White Person's Questionnaire


Learning Action: White Person's Questionnaire

Developed from Frederick A Miller, The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, Inc. (In Katz, 2003)

Framing the Learning Action

This learning action assists white people in exploring their personal relationships or lack of personal relationships with people of colour and aboriginal people. This process will deepen the understanding of how racism is learned, perpetuated and often invisible to white people (see Liberal Strategies of Racism).  This invisibility occurs because white participants have the privilege of moving through their lives without understanding racism because they do not have to in order to survive on a day to day basis. This learning action  helps participants understand how race and racism have played out in their lives - it makes race/racism visible and personal, and this is important because understanding and addressing racism requires an emotional and intellectual commitment (see What is anti-racism?).

Maybe in the questions for people of colour or aboriginal people or delete: People of colour and aboriginal people are racialized; racism is part of their daily lived experience. This is not to say that all racialized people understand how racism operates and how it affects them personally because they have also been socialized in a white society where white values are privileged (see institutional racism.). Sometimes, in the context of racialized individuals, not understanding racism is a "survival tool" because they do not want to examine the ways they are different they want to be "the same" to "fit in". It is also difficult to come to the realization that racism happens to you, that racism is institutionalized, that you are oppressed by it, because that is a lot to take on as a student. However, understanding racism can also provide a position of power for racialized people because it helps to make sense of their lived experience and not internalize it (see internalized oppression.).     

Logistics - Things to Consider 

Minimum Time Required:  60 minutes 
        Questionnaire: 30-40 minutes (completed before or during session)
        Debrief : 30-40 minutes
Minimum/Maximum Number of Participants Required:  N/A
Age Level:  10yrs - adult
This exercise can be done in hard copy, on-line, or orally depending on what is appropriate for the particular class. For younger participants it might be appropriate to change the wording on some questions. Individuals with disabilities, depending on the particular disability, my require that the facilitator or another participant that they trust go through the questionnaire with them. 

Suggested Material:  Handout:  White Person's Questionnaire

How Facilitators Can Participate

It is important as a facilitator to complete the exercise personally and share insights from your process with participants before asking them to do it.

  • If you are a white facilitator your personal process through the questionnaire will provide white participants with ideas as well as demonstrating expectations for their answers. Acknowledging that the questionnaire is not easy to complete, and that you faced similar difficulties thinking it through and realizing the gaps in knowledge that your participants might face provides support.  

  • If you are a white facilitator presenting the Aboriginal Persons' Questionnaire and the Person of Colour Questionnaire to racialized individuals, it would be important to acknowledge that although your lived experience is different than theirs, and that you do understand, on some level, some of the difficulties (provide possible examples).  As a white person presenting the questionnaires to racialized participants you will have to understand alternative experiences in order to provide examples (see appropriate questionnaires for facilitator participation).

  • If  you are Aboriginal or person of colour, you will be able to provide support and examples for aboriginal or individuals of colour and it would be important to point out that if you did complete the questionnaire your answers would be quite different from the white participants and why. Need more here.

Facilitating this Learning Action

  1. Before participants complete the questionnaire, It is important to define terms that they may not be familiar with. The terms that need defining are specific to where the student is in their process of understanding racism; for example individuals at the beginning of their process may not understand why it is important to use terms such as  people of colour, aboriginal people, white people and racialized people in the context of understanding racism (see definitions in Glossary.).  

  2. Reassure participants that there are no right or wrong answers and that the questions might bring up knowledge gaps or issues that they have not thought about before.

  3. Warn individuals that a given question may trigger emotions and that this is normal and necessary for understanding racism.

  4. Let participants know that they do not have to share their answers unless they choose to. Generally it is important to create a supportive atmosphere so that they feel they can answer and not be judged on what they say.

  5. Once a supportive environment has been promoted, provide participants with the questionnaire (hardcopy, online) for them to do in class or at home.   

Discussion/Debriefing

Note: It is important to support participants in their process and with their feelings, and it is as important to present them with perspectives that are different than their own. Throughout this debrief, examples of alternative perspectives are presented.

  • Ask participants why they grew up with so few aboriginal people and or people of colour who were close friends. Individuals may say that there were no racialized people at their learning/work environment, and it would be important to ask why that was the case. This might present a space for discussing what organizations (corporations and educational institutions) in the city/area do have racialized individuals and why - segregation?

  • If some people grew up with many friends who were people of colour or many aboriginal people, ask why that was.

  • Ask participants to describe the feeling they experienced during this learning action, and why they though they were experiencing these feelings.   (Feelings may range from anger, sadness, guilt, shame frustration and so on). It is important that the facilitator present alternative actions or positive steps to move participants forward in their process in order to move through their feelings. This is not to say that individuals should not feel the feelings, but not get stuck in them unable to move forward.

  • Ask participants to volunteer to share some of their answers and again be ready with alternatives. For example if the person shares that their most significant experience with a person of colour from a specific group was being robbed and that now they are afraid every time they see a person from that group, you might ask them if it had been a white person who had robbed them would they then be afraid of all white people. This could lead to a discussion of how stereotypes affect assumptions and behaviours.

  • For participants who do have close friends who are aboriginal people and/or people of colour ask them if their friends ever talk about racism and how it affects them.  If their friends do talk about racism, what do they say and if they don't talk about it, why not?  Have some alternative answers for participants. For example if the individual says that their friend does not discuss racism because it is not relevant to their relationship or that is does not happen in their friend's life, you might present an alternative view.

Racism is relevant because it is systemic and affects all of us, racism may not get discussed because the student's friend does not know how it affects their life (racialized people also grow up in a white focused society), or it may not get discussed because it is not safe to talk about it with the student/participant. Relationships, just like people, are different and if a white person, has a relationship with a person of colour or an aboriginal person it does not mean that he/she understands racism or does not participate in it unknowingly.

Next Steps

As follow-up to this exercise participants might be asked to explore their personal biases and where they learned them and to develop a deeper understanding of their personal cultural identity. The Learning Actions; The Ism Prism and Personal Cultural Identity provide guidance for that process.