This lesson helps students understand how de facto geographic segregation (in the form of impoverished inner cities and white, middle-class suburbs made possible by multiple factors, including government money and policies) perpetuates different forms of institutional racism in post-Civil Rights era U.S. History. It also explores the complex causes of environmental racism, which has developed alongside residential segregation.
Students will watch Episode 3 of RACE - The Power of an Illusion and discuss institutional racism and racial segregation in the United States. In a culminating activity, students will perform a mock tribunal, drawing from historical readings and related data to hypothesize about the causes of residential segregation and environmental racism in the U.S. Students will be required not only to watch the video and read the supplemental texts but also to apply the information actively as evidence in the tribunal performance. The lesson challenges students to understand the interplay of structural constraints, individual agency and multiple factors that combine to perpetuate racial inequity.
Notes about the Tribunal
In this tribunal simulation both the procedure and the defendants are organized conceptually rather than realistically. Students are organized into small groups, and they must accumulate evidence and prosecute other groups in the defense of their own group. It is being assumed that multiple causal factors need to be understood in order to explain the phenomenon of racial segregation and environmental racism in the United States. Many groups and even an abstract socio-economic system serve as generic defendants (e.g. capitalism is a political-economic system that would never stand a real trial). The tribunal is generalized rather than based on a specific case in order to focus on evidenced national patterns of segregation and environmental racism.
The point of the tribunal is to analyze and synthesize a complex causal explanation of historical phenomena, not to learn about the U.S. legal system as in a mock trial. The goal of the activity is not to place blame on a group. It is to understand how racial segregation and environmental racism are created and perpetuated in order to identify possible social and political remedies.
The objectives of these exercises are for students to be able to:
ACTIVITY 1 - Characterizing the Inner City
Quickwrite: Draw, list or write everything that comes to mind when you think of the "inner city" or "inner-city schools." Share with your neighbor. Share with the class and discuss what the common ideas were. Why is it that the inner city is characterized this way? What is a contrasting term or place to the inner city? How is it characterized?
Briefly discuss: what are some possible consequences of these differences for people?
Pass out the Facts on Environmental Racism Handout for students to read as homework.
ACTIVITY 2 - Video and Discussion
Show all or part of RACE - The Power of an Illusion Episode 3 in class. Note: if you don't have time to show the entire episode, begin showing at approximately 24 minutes in (where Frank Sinatra comes on screen). This will take you through all the material relevant to this lesson plan (approximately 30 minutes total). If you skip the first part of the episode, some of the questions below may not apply.
After watching the film, discuss the following questions as a class (Note: you can also use the transcribed interview with john powell for additional help):
ACTIVITY 3: The Tribunal
Assign students to one of six groups that are being charged with causing and perpetuating racial segregation and environmental racism. You will serve as the prosecutor and charge each of the defendant groups with perpetuating racial segregation and environmental racism. (You can simply read the general indictment and the indictments against each group out loud.)
Each group must try to defend itself and in turn explain who or what is really responsible. Students will read all the indictments and selected supplemental readings to draw supporting evidence for a defense and counter argument representing the perspective of their assigned group.
During the tribunal, each defendant will have to make a case against at least one other defendant as part of their own defense. This process encourages students to consider multiple causal factors, including both structural and individual ones, in their arguments. Students should not approach the problem cynically by saying it was merely human nature to be greedy or racist, etc. Instead, they should recognize how historical conditions and social systems influence human behavior. By the same token, students should not adopt a narrow view of capitalism and other social systems as determining human behavior to a degree that denies human agency to create and change history.
In large classes, some students can be asked to step out of their roles to make up a tribunal panel that will act as both jury and judge.
NOTE: Students may struggle with cognitive dissonance in understanding that biological race is an illusion and a social construction yet racism continues to be a problem in our society that needs to be confronted. Students may draw a premature conclusion that racism should no longer be analyzed. It may be helpful to bring to their awareness explicitly that although race is an illusion, racism is real. Reviewing excerpts from RACE - The Power of an Illusion may be useful to establish this understanding.
Further instructions for the tribunal are included in this handout.
ACTIVITY 4: Debriefing
It is important to remind students to step back from the role-play now and put together an understanding of the big picture from listening to all the arguments in the tribunal. For homework, students should write their own verdicts, including an explanation of which they think is responsible for what and why. The following day, invite students to share their verdicts or summarize them. In light of their verdicts, guide the students to discuss the following issues:
1. EDUARDO BONILLA-SILVA: "The notion of colorblindness came to us from that famous 'I Have A Dream' speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, where he said that the people should be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. And what has happened in the post civil rights era is that whites have assumed that we are already there, that we're in a society where color does not matter."
2. DALTON CONLEY: "On the one hand, the civil rights era officially ended inequality of opportunity.... At the same time, those civil rights triumphs did nothing to address the underlying economic and social inequalities that had already been in place. It doesn't recognize the fact that the rewards, the house, the Lexus, you know, the big bank account, those are not only the pot of gold at the end of the game, they're also the starting point for the next generation....So until we recognize that there is no way to talk about equality of opportunity without talking about equality of condition, then we're stuck with this paradoxical idea of a colorblind society that is totally unequal by color."
In the tribunal, the students (in each group) will demonstrate understanding in their construction of a coherent defense and counter-argument with detailed supporting evidence from Episode 3 of RACE - The Power of an Illusion and the supplemental readings.
At the end of the tribunal, each student will also write out his/her own verdict for homework and provide a rationale for it. The students selected as the tribunal panel will demonstrate their understanding in constructing a verdict and providing reasons for it.
A good performance will demonstrate that students argue from careful consideration of all the evidence to explain the complexity of multiple causes. An inadequate performance ignores complexity of multiple factors or does not address arguments or evidence that contradict the student's simplistic explanation. Students should understand that individual choices and actions may be structured and constrained by the system of capitalism, but they also shape and influence the particular historical consequences.
STANDARD 2: Economic, social, and cultural developments in contemporary United States
U.S. History Eras 9 and 10, Level IV (Grades 9-12):
Historical Understanding, Level IV (Grades 9-12):