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Curriculum Design

Lori Korth

Northern Illinois University


Social Issue Module 1

Topic: Understanding Race and Racism Duration: 2 hours

Additional Resources:
 Two Voices Dialogue
 Definitions and Key Concepts
Learning Objectives:
 Create a positive learning environment by creating group guidelines
 Develop a shared understanding of key terms and concepts
20 min 1. Welcome and Introductions
(20)  Ask students to introduce themselves and state their preferred pronouns
 General housekeeping
10 min 2. Set Guidelines and Expectations for the class
(30)  Discuss the purpose of setting guidelines
 Make clear that this class is a safe space, what people share stays here
 Ask students what expectations they have for the class, what guidelines they
would like the class to be held to
 Ask students what expectations they have for me as their instructor
3. Introductory Activity
20-25  Have students get into pairs or small groups. Have them discuss how race or
min ethnicity has impacted their lives to this point. (5-10 min.)
 Have students share what they talked about back to the large group (10-15
30 min
4. Definitions (Routledge, 2015)
 Have participants get in pairs and pass out wkst 1: Definitions and Key
Concepts to each individual.
 Give them 10 minutes to fill in as many of the definitions as they can with
what they think they mean. (10 min)
 Bring the pairs back to the large group and ask what students came up with.
(instructor can use the filled in version as a guide) (20 min)
 Pass out wkst 1A: Definitions and Key Concepts with the pre-filled in
definitions to each individual. Participants can use it as a reference for the
remainder of the course.
30 min 5. Two Voices Dialogue (Wolf & Le Guin (n.d.))
(1/55)  Pass out wkst 1B: Two Voices Dialogue worksheet to students
 Read through the instructions with the students
 Students will complete the activity on their own, then the class will discuss
their reactions as a large group
6. Concluding Activity
 As homework: hand out the Timeline Questions wkst and instruct students to
go to the link listed on the wkst. Students should explore the interactive
timeline on the social construction of race in order to answer the questions



Racial Formation:


Individual Racism:

Active Racism:

Passive Racism:


Internalized Racism:

Horizontal Racism:


Institutional Oppression:


Race: A social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics,
such as physical appearance (particularly color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation or history,
ethnic classification, and/or the social, economic, and political needs of a society at a given period of
time. Scientists agree that there is no biological or genetic basis for racial categories.

Racial Formation: The process by which social, economic, and political forces determine the
content and importance of racial categories and by which they are in turn shaped by racial meanings.
Crucial to this formulation is the treatment of race as a central axis of social relations that cannot be
subsumed under or reduced to some broader category or conception

Racism: A system of advantage based on race and supported by institutional structures, policies,
and practices that create and sustain advantages for the dominant white group while systematically
subordinating members of targeted racial groups. This relative advantage for whites and
subordination for people of color is supported by the actions of individuals, cultural norms and
values, and the institutional structures and practices of society.

Individual Racism: The beliefs, attitudes, and actions of individuals that support or perpetuate
racism. Individual racism can occur at both unconscious and conscious levels and can be both active
and passive. Examples include telling a racist joke, using a racial epithet, or believing in the inherent
superiority of Whites.

Active Racism: Actions that have as their stated or explicit goal the maintenance of the system of
racism and the oppression of those in targeted racial groups. People who participate in active racism
advocate the continued subjugation of members of targeted groups and protection of “the rights” of
members of the advantaged group. These goals are often supported by a belief in the inferiority of
people of color and the superiority of white people, their cultures, and values.

Passive Racism: Conscious and unconscious beliefs, attitudes, and actions that support the system
of racism, racial prejudice, and racial dominance and contribute to the maintenance of racism
without openly advocating violence, discrimination, or an ideology of white supremacy.

Ethnicity: A social construct that divides people into social groups based on characteristics, such as
shared sense of group membership, values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic
interests, history, and ancestral geographical location. Examples of different ethnic groups are Cape
Verdean, Haitian, African American; Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese; Cherokee, Mohawk, Navajo;
Jamaican, Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican; Polish, Trinidadian Irish, French.

Internalized Racism: When people from targeted racial groups believe, act on, or enforce the
dominant system of beliefs about themselves and members of their own racial group. Examples
include using creams to lighten one’s skin, believing that the most competent administrators or
leaders are white, feeling that they cannot be as intelligent as white people, believing that racism is
the result of people of color not being able to raise themselves up “by their own bootstraps.”

