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Exploring Racism in America Lesson Plan
Overview
Both free and enslaved African Americans encountered many obstacles in the United States in the Nineteenth century. Colonization and Emigration describes many of the stereotypes, biases, and racist actions that African Americans faced during that time. In Exploring Racism in America, students will look at racism, stereotypes, and biases in their personal lives and in the U.S. media. Students will discuss examples of racism, exploring the types of stereotypes and biases that still exist in our society. They then will compare the United States today to the Nineteenth century.
Grade Levels:High school, grades 9-12
For use with:Colonization and Emigration
Concentration Area:History
Concentration Area:Sociology
National Curriculum Standards met by this lesson
The following standards have been taken from the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (http://www.mcrel.org) standards.
Students will understand

  • Know how to perceive past events with historical empathy.
  • Work well with different ethnic groups.
  • Use a variety of print and electronic sources to gather information for research topics.
  • Respond to questions and feedback about their own presentations.
Time required
Three-five 45-minute class periods (not consecutive)
Materials needed
  • Narrative, Colonization and Emigration
  • Overhead/chalkboard
  • Access to a variety of media at home (television, radio, the Internet, magazines, etc.)
  • Classroom set of copies
  • Log
Anticipatory Set

Teacher Consideration: Racism is a very sensitive but necessary subject to discuss with students. Please consider the age and maturity level of your class. Some students will want to discuss experiences, while others may be uncomfortable doing so. Do not force students to discuss personal experiences if they do not wish to do so, nor allow other students to intimidate or put down other students during discussions. This lesson will work best with classes that have developed an atmosphere of mutual respect between students.

  1. After they have read the narrative Colonization and Emigration, help students explore how racism acted as a catalyst for black emigration to other countries. Using the text, have them answer the following questions as a classroom review.

    1. What types of racism did African Americans encounter in the United States from the late 1700s through the early 1900s?
    2. How did racism affect their lives?
Procedures

  1. Tell students they will explore racism in your community (sexism may also be included), by addressing the following questions below. (Depending upon the class, the responses may be done as a private show of hands or as an open discussion.)

    1. How many of you have experienced racism in your personal life?
    2. Has someone you know experienced racism?
  2. Ask students for examples of racism, either personal experiences or general examples. List the responses in general terms, adding checkmarks for duplicate responses. At the end of this brainstorming session, ask students which experiences of racism were most prevalent, if any.
  3. Review the following terms (definitions from http://www.thefreedictionary.com): [insert link]

    1. Racism: the prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races; discriminatory or abusive behavior towards members of another race.
    2. Covert: secret or hidden; not openly practiced or engaged in or shown or avowed; "covert actions by the CIA" (for example, unintentional insensitivity toward others, believing that everyone feels a certain way).
    3. Overt: open and observable; not secret or hidden; "an overt lie" or "overt hostility" (for example, Nazis against the Jews).
    4. Stereotype: a conventional or formulaic conception or image; "regional stereotypes have been part of America since its founding."
    5. Bias: a partiality that prevents objective consideration of an issue or situation.
  4. Explain that these terms are important in understanding the different levels of racism.

    1. Important note: Often, students do not realize that there are obviously racist ideas, but also that racism can be covert. The following website, http://www.biblequery.org/prejudice.htm, discusses racism and really describes the differences. This is a good source for more information. However, it is a site linked to Christianity, so take that into consideration when using it in the classroom. You may want to use it for your own personal reference rather than for a class discussion.
  5. Go back to the student-generated list of racism examples. In small groups, have the students classify the actions as overt or covert racism, stereotype, or bias. After they have completed their work, have them discuss their answers orally and compare the placement of the actions.
Assessment

  1. As a long-term assignment, have students keep a log of biases, racism, and stereotypes that they see in the U.S. media over a specified period of time. It is best if students have a few days to observe: one week is best, but the minimum time should be three-four days. Have students log the date, where they observed it, what their observation was, and note about whom the stereotype/racism/bias was.
  2. On the date the assignment is due, review the students' research as a class. In small groups (four-five students), have students compare their data. Have groups appoint a secretary to record their answers and discussion.

    1. In which type of media did you find the most observations? In which type of media did you find the least?
    2. Which group(s) most often was (were) the object(s) of bias, stereotypes, or racism? Was the group portrayed negatively or positively?
    3. Which groups, if any, had positive stereotypes in the media? What negative stereotypes did you find?
    4. Did anything in your collective data surprise you?
    5. Compared to the amount of media watched, heard and read, do you feel that there is a lot of bias, stereotyping, and racism in the U.S. media? Why or why not?
    6. Name racism, bias, or stereotypes that existed in the Nineteenth century in the United States.
    7. How does racism in the Twenty-first century America compare to the Nineteenth century? Are we facing the same problems, or has racism and stereotyping changed?
    8. Do you feel our society has improved, worsened, or stayed the same? Support your answer with specific reasons.
  3. Grade each question on a five-point scale, except the final two questions. As those questions are more detailed, double their score to weight them ten points. Add the total number of points and multiply by two to find equivalent percentage or letter grade scale score.
    Grading Criteria Total Points
    Question is answered in detail with support and in complete sentences 5
    Question is answered with some supporting details and in complete sentences 4
    Question is answered, but it has limited support and answers may or may not be in complete sentences 3
    Question is answered with no support and may or may not be answered in complete sentences 2
    Question is answered incorrectly 1
    No response 0

  4. If you wish, collect the individual logs for further assessment. Also, you can make oral assessments as you circulate the room and hear the discussions.
Related Works

  • The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has a website dedicated to the resistance of Africans and African Americans against slavery and racism. This page, http://www.si.umich.edu/CHICO/Schomburg/text/resistance.html, has links to information on well-known activists, including Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey.
  • This website discusses race and stereotypes, and can be used as a source of information: www.dreamroad.us/amdream/whatis2.html.
  • The Library of Congress has a site, http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/african/afam005.html, which details the abolitionist movement and features anti-slavery publications. This could be used to contrast racist attitudes against people who were working toward equality for all. It also has a nice section that discusses the conflict between abolition and slavery at this link: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/african/afam007.html
Interdisciplinary Links

  • Mathematics: Students will use the media charts to create data and statistics on racism, bias, and stereotypes observed. Students should also keep track of how long they heard, read, or observed media during the research time period to calculate incidents per hour.
  • Writing: Students write about how racism has affected them. They could write about a personal experience, their feelings, or how stereotypes or bias have influenced their thinking.
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