Exclusion Triangle

Learning Action: The Exclusion/Racism Triangle

Developed by the Arusha Centre for anti-racism training workshops

Please continue to refer to the following sections: Our PhilosophyLearning Actions, and Facilitator Principles

Framing the Action

The purpose of this Learning Action is to provide participants with a visual representation of how racism is structured and perpetuated by individuals, institutions and ideologies. Although this activity can be done with a large group, the small group format is most effective as it allows participants to physically form the sides of the triangle by positioning themselves along its edges, possibly making the participants feel more personally involved in the Learning Action. This may make participants feel physically, intellectually and emotionally connected to racism and how it operates.

Central to the triangle are the answers participants provide for the following questions:

Where do we learn to exclude?

What are the things we do to exclude?

What are the things we think/believe that exclude?  

Logistics - Things to Consider

Minimum Time Required: 60 minutes
Number of Participants Required: 10-30 participants. Participants will be divided into three groups. This Learning Action can be adapted for larger groups. For instance, one can have 6 groups with 2 separate groups answering each question. 
Age Level: Age 10+
Suggested Material: Whiteboard, Smartboard OR flip chart, markers and string. HandoutsBlank Triangle & Completed Triangle with suggested answers.  
Ground Rules: Participants must be respectful when listing and discussing the stereotypes that will arise through this activity. It may be helpful to use a generic phrase such as "these people" rather than naming the group.

How the Facilitator Participates

In addition to the information provided in the Role of the Facilitator, the facilitator's role is to provide participants with examples, if required. For example, if the group is working on individual behaviours, the facilitator might provide personal examples of some of his/her own excluding behaviours.

How Participants Contribute to the Group's Learning

The participants will build the triangle through their examples. Initially, this exercise is easy for participants because it does not require a personal investment or self-critique while they are participating. During the debrief, the facilitator promotes critical analysis and discussion where personal actions and ways of thinking can be addressed.   

Facilitating this Learning Action 

For Large Groups 

  1. Either as one large group or a number of smaller groups, begin brainstorming the above three questions for 10-15 minutes and have one member of each group record the answers. If the group is large enough, consider forming a number of smaller groups; each smaller group should then work on one of the questions.  

  2. After brainstorming, each group will provide 2-3 items from their list of answers for each question. 

  3. While the groups are presenting their answers, the facilitator will record them on a whiteboard, blackboard or Smartboard. However, if the group is too large, the facilitator can instead provide a Powerpoint slide with a pre-made list for each of the three categories: Institution, Individual and Ideology. In this case, the facilitator need not record answers as many of the answers on the pre-made slides will be the same as the participants' answers. An electronic presentation is also useful if the room is too large for participants to see answers on a whiteboard or blackboard.

  4. As a visual representation of racism and how it operates, a slide with the completed triangle diagram should be shown (See Triangle Powerpoint). 

For Small Groups

  1. Divide participants into 3 small groups - Group 1, Group 2, and Group 3 with a maximum of 10 individuals in each group. 

    • Each group selects a group recorder who will write down ideas generated by his/her group.

    • If the participants are going to form the sides of the triangle by standing along each side, have them write ideas on flipchart paper. String can also be used to help visualize the shape of the triangle; simply place the string on the ground.

    • If the facilitator is going to write ideas on the board, participants will write on regular notebook paper.

    • Each group will select a group member to read their ideas to the large group.

  2. Instruct Group 1 to brainstorm a list of places where we learn excluding behaviours. The facilitator can ask: Where do we learn behaviours and beliefs? In what places and through what organizations?

  3. Instruct Group 2 to brainstorm a list of ideas (things we think generally) that justify or legitimize excluding behaviour. The facilitator can ask: What do we say about certain groups of people that might exclude them from a larger group, an organization, or a position of power? 

  4. Instruct Group 3 to brainstorm the things that individuals do to exclude others. The facilitator can ask: Can you think of a time when you behaved in a way that excluded someone? 

  5. Allow the small groups about 10-15 minutes to brainstorm ideas.

  6. When the 15 minutes has elapsed, invite participants back to the large group to share their lists.

    • If participants are forming the lines of the triangle, have each group put their list (on a piece of flip chart paper) on a corner of the triangle. String can also be placed on the ground or held by participants to show the lines.

    • If the facilitator is writing on the board, he/she will write each list in the appropriate corner of the triangle. The corners of the triangle will not be connected until all of the participants' responses have been listed.    


  • Discuss what each group represents, naming groups Group 1 - Institutions, Group 2 - Ideology, and Group 3 - Individual.

  • Discuss how each section is connected to the others. Form the triangle of exclusion or, in this case, the triangle of racism (this diagram can be used to examine any ism).

Note: The triangle operates in either direction and can begin at any given place; institutions promote individual behaviours which perpetuate ideology. For example, a participant may learn things from their family and, as a result, they demonstrate certain behaviours that promote particular stereotypes. On the other hand, the experience may begin with ideology that promotes individual behaviours which are transferred to institutions. For example, the student may hear a stereotype that influences their behaviours and they then bring those behaviours into their school or religious institution.

  • Discuss how inclusive and exclusive behaviour privileges some people while oppressing others and how it can be self-perpetuating. Often, individuals are unaware of their own behaviours that exclude.