Horizontal Racism: When people from targeted racial groups believe, act on, or enforce the
dominant (white) system of racial discrimination and oppression. Horizontal racism can occur

between members of the same racial group (an Asian person telling another Asian wearing a sari to
“dress like an American,” a Latina telling another Latina to stop speaking Spanish) or between
members of different, targeted racial groups (Latinos believing stereotypes about Native Americans;
African Americans not wanting Asian Americans to move into a predominantly black

Privilege: Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply
because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do.

Institutional Oppression: the systematic mistreatment of people within a social identity group,
supported and enforced by the society and its institutions, solely based on the person’s membership
in the social identity group. Institutional oppression occurs when established laws, customs, and
practices systematically reflect and produce inequities based on one’s membership in targeted social
identity groups. If oppressive consequences accrue to institutional laws, customs, or practices, the
institution is oppressive whether or not the individuals maintaining those practices have oppressive

Wkst 1B Two Voices Dialogue

Voice One is the bigot or racist, the one that has unconsciously (or consciously) picked up and
absorbed all the many stereotypes about different racial/ethnic groups that we are bombarded
with. Let this voice spew out all the stereotypes it knows about certain ethnic groups. You don’t
have to believe these ideas, you may well find them offensive, or be ashamed to even have them
in your head. Part of the point of the exercise is to understand that we absorb these ideas even if
we do not consciously believe in them.

Voice Two is the voice of conscience and reason, the voice that knows “stereotyping and bigotry
is wrong.” Let this voice challenge and question the assumptions and conclusions of Voice One.

(You do not have to share what you wrote or turn it in)

When you are done, write a reflection on these two voices. Where do they come from? Where, or
from whom did you learn the ideas each voice articulated? Which voice was easier to give voice
to, and why?

Use your reflection to discuss how stereotypes are learned and unlearned.

Social Issue Module 2

Topic: Social Construction of Race Duration: 1 hr 20 min
Additional Resources:
 Race Timeline Questions
Learning Objectives:
 Demonstrate understanding of how and why the concept of race was constructed

10 min 1. Introductory Activity – Sorting People (California Newsreel, 2006)
(15)  Use the following list of inherited, biological traits to divide people into
different groups (sort everyone first using one trait, then resort them using
another, and so on, to show how the groups change depending on the criteria)
o Hair color
o Whether or not your tongue curls
o Left-handedness or right-handedness
o Whether or not you have any allergies to food
o Skin color (compare the inside of your upper arm)
 Facilitate follow-up questions:
o Does the composition of the groups remain consistent from one
criterion to the next?
o Is there a clear line of demarcation between groups or is the boundary
more gradual or blurred?
o Are these criteria any less arbitrary than the physical characteristics we
associate with race?
o Does this exercise mean that race doesn’t matter?

70 min 2. Explore Timeline (

(1/20)  Explore PBS’s interactive timeline on race
o Bring up the interactive timeline on the projector
o Ask students to get out their answers to the timeline questions they had
for homework.
o Use the questions and possible answers to guide the discussion.

Wkst: 2 Timeline Questions

1. Which came first - slavery or race? Explain.

2. How is race an ideology rather than a biological reality? Using examples from the
timeline, illustrate how race is socially constructed.

3. Think about the race categories we are familiar with today. When did they first appear?
Are they the same as the categories that were used 100 years ago, 200 years ago?
Compare the categories with events from the same time period: what else is happening?
How does the evolution of categories reflect changing social attitudes or historical

Social Issue Module 3

Topic: Understanding Privilege Duration: 1 hr 20 min
Additional Resources:
 Privilege Walk worksheet for instructor
Learning Objectives:
 Increase understanding of privilege amongst the participants by stating facts in which
privilege has shaped their life in possible positive or negative ways.

75 min 1. Privilege Walk (Young, 2006)
(1/15)  Instruct students to move any desks or tables to the outside of the classroom so
there is enough space in the middle for them to stand in a straight line with
their shoulders touching and enough room in front of them and behind them
where they will be able to take adequate steps forward and backward
throughout the exercise.
 Ask students to then stand in a line with their shoulders touching.
 Explain the directions for the exercise.
 Read each statement.
 Debrief with the participants, using questions provided as a guide.

2. Concluding Activity (McIntosh, 1988)

5 min  Pass out Wkst 4: McIntosh’s article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible
(1/20) Knapsack and Wkst 4A: The 50 daily effects of White privilege taken from her
 Instruct students to read the article as homework, checking off the statements
of daily effects of White privilege they believe apply to them.

