Lesson Plans Days 7-9: introducing race and racism and writing about racial identity

Day Seven: Thinking About Race

Lesson Development: My main goal in this lesson was to introduce students to the definition of racism as racial prejudice plus power, a definition contrary to the mainstream definition of racism simply as racial prejudice. I felt it was essential the students have some context for systemic racism, so I also included a brief history on the creation of white supremacy. Additionally, I wanted to use the lesson as an opportunity to analyze some of our own racial prejudices and stereotypes. To get the conversation on stereotyping started, I employed another essay from Starting with I called My Lebanese Passport, by a Lebanese teenager who gets racially profiled at the airport. Lastly, I wanted to use the lesson to explore some false or problematic notions of race/ism the students had expressed during previous lessons, such as the belief that white people are all mixed race, or that racist jokes are OK as long as no one they offend is present. It is important to note that this is entirely too much to tackle in one day; after failing to get through the lesson in a single day, I split it across two.

  • Define Race: Race refers to our physical characteristics, especially skin tone, which is regulated by a chemical in our skin called melanin. Physical characteristics of racial groups are the only things genetic about race. Everything else we associate with specific races is learned behavior or a stereotype.
  • What does mixed race mean? “Even though a lot of white people have heritage in different countries, it doesn’t mean that they are mixed race. For example, I have Irish, Italian, and French heritage but I’m still just called white.” Racial groups are based on skin color and geographical origin, not necessarily national origin.
  • What does “white” mean? What does “people of color” mean?
  • What are the different races?
  • Define prejudice: Literally, pre-judgment, especially of a person or group.
  • Define racism as prejudice plus systemic power. This means people of color can have racial prejudice, but not be racist. This is likely to confuse students at first – they will likely want examples of how white people are in power and how people of color are disadvantaged.
  • How do people have power in our society? Who does what? Take answers from the class, important things to discuss include:
  • · Running companies
  • · Voting/holding public office
  • · Media control (refer to the ads from day 3 if necessary)
  • · Wealth
  • · Legal system – police, courts, lawmakers
  • · Schools – Whom do we learn about? Who asses students, and how? Naomi suggests discussing NCLB and the achievement gap, as this may resonate.
  • “Was it always this way?” How did racism start? In the late 1600s, ruling whites owning both slaves and European indentured servants (people who had debt, wanted passage to a colony, etc – they usually worked in three to seven year contracts to earn their freedom) feared organized revolt. So they divided the two groups by giving their European servants privileges (esp. jobs as slave overseers themselves) African slaves did not have. This made poor Europeans feel that they were more important and better than African slaves. At the same time, Europeans needed justification for keeping Africans in perpetual, race-based slavery, so they made up stories and rumors that said people with darker skin are less than human. The combination of the special privileges given to poor Europeans and a general denigration of all things of color encouraged poor European colonists to see themselves as having more in common with their wealthy European owners and less as an oppressed social class having more in common with African slaves (and therefore, less likely to partner with African slaves to overthrow wealthy Europeans). The idea that whites were superior to other colors also conveniently served as justification for the genocide of the indigenous [define] and the theft of their land (this also fit well with previous justifications of Indigenous peoples being “savage heathens”). “White” replaced terms like “Christian” and “Englishman” to separate European immigrants from Africans and Indigenous peoples as well as other people of color. (Though it is important to note, some later Europeans immigrant groups – notably the Irish and Italians, and more recently, the Jews – were not considered white when they arrived in the US. These groups had to give up parts of their cultural heritage that marked them as foreign before being allowed the privileges of whiteness. Of course, these groups were only able to do so because they had the physical characteristics already associated with whiteness.)  
  • Stereotypes: what are stereotypes of racial groups? How are different races represented in the media? Read My Lebanese Passport and discuss its themes. What is racial profiling? As a class, generate a list of other common stereotypes and expectations of racial groups. Images to consider:
  • · Blacks and Latin@s as poor, urban, criminal – living in “bad neighborhoods”
  • · Latin@s as (undocumented) immigrants only. [“Illegals”]
  • · Academic achievement as a “white behavior”
  • · Arabs & Middle-Easterners (as well as South Asians) as terrorists or convenience store owners
  • · Asian’s as strict, smart, upwardly mobile (“model minority”)
  • · Indigenous groups as “backward” “savage” “in a state of nature”
  • Why are racist (or sexist, or homophobic, etc.) jokes bad? What do they do?

