an Environment or a Just Environment?
Racial Segregation and Its Impacts
Developed by Hyung Kyu Nam
Grade Levels: High school or lower division
Subject Matter: Housing, Government, Environmental Racism,
Institutional Racism, White Advantage
Time Allotment: 5-6 class sessions (1 for screening and
discussion; 1-2 to prepare for tribunal; 1-2 for the tribunal;
1 for debriefing)
Description: This lesson explores the multiple causes of
racial segregation and environmental racism, and helps students
understand the perpetuation of institutional racism in the post-Civil
Rights era. Students will perform a mock tribunal in which they
will research, interpret, analyze and apply historical data as
evidence of factors contributing to continued racial segregation
and disparity in the United States.
Hyung Nam teaches U.S. history and social studies
at Wilson High School in Portland, Oregon.
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.
- Students will understand the concepts of environmental racism,
institutional racism and white advantage.
- Students will hypothesize the causes of environmental injustice
utilizing evidence to defend their interpretations.
- Students will develop an understanding of the principles of
social justice, equity and anti-racism.
- By empathizing with those who have been denied opportunities
unfairly and who suffer the greatest consequences of racial
inequality, students will also appreciate the need for change
in order to achieve social justice.
- The government and social institutions have created advantages
that disproportionately channel wealth, power, and resources
to white people.
- In post-Civil Rights America, outlawed de jure social segregation
has evolved into de facto geographic segregation and ghettoization
through a combination of private and government housing and
lending policies and practices.
- Racist outcomes can occur through "neutral" institutions such
as the real estate market without overtly racist ideas or agents.
- White advantage resulting from historical discrimination is
passed down from one generation to the next. As a result, unequal
outcomes continue even after discriminatory policies have been
- People with social, economic, and political power avoid their
share of environmental hazards, thereby imposing them on others.
- Capitalist economies privatize gain while shifting many of
their social costs on the rest of society. Those with less power
and resources to resist (i.e., the poor and people of color)
often bear the biggest burden.
Facts on Environmental Racism Handout
I. Excerpts from Bullard, Robert, "Environmental Justice
for All," Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice & Communities
of Color, Sierra Club Books 1994
- The Commission for Racial Justice's landmark study,
Toxic Waste and Race in the United States, found race
to be the single most important factor (i.e. more important
that income, home ownership rate, and property values)
in the location of abandoned toxic waste sites. The study
also found that:
- three out of five African Americans live in communities
with abandoned toxic waste sites;
- 60% (15 million) African Americans live in communities
with one or more abandoned toxic waste site;
- three of the five largest commercial hazardous waste
landfills are located in predominantly African American
or Latino American communities and account for 40% of
the nation's total estimated landfill capacity; and
- African Americans are heavily over-represented in
the populations of cities with the largest number of
abandoned toxic waste sites.
- Millions of Americans live in housing and physical
environments that are overburdened with environmental
problems including older housing with lead-based paint,
congested freeways that crisscross neighborhoods, industries
that emit dangerous pollutants into the area, and abandoned
toxic waste sites.
Virtually all of the studies of exposure to outdoor air
pollution have found significant differences in exposure
by income and race. African Americans and Latino Americans
are more likely than whites to live in areas with reduced
- A 1992 study by staff writers from the National Law
Journal uncovered glaring inequities in the way the federal
EPA enforces its laws. The authors write:
There is a racial divide in the way the U.S. government
cleans up toxic waste sites and punishes polluters.
White communities see faster action, better results
and stiffer penalties than communities where blacks,
Hispanics and other minorities live. This unequal protection
often occurs whether the community is wealthy or poor.
- After examining census data, civil court dockets, and
the EPA's own record of performance at 1,177 Superfund
toxic waste sites, the National Law Journal report revealed
- Penalties under hazardous waste laws at sites having
the greatest white population were 500% higher than
penalties with the greatest minority population, averaging
$335,566 for white areas, compared to $55,318 for minority
- The disparity under the toxic waste law occurs by
race alone, not income. The average penalty in areas
with lowest income is $113,491; 3% more than the average
penalty in areas with the highest median incomes.
- For all the federal environmental laws aimed at protecting
citizens from air, water, and wasted pollution, penalties
in white communities were 46% higher than in minority
- Under the giant Superfund cleanup program, abandoned
hazardous waste sites in minority areas take 20% longer
to be placed on the national priority list than those
in white areas.
II. Vital Statistics from the Congressional
Black Caucus Foundation:
- African American children are five times more likely
to suffer from lead poisoning than white children, and
22% of African American children living in older housing
are lead poisoned.
- An estimated 50% of African Americans and 60% of Hispanics
live in a county in which levels of two or more air pollutants
exceed governmental standards.
- Communities with the greatest number of commercial hazardous-waste
facilities have some of the highest proportions of minority
- Half of all Asian/Pacific Islanders and American Indians
live in communities with uncontrolled toxic waste sites.
- Communities with existing incinerators have 89% more
minorities than the national average.