Wkst 3 Privilege Walk

Purpose: To provide participants with an opportunity to understand the intricacies of privilege.

Time: 1 hour
1. Participants should stand shoulder to shoulder in a line across the room.

2. This exercise should be completed without speaking.

3. Participants should be instructed to listen carefully to each sentence, and take the step
required if the sentence applies to them. If a participant is unsure of whether a particular
sentence applies to them, remind them it is up to them on how they interpret the sentence.

4. They should be told there is a prize at the front of the site that everyone is competing for.

1. If your ancestors were forced to come to the USA not by choice, take one step back.
2. If your primary ethnic identity is American, take one step forward.
3. If you were ever called names because of your race, class, ethnicity, gender, or sexual
orientation, take one step back.
4. If there were people of color who worked in your household as servants, gardeners, etc.,
take one step forward.
5. If you were ever ashamed or embarrassed of your clothes, house, car, etc. take one step
6. If your parents were professionals: doctors, lawyers, etc. take one step forward.
7. If you were raised in an area where there was prostitution, drug activity, etc., take one
stop back.
8. If you ever tried to change your appearance, mannerisms, or behavior to avoid being
judged or ridiculed, take one step back.
9. If you studied the culture of your ancestors in elementary school, take one step forward.
10. If you went to school speaking a language other than English, take one step back.
11. If there were more than 50 books in your house when you grew up, take one step
12. If you ever had to skip a meal or were hungry because there was not enough money to
buy food when you were growing up, take one step back.
13. If you were taken to art galleries or plays by your parents, take one step forward.
14. If one of your parents was unemployed or laid off, not by choice, take one step back.
15. If you attended private school or summer camp, take one step forward.
16. If your family ever had to move because they could not afford the rent, take one step
17. If you were told that you were beautiful, smart and capable by your parents, take one step
18. If you were ever discouraged from academics or jobs because of race, class, ethnicity,
gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.
19. If you were encouraged to attend college by your parents, take one step forward.
20. If you were raised in a single parent household, take one step back.

21. If your family owned the house where you grew up, take one step forward.
22. If you saw members of your race, ethnic group, gender or sexual orientation portrayed on
television in degrading roles, take one step back.
23. If you were ever offered a good job because of your association with a friend or family
member, take one step forward.
24. If you were ever denied employment because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual
orientation, take one step back.
25. If you were paid less, treated fairly because of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual
orientation, take one step back.
26. If you were ever accused of cheating or lying because of your race, ethnicity, gender, or
sexual orientation, take one step back.
27. If you ever inherited money or property, take one step forward.
28. If you had to rely primarily on public transportation, take one step back.
29. If you were ever stopped or questioned by the police because of your race, ethnicity,
gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.
30. If you were ever afraid of violence because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual
orientation, take one step back.
31. If you were generally able to avoid places that were dangerous, take one step forward.
32. If you were ever uncomfortable about a joke related to your race, ethnicity, gender or
sexual orientation but felt unsafe to confront the situation, take one step back.
33. If you were ever the victim of violence related to your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual
orientation, take one step back.
34. If your parents did not grow up in the United States, take one step back.
35. If your parents told you could be anything you wanted to be, take one step forward.

Ask participants to remain in their positions and to look at their position at the site and the
positions of the other participants.
Ask participants to consider who among them would probably win the prize.

1) What happened?
2) How did this exercise make you feel?
3) How did it feel to be one of the students on the “back” side of the line?
4) How did it feel to be one of the students on the “front” side of the line?
5) If anyone was alone on one side, how did that feel?
6) What were your thoughts as you did this exercise?
7) What have you learned from this experience?
8) What can you do with this information in the future?

Social Issue Module 4

Topic: White Privilege Duration: 1 hr 5 min

Additional Resources:
 McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking
the Invisible Knapsack for students
 The 50 daily effects of White privilege
Learning Objectives:
 Identify the effects of privilege on daily activities for others.
 Reflect on the impact of privilege on one’s own life.
60 min 1. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (McIntosh, 1988)
(60)  Which of the “daily effects of white privilege” sticks out to you and why?
 Some say that becoming aware of privilege makes one
 Does acknowledging privilege matter? What if one acknowledges privilege
without doing anything to end it? Is acknowledgment an action in and of itself?
Is it enough?
 McIntosh has stated, “I have often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that
they are overprivileged, even though they may grant that women are
disadvantaged.” What are your thoughts on this statement? Is it possible for
one person’s overprivilege to be unrelated to another’s disadvantage?

