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Inside the tunnel

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Guides

Coping with discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, etc., can cause health problems according to studies conducted on the effects of discrimination. Many people from non-dominant groups have reported consistently feeling anxious, uncomfortable, and even out of control because others tell them where to go and what to do in situations unfamiliar to them. They don’t know if they belong in the work place or in school. They don’t know where they fit in.

The Tunnel of Oppression attempts to recreate such feelings by having the guides create an environment where participants can actually feel disoriented, dehumanized and uncomfortable. Oppression does not stop because its victims are uncomfortable or tired, and it does not respect personal boundaries. The behavior of the guides between theaters is intentional—an attempt to help participants feel what it’s like to not know where to stand, when to move, or how to act. While the experience is not always pleasant, it is part of the simulated experience. Physical contact is not allowed.


Coping with Racial Discrimination: Assessing the Vulnerability of African Americans and the Mediated Moderation of Psychosocial Resources Society and Mental Health July 1, 2013 3: 133-150
J. L. Bratter, B. K. Gorman. Is Discrimination an Equal Opportunity Risk? Racial Experiences, Socioeconomic Status, and Health Status among Black and White Adults. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 2011; 52 (3): 365 DOI: 10.1177/0022146511405336


Entrance to tunnel  Audience watches exhibit in tunnel  Audience watches a discussion on stage  Man talking in spotlight with poster in foreground that reads 'Fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.'  Three people stand on stage in spotlight  Two people sit at a table in a spotlight  

Identity development

The Tunnel of Oppression planning includes training the cast and staff on racial, gender and sexual orientation identity development. These are the models used:

Stages of Racialized and Ethnic Identity Development : People of Color**

Source: William Cross, Shades of Black: Diversity in African American Identity,
cited in Beverly Daniel Tatum, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? (NY: Basic Books, 1997), adapted and elaborated by Lisa Sung** (2/2002)

1. Pre-Encounter.
Limited concsciousness of self as “other.”
Has absorbed the images, beliefs, values of dominant group. Considers self as “colorblind” and the world as “raceless.” Views the world individualistically and relationally; unaware of significance of group. Identifies with and seeks acceptance among the dominant group by down-playing aspects associated with the dominated group. Disinterest; distance. Co-ethnics may reject him/her because of assimilation to the dominant group. “Don’t call me ___. I’m American.”
“we’re all just people.”
“Just treat me as the individual I am.”
“____ are so uncool.”
“Why do they only stick to themselves?”
2. Encounter.
Impact of (usually negative) categorization is felt.
If positive encounter: surprised by perceived differences. If negative encounter: feels devalued and rejected; now unsure of own identity and community. Earlier beliefs about equality, “liberty and justice for all” shaken. Hurt, anger, confusion. May develop an “oppositional identity, both protecting self and keeping the dominant group at a distance. Invalidating responses result in further disengagement Openness to reconsidering the significance of ethnicity. “My color wasn’t supposed to matter, but clearly it does matter to them after all.”
“She’s different – how could she be proud of being Black?”
3. Immersion/Emersion
Begins the search for positive identity concept.
Redefining self. Little interest in developing relationships outside the group; outsiders are irrelevant. Joins peer group, which becomes the new social network. Seeks positive images and history; surrounds self with symbols of identity. “Black is beautiful.”
“whites are so uptight.”
4. Internalization.
Possesses a positive sense of identity.
The new identity is integrated into the self-concept and affirmed; a new sense  of security results. Willing to establish meaningful relationships across group boundaries with those who respect the new self-definition. The ethnic identity and ethnic social network are consciously embraced. “Say it strong and say it loud: I’m Black and I’m proud!”

cc/identity development cc/racial and ethnic identity charts