Chapter 12: Classroom Activity on Racism


I.   Questions for discussion

  1. Does racism still exist today?   If we agree that it does, how is it experienced today?
  2. Who are the targets of racism today? Are “whites” its victims as well as “people of color"?
  3. Why does it exist?  Does anyone benefit from racism?   How?

II. The "living newspaper" exercise

Students should bring in newspaper stories that deal with some aspect of racism today.  The class can then be divided into groups, and each group can develop a skit "acting out" one of the stories.  Each group should perform their skit before the class.  After each skit, the class can discuss what – if anything – it demonstrates about racism in society.

III.  Student-created scenarios

Different groups in the class should choose a theme and develop a skit illustrating how racism might be experienced today.  First, they can brainstorm the themes.  Here are some possibilities:

a. driving down a road and being stopped by police

b. being followed on entering a store

c.  looking for a job

d. looking for a house

e.  experiencing verbal harassment

f.  being expelled from school

After each skit, the class can answer questions such as the following:

• Could this happen in our community or school?

• Do you know that incidents like this happen?

• Why do you think they happen?

• Are you surprised by them?

• What, if anything, should be done about such incidents?

IV.  What is affirmative action?

Affirmative action refers to policies adopted since 1964 to open the door to hiring and admission opportunities for groups historically locked out by racism and sexism.  Women have benefited most from affirmative action programs. 

Questions for discussion:

• To what extent has American history been a kind of "affirmative action"
 for white males?

• What is meant by "reverse discrimination"?  Why is an affirmative action plan only called "reverse discrimination" when it is used to open up opportunities for "minority" groups and women?

To understand how complex the issue can be, consider the following situations:

a.  An Ivy League college has just sent out letters of admission and you are happy that you have been accepted.  But at the same time, you fear you might have got in because both your father and grandfather attended the college and you know it gives preference to relatives of alumni.

Is this a form of affirmative action?  What should be done about it?

b.  You decide to join the Army after high school.  You do not like the thought of fighting in a war, but you are aware that veterans get preference when they apply for certain educational benefits and civil service jobs, whether or not they had served in a war.

Is this a form of affirmative action?  What should be done about it?

c.  You are hoping to get a new government contract for your construction company.  You feel fairly confident that you will beat out rival firms since you are on your own turf and know a number of politicians and power brokers personally.  In fact, you went to school with some of them. 

Is this a form of affirmative action? 

d.  You just started your own welding business and hope to qualify for a local government contract.  The trouble is, you are a woman, and the "old boy network" had a good laugh when you said you were thinking of applying for the job.

Should you be able to benefit from affirmative action?

e.  You are an African-American college graduate competing to get into medical school.  Although you did well at college, you know that thousands of other medical school applicants have a comparable record.  You also know that numbers of African-American medical school graduates are declining, leaving many communities and hospitals serving poor neighborhoods without doctors.

Should you be able to benefit from affirmative action?

Activity 2: Racial Profiling

1. You are the security guard at an airport.  You are supposed to conduct "random" searches.  You see a man in a suit with a briefcase, a teenaged girl, a mother carrying an infant, and a bearded man of Middle Eastern appearance.  Who do you stop?  Why?

2.  You are working at a retail store in the mall.  Your boss tells you that a teenage girl just stole a T-shirt but he wasn't able to see what she looked like.  You go outside the store and see many teenagers hanging out in the mall. What do you do?  

3.  You are a state trooper on the highway.  You see four vehicles go by: a Volvo with a crying baby in the back seat, a Toyota Prius with "Live Green" and peace sign bumper stickers, a rundown Mustang blasting rap music, and a roaring motorcycle.  All vehicles are going the same speed, and all are breaking the speed limit.  Which vehicle do you pull over?  What did you base your decision on, and why? 

4. You are a police officer patrolling a train station.   A frightened passenger comes up to you and reports there are men in the station who are acting suspiciously.  You see three Muslim men praying on the platform as the train is pulling into the station. What do you do?  Why?

Questions for further discussion:

What does racial profiling mean? 

Do you think it works?   

Is it ever justified? 



Judge Julius Waties Waring of Charleston , South Carolina , was born in 1880.  He was the son of a slave holder and had the kind of “aristocratic” upbringing typical of the Southern white establishment. But as a judge, he gradually turned against many of the ideas he had grown up with.  By the 1940s, he had come to believe that the racial hierarchy in the South was unjust.

“There is absolutely no reasonable explanation for racial prejudice,” he wrote in his dissent in a 1951 test of separate but equal, Briggs v. Elliot.  “It is all caused by unreasoning emotional reactions and these are gained early in childhood….Segregation in education can never produce equality and …is an evil that must be eradicated.”

Waring’s opinions shocked white society in South Carolina and around the South.  He received death threats, was socially shunned, and had a cross burned on his lawn.


1. What does it take to stand out against public opinion in this way?
2. Have you ever been in a situation in which you have taken a stand which made you unpopular?
3. Can you imagine a situation in which you would take such a stand?

Divide the class into small groups.  Each group should create an improvisation in which one member of the group goes against prevailing opinion.  What are the consequences likely to be of such an act?  What are the rewards – if any?


1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community
2. We want full employment for our people
3. We want an end to the robbery by the CAPITALIST of our Black Community
4. We want decent housing, fir for shelter for human beings.
5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society.
6. We want all black men to be exempt from military service.
7. We want and immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of black people.
8. We want freedom for all black men held in federal, state, country and city prisons and jails.
9. We want all black people brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their black communities, as defined by the constitution of the United States .
10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace. And as our major political objective, a United Nations-supervised plebiscite to be held through out the black colony in which only black colonial subjects will be allowed to participate, for the purpose of determining the will of black people as to their national destiny.

QUESTION: Which of these demands do you think alarmed the authorities the most? Do you think that his Manifesto would find many supporters today?


Scientists are generally agreed that all men living today belong to a single species, Homo sapiens, and are derived from a common stock….Some of the physical differences between human groups are due to differences in hereditary constitution and some to differences in the environments in which they have been brought up.  In most cases, both influences have been at work….

National, religious, geographical, linguistic and cultural groups do not necessarily coincide with racial groups; and the cultural traits of such groups have no demonstrated connection with racial traits.  Americans are not a race, nor are Frenchmen, nor Germans….Moslems and Jews are no more races than are Roman Catholics and Protestants….

Such a classification does not depend on any physical character, nor does, for example, skin color by itself necessarily distinguish one major group from another.  Furthermore, so far as it has been possible to analyze them, the differences in physical structure which distinguish one major group from another give no support to popular notions of any general “superiority” or “inferiority” which are sometimes implied in referring to these groups….

The scientific material available to us at present does no justify the conclusion that inherited genetic differences are a major factor in producing the differences between the cultures and cultural achievements of different peoples or groups.  It does indicate, on the contrary, that a major factor in explaining such differences is the cultural experience which each group has undergone….

There is no evidence for the existence of so-called “pure” races….

1. Read this statement carefully.  What does it mean?
2. Why do you think a United Nations Agency felt the need to issue such a statement shortly after World War II?
3. The statement was issued a half-century ago. Is this still a relevant message for our time?  Why or why not?

Copyright 2006, ACLU of Massachusetts