5 min 2. Concluding Activity

(1/5)  Instruct students to read the article “Racial Preferences for Whites: The Houses
that Racism Built”

Wkst 4

Wkst 4A

Social Issue Module 5

Topic: Systematic Oppression Duration: 1 hour

Additional Resources:
 Adelman’s Racial Preferences for
Whites: The Houses that Racism Built
 TED Talk - Alice Goffman: How we’re
priming some kids for college and
others for prison

Learning Objectives:
 Identify systems of oppression
20 min 1. Racial Preferences for Whites: The Houses that Racism Built (Adelman, 2003)

40 min 2. TED Talk – Alice Goffman: How we’re priming some kids for college and others
(60) for prison
 What are your initial thoughts after watching this?
 What institutional systems were discussed in this video?
 What are your thoughts about Goffman’s method’s?

Racial Preferences for Whites: The Houses that Racism Built

By Larry Adelman
San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, June 29, 2003

Thirteen years ago, my parents sold the house I grew up in. It was one of those suburban tract
homes that sprouted across the nation after World War II. Our home was pleasant if
undistinguished. It wasn't one of Malvina Reynolds' "little boxes made of ticky tacky" - based on
a drive the singer took past Daly City, CA in the '50s. It was a ranch house on a curving, leafy
street in Merrick, Long Island, 25 miles east of Manhattan, about five miles from its more
famous suburban neighbor, Levittown.

After turning 65, my father wasted no time retiring. He'd purchased our house back in 1952 for
$20,000 thanks to a 4 percent mortgage made possible by the Veterans Administration. Now he
was considering an offer of $300,000. With the money they'd get a place in the Berkshires and
winter in Florida.

Ten years later, my colleague here at California Newsreel, Cornelius, sold the house he grew up
in. Cornelius' folks had also purchased a place in the early '50s in Chester, just outside
Philadelphia. A few years ago, after Cornelius' father passed away, his mother wanted to move

back to Virginia. Cornelius sold the home in 2000 - for $29,500.

That $270,500 gap reveals a microcosm of race in America. My family is white and Cornelius' is

On Monday, the Supreme Court finally issued its ruling on whether the University of Michigan
should jettison its affirmative action program. The court upheld the law school program that
sought a "critical mass" of minorities but struck down a "point system" used to increase
affirmative action for undergraduates. While the decisions didn't fully satisfy advocates on either
side, on balance they were less "anti-affirmative action" than feared. I wonder how many justices
had experiences like mine.

Cornelius and I have worked together for 20 years, always making an identical salary, yet my net
worth is several times his. My two brothers and I enjoyed good schools, parks and libraries
because of rising property values. My parents' growing home equity not only provided for their
retirement but sent the three of us to private colleges - and even helped with the down-payments
on our own homes. Today, thanks to them, my house is paid off and my 21-year-old daughter is
about to graduate college with a nest egg of her own. When my parents pass away, we stand to
inherit a tidy sum.

Cornelius had no such help. As American manufacturing declined, Chester became increasingly
black and populated by people on fixed incomes, who faced higher taxes to maintain public
services and schools. Cornelius' parents' expenses climbed as their city deteriorated. Cornelius
attended college on scholarship, but worked his way through school. Today, rather than look to
his mother for financial help, Cornelius helps support her.

What's this got to with race? It goes back to the postwar suburbs and the government policies and
subsidies that made them possible -- and guaranteed they'd be segregated.

A set of New Deal programs led by the Federal Housing Administration allowed millions of
average white Americans to own a home for the first time. Down payment requirements were
reduced from as much as 50 percent to 10 or 20 percent and the time to pay off the remaining
mortgage was extended from five years to 30 years.

Federal investigators evaluated 239 regions for risk. Communities with a mere one or two black
families were deemed ipso facto financial risks ineligible for low cost home loans. Government
appraisal maps colored those communities red -- hence the origin of the term "redlining."

Between 1934 and 1962, the federal government backed $120 billion of home loans; more than
98 percent went to whites. Of the 350,000 new homes built with federal support here in Northern
California between 1946 and 1960, fewer than 100 went to African Americans.

Barred from purchasing a home in the new post-War suburbs, Cornelius' parents had to buy in
one of the few communities where black people could live.

