Day Eleven: Power Structures, part II
Lesson Development: Building off of yesterday’s lesson on how historic forces have shaped current inequality and landscapes of opportunity in the US, today I wanted to explore how contemporary systemic discrimination and privilege operates. Specifically, I wanted to highlight the concept of white privilege in concrete, accessible ways. To do this, I created a list of white privileges that I thought sixth graders would be able to understand by drawing from and expanding upon the list of white privileges in Peggy McIntosh’s essay, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Additionally, I felt it was important that students begin thinking about what they can do to change oppressive systems. I wanted them to understand how even speaking out against – and so calling attention to – racist, sexist, etc. comments or actions is essential in an era where people believe racism and sexism are largely things of the past.
- Review yesterdays card game:
- · What was it? Why did we play it? What were the two main things that made it unfair? What did that represent?
- How do racism and other forms of systemic discrimination operate today?
- Physically run through a scenario/skit to illustrate this: Ms. Pierre is working for a corporation that is hiring right now. Everyone in the class needs a job, so we all have to apply. That’s fifteen people all going for the same job! A lot of competition, it’s going to be hard to get that job… But what if Ms. Pierre imposes her prejudice on the job – she decides that someone with brown eyes just isn’t what she’s looking for. She doesn’t make that official – that would be illegal now – so she still lets everyone apply, she just doesn’t seriously consider anyone with brown eyes.
- · Now how many people are left competing for the same job?
- · Is it easier or harder for non-brown eyed people to get that job now?
- · Do the non-brown eyed people even notice?
- Even though official discrimination is illegal now, when many people in positions of power hold prejudice, it becomes part of a system.
- All of the identities that society values less – women, people of color, queers, etc. – are targeted by this type of discrimination. It happens in different key areas (applying for a house/apartment, a loan, an education, a job) that affect people’s ability to make money.
- What do people need that money for in our society? What does class mean? Turn to your neighbor and try to come up with important things that people need money for. Report back (make the connections between student ideas and human necessities).
- What is the opposite of discrimination? Privilege – in the context of identity, privilege is unearned advantage based on someone else’s systemic disadvantage.
- · In our employment scenario, the non-brown eyed people were privileged – meaning that because the corporation only wanted people like them, they benefited from it discriminating against people with brown eyes.
- · In the game we played on Tuesday, the red group had certain privileges that made it easier for them to win.
- · Another way to think about it is to flip stats: saying “blacks are six times more likely to be shot by police than whites” is the same as saying “whites are six times less likely to be shot by police than blacks” – the second way highlights the privilege of being white. “The wealth of the median white household is fifteen times the wealth of the median black household.”
- What are some privileges people have because they are white? Pass out the list and have students read them over with their neighbor. Have students ‘turn and talk’ about any that stand out to them – are surprising, confusing, or that they think are especially important. In a few minutes, report back to the class and discuss. **Mention being considered “normal” as a privilege if they don’t**
What is privilege? In the context of race and other identities, it is an unearned advantage stemming from someone else’s systemic disadvantage.
What are some privileges I have if I am white?
- I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
- I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
- I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
- I can be sure that in school, I will learn all about the accomplishments of my race.
- When I am told about our national heroes or about “civilization,” I am told that people of my race created it.
- I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.
- I can talk with my mouth full, or be late, or do almost anything, and not have people put this down to my race.
- I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
- I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
- I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.
- I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed because of my race.
- If a cop pulls me over, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
- I can think over many options of what to do with my life without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.
- I can choose band-aids in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.
- When I think of the “typical” American citizen, I picture of a person of my race.
- I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life (schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, media consumption, etc).
- Does it seem fair that one group has these privileges?
- · Can you think of similar privileges other identities that society values more might have?
- · Nearly everyone is privileged in some ways. In what ways do you benefit from discrimination against others?
- The people with more privilege need to be made aware that discrimination is still a significant problem. Like we saw in our card game and employment simulation, privilege is often invisible nowadays. The rules no longer say to give an extra card to the red team, and the non-brown eyed people don’t notice that they are given priority in applying for the job…
- What do we do about it? What are some reasons these systems are still in place? The first step to changing things is noticing unfair treatment and speaking up. If people don’t believe the system is racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., then why would they want to change anything? For example, most white people don’t believe racism is a problem. According to polls from about ten years ago, as little as 6% of whites believe racism is still a serious problem. Even in 1963 (pre-Civil Rights Act), two thirds of whites polled by Newsweek said that blacks were treated equally in their communities, while 85% said black children had equal educational opportunities.
- Closing: breaking the silence – connect speaking up to bullying, a subject which the students should all be familiar with (a presentation was done last month). “Remember that time when Mr. S came in and you talked about why bullying continues? What do most kids do when they see another kid get bullied?” Silence in the face of discrimination works the same way – it encourages it. It says that you are OK with what is happening. If you don’t say something, who will?
Day Twelve: Writing About Identity
Lesson Development: As this was the last day of the unit, I wanted to give students the opportunity to critically engage the issues we have been talking about for the past three weeks through writing. I developed the following prompts (with the exception of the last one, which is a staple identity-themed prompt), trying to allow students many different ways of expressing themselves while keeping it directly related to our unit. These prompts, including the introduction, appear on a handout they were given exactly as they are written below.
Today we are going to write about our identities. In this unit, we have been talking about the identities that society pays attention to, like our sex, race, class, sexuality, physical ability, etc. Over the past three weeks, we have been talking about the different messages society sends us about our identities and how these affect people’s lives. How has your identity affected you? There is no right or wrong answer. The goal is to write about your own thoughts, feelings, and opinions on the subject. Please take your time and respond to one of the following prompts:
- Look back on the pieces you’ve written in this unit. Revise or expand one of those pieces. Things to think about: have you told the whole story? What are you trying to say with the story? Is it clear? Have you included your own thoughts or feelings in it?
- Think back on the lessons from the past three weeks. Is there one idea or piece of information that was new or surprising to you? How has this idea changed the way you think about our society or your identity? Write an essay about an idea or piece of information that we have talked about and why it is important to you.
- We have been talking a lot about the “rules,” expectations, and stereotypes society has about different identities. For example, society wants us to believe that boys have to be tough and girls have to do housework. Write a short story about a time when you noticed there were certain “rules” or expectations for your identity. Was there a time when you were told to play with certain toys, learn certain activities, or be like certain people because of your identity? How do you feel about this?
- If you were asked the question “how do you identify,” how would you answer? Has this unit on identity affected your answer at all? If so, how? Write an essay about what your answer would be and why.
- Write a poem beginning with the phrase, “I am from…” Use this poem to explore one or more parts of your identity. What does your identity mean to you? Why is it important?