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.) Continue reading