Today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the typical white family has ten times the net worth

of the typical black family (nine times the net worth of the typical Latino family). Even when
they make the same income, white families have over twice the wealth. Much of that gap is due
to home equity and family inheritance.

Many whites who grew up middle class in the suburbs like to think we got where we are today
on merit - hard work, intelligence, pluck and maybe a little luck. We wonder why non-white
parents didn't just work hard, buy a home and pass on the appreciated value like our parents did.
We tend to be blind to how the playing field has been - and continues to be - tilted to our

Racism doesn't just come dressed in white sheets or voiced by skinheads, but lies in institutions
that, like the FHA, have quietly and often invisibly channeled America's wealth, power, and
status disproportionately to white people. Those advantages are passed on and accumulate,
generation to generation, giving us a head start in life. As Ohio State University law professor
john a. powell observes: "The slick thing about whiteness is that whites are getting the spoils of a
racist system without themselves being personally racist."

I sit on my back deck today, enjoying the blooms of the wisteria and reading an e-mail from my
daughter about her post-college plans. My daughter certainly had nothing to do with slavery or
Jim Crow. But the past still helps shape her future thanks to the many advantages my parents,
me, and now she have accrued thanks to generations of racial preferences -- for white people.

Larry Adelman is the executive producer of RACE - The Power of an Illusion.


Social Issue Module 6

Topic: Media’s Influence Duration: 1 hr 20 min
Additional Resources:

Learning Objectives:
 Explain how media influences the social construction of race

75 min 1. Discuss the portrayal of race in media
(1/15)  Whitewashing
o Aloha – casting Emma Stone as Allison Ng, a partially Chinese woman
(based on real life story)
o 21 – based on true story of mostly Asian American MIT students – 2
White actors got the lead roles with actors of Asian decent getting
background roles that were not well developed
o A Beautiful Mind – John Nash’s wife was from El Salvador, instead
Jennifer Connelly was cast in her role

 #OscarsSoWhite

5 min
(1/20) 2. Concluding Activity
 For homework: Have students watch the First Nation videos provided, the
Kendrick Lamar video, as well as music videos of other Black artists the class
agrees upon. Students should note themes found in songs, themes found within
each group, and note anything they find significant or interesting.

First Nation Rappers:

Black American Rappers:

Social Issue Module 7

Topic: Counterstorytelling – Hip Hop Duration: 1 hr 15 min
Additional Resources:
 First Nation Hip Hop
 Black Hip Hop
Learning Objectives:
 Analyze and compare First Nation hip hop and Black hip hop

75 min 1. Counterstorytelling
(1/15)  Discuss the use of hip hop as a means of counterstorytelling
 What themes did the students find?
 What role did the artists’ races play in the different experiences being told
through their music?

First Nation Rappers:

Black American Rappers:

Social Issue Module 8

Topic: Allyship Duration: 1 hr 20 min
Additional Resources:
 Johnson’s The racism of good White
 Johnson’s Proud to be White
Learning Objectives:
 Demonstrate an increased awareness of how one can be a better ally to minority

80 min 1. Johnson’s Racism of Good White People & Proud to be White articles
 Instruct students to get into pairs and give each student the set of articles.
 Students should read through the articles in their pairs, writing down
discussion questions to bring back to the group.
 After 20-30 minutes, bring the group back together and discuss the readings,
asking for students thoughts, using their discussion questions to help guide the


Proud to Be White?

I remember that day when I was teaching a college course on race and how quiet the white students became when the focus shifted to black people fighting oppression by
promoting pride in being black. Black is beautiful. And then there was a pause in the conversation and the white student wanted to know if she was allowed to feel proud of
being white.

It came as no surprise. Who, after all, doesn’t want to feel good about who they are, especially when they’ve had no say in what that is, told from the moment she was born that
she was white. And born into a racist system of privilege that is also not her fault. So why, then, she wants to know, should black people be the only ones to feel proud of who
they are?

She is, of course, ignoring the rest of what people of color have to deal with that she does not. Even more, she is asserting privilege by expecting that race should not be a source
of loss or unhappiness for whites.

But that isn’t what stands out in my memory of that moment. Her question is rhetorical. Her tone makes it clear that she believes the answer is no, and she thinks it isn’t fair. Yes,
she knows she is white and that white privilege is real and oppressive and wrong. But she also sees herself as a human being like anybody else. Being white does not mean she
will be strong or resilient or successful in life, that she will be grounded, safe, or secure in who she is. It will not make her wise or happy or immune to tragedy and grief, or to
loneliness, depression, and despair.