Day Eight: Thinking About Race, part II

Lesson Development: This plan was created after I was unable to complete the previous lesson on race in a single day. I wanted to use this day to both explore the topics we were unable to finish and to respond to issues students had raised during the previous lesson, such as expanding upon what systemic racism looks like today.

  • Review yesterday: Racism=prejudice + power
  • · How is this definition different from how you thought of it before?
  • · Why do we use this definition?
  • · Why does society want us to use the other definition (racism=prejudice)?
  • “Was it always this way?” How did racism start?  [repeat: see previous lesson plan]
  • What does racism look like today? It may be useful to employ other representations of these stats – either visually with graphs on the board or physically by having students move around the room.
  • · The US has the highest incarceration rate on earth – though home to a little less than 5% of world’s population, the US holds 25% of the world’s prisoners. In the US, blacks are imprisoned at least eight times as often as whites. American Indians and Latinos are imprisoned two to three times the rate of whites. About one in three African-American men are either in prison or on parole or probation(!), and about 12% of black men in their 20s and 30s are incarcerated.
  • · On average, Blacks are more than six times as likely as Whites to be shot by police, and in large cities are killed by police at least three times more often than Whites. Latinos are about twice as likely as Whites to be shot by police.
  • · 30% of white adults had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2005, while 17% of black adults and 12 percent of Hispanic adults had degrees.
  • · Last year, the median income for black households was $30,939. $36,278 for Hispanic households and over $50,600 for white households.
  • · White median household net worth is about $90,000; in contrast, it is only about $8,000 for the median Latino household and only $6,000 for the median black household – or 1/15th the worth of the median white household.
  • How do people explain these facts? One way is to regard them as evidence of the myth that people of different races are biologically or culturally inferior, an incorrect idea fueled by…
  • Stereotypes: what are stereotypes of racial groups? [repeat: see previous lesson plan]
  •  Everyone learns these stereotypes, everyone is taught to be prejudice.  Like smog in the air… “What will people think if they look at those racial disparities and they believe the stereotypes?”
  •  Why are racist (or sexist, or homophobic, etc.) jokes bad? What do they do? (Reinforce systemic oppression – contribute to the “smog” of racism by validating stereotypes.)
  • Wrap up: what can we do about it? Use MLK quote? “…We will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and violent actions of the bad people… but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people…”

Day Nine: Writing About Race

Lesson Development: In this lesson I wanted students to begin exploring their own racial identity through writing. To get the students thinking about ways they might approach writing about their own experience with race, I read another essay from Starting With I. Color Me Different is about the author’s experience of growing up black in a white suburb and his exploration of what it means to be black as well as what race means in general. To further model the assignment, Naomi and I each read something we had written to the prompt. I shared a brief excerpt from a piece included here called Conquistadores about recognizing my whiteness during a standardized test in fifth grade, and Naomi shared a brief piece about how she identifies racially and why.

  • Read Color Me Different
  • · What was that story about?
  • · Why does Jamal feel excluded from different groups/why does he feel like he can’t fit in?
  • · Why is the second definition of race he finds empowering to him?
  • Read the excerpt from Conquistadores. (FIRST ask if they know what “default” means since I will be using it in the piece.)
  • · What happened there?
  • · Why did I think white people didn’t have a race?
  • · Why did I say white folks weren’t supposed to know it?
  • Naomi should read her piece
  •  Write about a time in your life when race affected the situation/your experience.
  • The first time you realized you were X race.
  • Any situation where you had to think about your own racial identity.
  • A time when you were treated differently – better or worse – because of your race or a time when you think the situation would have gone differently if you were a different race.
  • A time when you felt like an insider or outsider because of your race.
  • A time when you were told that people of X race couldn’t act a certain way or do certain things.
  • A time when you told someone they could or couldn’t do something because of race.
  • Write about what your racial identity means to you. How has what we’ve been talking about affected how you think of your race?
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