will briefly outline the activities of the day and their methodology.

I. Introduction

A variation of the classic “Stand up who” activity. Participants were asked some yes/no questions: if the answer was “yes”, they had to stand up; if the answer was “no”, they remained seated. The questions addressed issues of discrimination and racism (for example: I have to spell my last name in public offices; can I vote in the next elections; and so on). No one can speak during the activity, but everyone can see the others’ answers: thus, this activity fosters individual reflections as well as a collective discussion.

II. A common vocabulary

Participants were divided into four groups. Each group was given a word (racism, anti-racism, inclusion, discrimination) and the task of brainstorming on the definition of the term and taking notes on a flip-chart. Every twenty minutes the groups had to switch topics, leaving the flip-chart behind — in this way, each group could build up from what the previous group(s) had noted down. This activity is a variation of the world café.

After the results of the groups were presented to the plenary, Luciano Scagliotti, member of Altera executive board and an internationally recognized expert on racism and discrimination, took the floor and introduced the most commonly used definitions of the four terms in the international debate, comparing them with the definitions given by the groups. Once again, the flow matters: the participants had first the opportunity to reflect on each word with a fresh mind, to share their own life experiences, and to get to know each other better — only after they had produced “their” contents, they got confronted with more “official” definitions. Had it been the other way round, the discussion would have been framed (and limited) by the contributions of the expert.

III. Energizer

After the lunch break, the activities restarted with an energizer — a kind of physical activity used to reactivate bodies and minds after meals or after very long sessions.

IV. A compass of values

In this session, each participant was asked to first reflect individually on the most relevant values connected to anti-racism, and then, divided into group, to select three values and present them in the plenary.

There are two interesting aspects to this activity. One: by allowing for individual reflection before the group discussion, participants could make up their own minds before being confronted with the opinions of others. This limits the chance that faster or more assertive participants steer the discussion in a way that influences other participants’ way of thinking. Two: each group used a variety of methods to select the three values: consensus, exclusion of values ​​not widely shared, identification of umbrella values ​​that include / collect the others, and so on.

V. The goals

In the last session of the day, participants were asked to reflect in group about the goals of the Pact and to design corresponding activities under the SMART — Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound model.

Criticisms and reflections

The previous post ended with four open questions: how can we ensure that the Pact includes a real transfer of power? How should we frame the role of the Municipality in this process? How can we create a really inclusive and safe space for the participants? How can we build a common vocabulary among very heterogeneous actors? From my point of view, these are not questions that can be answered once for all, rather they are a compass to guide (and evaluate) the daily implementation of the Pact. After the second meeting, I would like to further expand on my initial reflection, adding other three key dimensions: language, representation, and the composition of the group.

One: words (matter). When, in the previous post, I addressed the need for a common vocabulary, I was mainly thinking of people with different professional or political backgrounds using the same terms with different meanings. I quickly realized that that was only half of the story: in an intercultural context, linguistic and cultural collective archetypes (in Jung’s sense) matter at least as much as individual political and professional experiences. A Pact on anti-racism must be based on a bulk of shared values — but “sharing” in this case means “giving the same meaning”. Indeed, “to communicate” does mean “to put in common”.

Let’s take an example: for a public of Italian culture, the term Resistance [Resistenza in Italian] has emotional and political connotations that go far beyond the word’s immediate linguistic meaning, making it central to the (contested) moral compass in post-War Italy. But the mere translation of the word itself is useless without its historical background, without an explanation of its impact on the last 75 years of Italian politics, without a comparison with other, similar experiences in other countries. How could migrant communities be (emotionally and politically) involved in actions or projects that have to do with the Resistance, if that term does not have the same meaning for them?

It would be superficial (and racist) to assume that people with foreign backgrounds do not fully grasp all the subtexts of the words used to indicate values: many of them have been living in Italy for decades. But it would be equally superficial to take the opposite for granted. In our process, Italian is the common “lingua franca” — but how aware of that (and of its impact) are the “natives”? Cultural and linguistic frameworks are never neutral, and

working with an anti-racist perspective in an intercultural context is a challenge of cultural and linguistic translation of concepts, frames and political narratives, in order to create a basis for a community able to express the same values with the same wording.

Two: representation. An important point to stress is that communities are not included in the Pact; community associations are. The City of Torino has made community associations keystones of its intercultural policy (here a concrete example) as bridge between institutions and communities — but it is important to be aware and to stress that associations reflect a deformed image of the groups they aspire to represent. In fact, the City of Torino recognizes that communities are not monolithic and homogeneous entities. There are no “Chinese”, or “Pakistanis”, or “Muslims”: each person holds multiple identities and bears specific needs. For example, people with Chinese background may have different needs, plans and resources depending on their gender, age, social class, educational qualification, migration path and legal status, neighborhood of residence, the presence of children in their family, etc. Community associations tend to at least partially reflect this plurality, but issues of interest and power also come into play. Representatives of associations, like a geographical map, magnify some identity (or ideological) aspects to the detriment of others — they are often male, and heterosexual, and more educated than the average in “their” community. This is problematic for two reasons.

First: institutions are always tempted to pick the most accommodating communities’ spokespersons, the ones that raise the softest issues, or with whom understanding is easier, manners are more similar. Policy makers should resist this temptation and constantly try to include as many representatives, stake- and needholders from each community as possible. Especially the most demanding, or critical. Second: other subjects of civil society (let’s say it bluntly: “white associations”) could underestimate the importance of the representatives of community associations, denying their relationship of trust with the community to which they belong and coming to believe that communities need to be saved, or taught. If it is true that representatives of community associations often have a cultural and social status above the average of the other members [but isn’t it true also for “white” associations?], it is superficial to think that racism does not affect them, and it is colonialist to think that communities are waiting for “white help” in order to finally get a voice.

In fact, representatives of community associations are in a difficult position, finding themselves between the needs and expectations of the communities to which they belong and the needs and expectations of the institutions and the rest of society. They must be supported, but not in a way that could result in cronyism: it is necessary to include in the public discussion representatives of all associations that spring up from a community.

Three: the composition of the group. In his speech (activity II.), the activist Luciano Scagliotti wondered whether this is the right group to write the Anti-racist Pact of the City — if there was the right proportion of community associations, feminist groups, LGBTI people, etc. The answer given by Scagliotti, and which I share, is that approach is more important than identity. In other words: while the anti-racist pact must assume the point of view of those who suffer from racism and it is certainly necessary to expand participation to more communities and to more community associations, it is equally important to include other points of views from an intersectional perspective: gender, class, age, orientation, and so on. But even the most balanced (whatever that could mean) composition will not be enough if white people are the owners of the process.

Rather than representing a sum of identities and voices, the working group must develop an intersectional approach to racism, analyzing how racist discrimination interacts with other forms of discrimination. And, I add, working to build coalitions with the movements and structures that deal with other forms of discrimination, favoring discussion, the exchange of practices, and the development of common and connected actions and campaigns.

Questions? Doubts? Reflections? Write to me! Leave me a comment below or write me on twitter at tw / @ orpheo85

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