In fact, being white makes her vulnerable to that moment when the fraud of whiteness itself suddenly becomes visible, and all that she unconsciously takes for granted about race
whenever she looks in the mirror or walks out in the world is suddenly thrown into doubt. It is the vulnerability that made James Baldwin feel sorry for white people for having to
depend upon the ridiculous belief that being white makes them better than everyone else.†

I understand why black pride would exist. If your body is arbitrarily made into an object of contempt, disparagement, ugliness, and disgust, then to reclaim that body makes all
the sense in the world.

But if something as arbitrary as the color of your skin has been made into an exalted cultural ideal, the purest expression of what it is to be not only human but, beautiful,
superior, and fine, and that turns out not only to be a myth and a fraud, but a cultural invention whose sole purpose is to justify exploitation, injustice, and oppression, then what
is one to make of that?

That is the bind that she was in, as am I and anyone else identified as white. And, wanting to feel good about who we are, it is tempting to seek refuge in not looking too closely
at what it is exactly about being ‘white’ that should make us feel good about ourselves, not to mention proud.

It cannot simply be the color of our skin. For one thing, that isn’t something we have any hand in bringing about, no more than my being tall or having brown eyes. ‘Proud to be

Then there is the idea that ‘white’ is just another word for ‘European,’ as if I am to derive some sense of who I am from a continent that includes Russian, Italian, Finish, Greek,
French, German, Polish, Czech, Norwegian, British, Scot, Irish, Spanish, Swiss, Portuguese, and Dutch, to name just the ones that come to mind.

Not to mention that at one time or another, Italians, Greeks, and the Irish were not considered white by those with the power to decide such things. And Jews no matter where
they were from. And that for most of history, no one in ‘European’ countries thought of themselves as white even when they were well aware of people who looked quite different
than they.

The fallback position is that ‘white’ stands for the idea of European, the whole thing as a point of pride, as in European Civilization, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment. All right,


The Racism of Good White People

I n the news a few days after I posted “Clueless in Columbia,” I came across another prominent white man speaking on the subject of race. “It isn’t possible to prevent racism,”
he said, “because there is no law that says you can’t be an idiot.”

This was Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, a national organization representing college and university presidents.

‘Idiot,’ of course, is shorthand for some lack of intelligence or self-restraint, by which Mr. Hartle would have us believe that racism is the province of the foolish and the stupid.

Being pretty sure I’m not that, you can imagine my relief.

Which lasted for the nanosecond it took to remind myself that the kind of racism he was talking about—the overtly mean and hurtful act—is not the only way of doing harm. In
fact, it may not amount to much compared with all the rest.

Consider this: If the everyday norm for people of color was to be treated equally when it comes to jobs and income and housing and education and health care, the courts and
police; to feel safe as a general condition of life; to be free to live in any neighborhood they could afford; to be seen and heard and accepted and taken as seriously as anyone
else—I can imagine they’d find a way to deal with the occasional white idiot calling them names or scrawling racist graffiti on the wall.

Not to mention that in such a world, racist idiots would be far more likely to keep it to themselves. Now, there’s a thought.

In such a world. A world in which, obviously, we do not live now.

And that simple fact is what Mr. Hartle’s sweeping reference to idiots and racism would obscure.

But wouldn’t it be wonderful if he were right, how much easier to put it off on some fringe group of maladjusted malcontents. It would be the kind of relief I expect was briefly
felt by many white people celebrating the election of Barack Obama as the dawn of a post-racial era.

They were as wrong about that as Mr. Hartle is about idiots and race. And I suspect that white people who see themselves as intelligent and well-intentioned know that he is
wrong. That the racial trouble we’ve been in for hundreds of years is far more than bad things done by people who are bad or stupid. Whatever you may think humanity has come
to, there are not enough of them for that.

Which leaves the rest of us.

I’ve never met a white person, including the man looking back from my mirror this morning, who wants to consider themselves a source of racism. Especially given the strange but
prevalent idea that we are what we do, a sort of one-drop rule by which a single racist act is all it takes to reveal ourselves as racist human beings—as in, this is the sum of who
you are.

That being a heavy load to carry, we tell ourselves we are not one of them. We are good. And good people do not do bad things, because, well, then they wouldn’t be good.

This is where we get lost, I think. And where we try to hide. It is why we need to look more closely at what racism really is and how it works, so that we can see more clearly
what it has to do with us. Including how dangerous a good person can be.

In a culture that sees the individual as the point of everything, it’s no surprise that racism is viewed as nothing more than what individuals feel and think—an attitude, a conscious
tendency to discriminate and harm.

Some people, we think, have this condition, and some do not, which is why a student could go off to college and be surprised to encounter racism there, as if it were a disease
believed to have been eradicated, or contained somewhere else. And why universities and corporations are so quick to respond to racist incidents by trying to innoculate students
and workers with training and education and rules to prevent further outbreaks.

But that isn’t how it works, what keeps it going, what gives it power, which is why we’ve been stuck in this for so long.

White racism of course includes overt acts of hostility and bigotry. But, racism amounts to much more than that, because it takes much more to enforce and perpetuate a system
of white privilege that has existed for more than 300 years, from unconscious bias to segregation and structures of political and economic power.*

White students who make a racist video or wear blackface on Halloween or draw swastikas on the wall are not simply behaving. They are also enacting a system of privilege that
has a history, a culture, and institutions that do not originate with them, and whose authority is not their own.

If we think of racism in terms of its consequences instead of people’s motivations and intentions, the overt racist behavior that makes the news has much in common with acts of
racism that do not.

There is the white employer, for example, who helps produce racial gaps in jobs, wealth, and income by being drawn to favor job applicants with Anglo-sounding names. Or the
school teacher who uses racially-biased tests that over-identify students of color as learning-disabled. Or the police officer who suddenly feels threatened by the sight of a black
man reaching into his pocket, or the physician or teacher or grocery clerk who attends more to whites than to people of color, or the white person who asks someone of color
where are they from or who cannot tell one from another or feels afraid and calls the police about the black man jogging by the house.

None of this requires that we know what we are doing, that we act with conscious hostility or prejudice. The consequences do not depend on who we are, how good or bad,
intelligent or not.

And those consequences are everywhere, not because bad people are everywhere, but because society is everywhere, the web of ideas and institutions into which our inner and
outer lives are woven from the beginning.

It is this that gives the lone act of racism such weight, so that what is done to one can feel as though it is being done to many. And by many. Because it is.

And we can no more escape our connection to that, than we can stop breathing the air that is breathed by everyone else.

This is why white people so often intuitively recognize the racist act, and why it can make them so uncomfortable, so vulnerable to that moment of recognition when we know it is
not possible to live in such a world without it being part of who we are. And what we do.

In other words, the racism of good white people.

There is, for example, our inertia on the subject of race, including our silence, which is racist because white privilege depends on it to continue.

But silence is just the beginning, there being so many ways to see and choose and value white lives over lives of color. And I do not need to search the news for an example.

For many years I taught courses on social inequality, seminars on gender, race, and class, small groups with lots of discussion.

One day, a black student approached me to say that she had noticed, repeatedly, that I would interrupt her in ways that I never did with whites. It made her feel invisible,
dismissed, as if what she had to say didn’t matter.

Not recognizing myself in what she said, the path of least resistance for a white person in that situation was to deny and defend by telling her that of course I value her as much
as anyone else, that I wouldn’t do such a thing, having spent my life, after all, working on issues of privilege and oppression, that she was being too sensitive, or even blaming
her own lack of self-confidence on me. I might have given her advice about holding her own in a conversation, asserting herself more, perhaps.

I short, I would have made this about her and not me, by subordinating her experience to my own in refusing to see myself as I was seen, to honor another point of view. By
dismissing anything I might do without conscious intent as if I had not done it at all. By presuming to know what I did not, about myself and her.

However gentle, however ‘reasonable’ my tone, however ‘good’ my intent, I would have put her in her place, so that I might stay comfortably in my own.

This is how racism happens.

This is how it works, day by day, loading the odds in favor of whites in the shaping of a life, everything from getting a job or buying a house or excelling in school to healthcare
and feeling accepted and safe.

It is the kind of routine, mainstream, everyday racism that does not rely on being outwardly vicious or mean. But in the cumulative weight of its effect, in its power to perpetuate


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McIntosh, P. (1989). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Peace and Freedom.

Wolf, R. and Le Guin, C. (n.d.) Race and racism: Illumination project curriculum materials.

Portland Community College, Oregon.


Young, T. J. (2006). The privilege walk workshop: Learning more about privilege in today’s

society (Unpublished Research Paper). Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, California.