- African Americans are heavily overrepresented in cities
with the largest number of abandoned toxic waste sites,
such as Memphis, St. Louis, Houston, Cleveland, Chicago,
Other materials that are optional for the lesson or recommended
for further exploration:
From the RACE companion Web site:
Swim in Racial Preference by Tim Wise
Racial Justice: What's Sprawl Got to Do With It? by john
Bullard, Robert (ed.). "Environmental Justice for All," from
Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice & Communities of
Color. Sierra Club Books, 1994.
Bullard, Robert (ed.). Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices
from the Grassroots. South End Press, 1993.
Bullard, Robert; Grisby III, J.E., and Lee, Charles (eds.). Residential
Apartheid: The American Legacy. CAAS Publications, UCLA, 1994.
Environmental Justice: At Issue, An Opposing Viewpoints Series.
Greenhaven Press, 1995.
de jure segregation
de facto segregation
1968 Fair Housing Act
Federal Housing Administration
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 - see under RESOURCES above):
- Historically, how have white Americans created racist explanations
for the living conditions of people of color and immigrants?
- How has whiteness been a requirement for citizenship in the
U.S.? What consequences has this had for whites? What about
for African Americans, Asians, Latinos, Native American, etc.?
What rights or advantages does a citizen enjoy compared with
- Why might owners of developments like Levittown decide not
to sell to African Americans?
- What consequences might such decisions have?
- Explain the practice of "redlining." What is its origin?
- What are possible motivations for real-estate agents to practice
"blockbusting?" Who gains and loses in this situation? Make
a graphic organizer of how the multiple chain of consequences
leads to segregation and wealth disparities. (see Where Race
Lives: Downward Spiral for textual supplement)
For further thinking, discussion and writing, select from these
quotes taken from the film:
Film Quotes for Further Discussion (optional)
NARRATOR: "European immigrants were learning that whiteness
was more than skin color. It was the privilege of opportunity."
JOHN A. POWELL, Legal Scholar: "Now it's sort of hard to
believe that the federal government nationalized and introduced
redlining. In a funny way, it wasn't just giving something
to whites, it was constructing whiteness. Whiteness meant
- as in the past white has meant being a citizen and being
a Christian - it now meant living in the suburbs."
NARRATOR: "Only 50 years before, European ethnics were
believed to be distinct races. Now in these new segregated
neighborhoods they blended together as white Americans."
BEVERLY TATUM, Psychologist: "So if you can get a government
loan with your GI Bill, your newly earned college degree
and buy a house in an all-white area, that then appreciates
in value, that then you can pass on to your children, then
you're passing on wealth. That has all been made more available
to you as a consequence of racist policies and practices.
To the child of that parent, it looks like my father worked
hard, bought a house, passed his wealth on to me, made it
possible for me to go to school, mortgaged that house so
I could have, you know, a relatively debt-free college experience,
and finance my college education. How come your father didn't
do that? Well, there are some good reasons why maybe your
father had a harder time doing it if you're African American,
or Latino, or Native American."
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
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 the handout
Tribunal on Residential Segregation and Environmental Racism
The Indictment (General)
The Civil Rights Movement put an end to Jim Crow - the
system of laws and customs that enforced racial segregation
and discrimination throughout the United States. In Brown
v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court finally reversed
its rationalization of Jim Crow as "separate but equal"
when it ruled that segregation is inherently unequal.
Today, in the post-Civil Rights America, you are guilty
of transforming the legal segregation of Jim Crow into the
geographic segregation of affluent white suburbs and impoverished
inner-city ghettos. Furthermore, you are charged with: poisoning
people of color, especially the young and elderly who are
most vulnerable; neglecting, exploiting, and destroying
their environments; and burdening society with the extra
costs of health care and environmental clean up resulting
from toxic poisoning.
Some of you may be tempted to argue that you didn't intend
to be racist and therefore you shouldn't be held responsible
for this "crime." Others may suggest that because these
problems stem from the past, people in the present should
not pay the price. However, evidence of continuing racial
disparities demonstrates that inequality is actively perpetuated
NOTE: This is a unique tribunal. First, the goal
of each group is to defend itself by proving that the other
groups are actually responsible for the problems cited.
It is important to realize that this is a strange activity
and that the goal is not to become skilled in placing blame
on others while avoiding responsibility, but to learn about
the multiple causes behind these problems in a fun and engaging
manner. The tribunal is also unlike the normal U.S. justice
system, which focuses on specific cases rather than a broad
and generalized (but nevertheless very real) problem.
The teacher is the facilitator and prosecutor of the tribunal.
- suburban residents
- government and public officials
- business leaders
- inner-city residents and
- the system of capitalism
Each of you will be assigned to a group representing one
of the six defendants. You must select two spokespersons
to present your case. The rest of your team will be responsible
for answering questions posed by the jury and other groups
as well as cross-examining (questioning) the other defendant
groups. All of you will:
- defend your group against the charges and
- explain how other parties are actually responsible using
specific factual evidence
Your group may plead guilty if you choose, but you cannot
claim sole responsibility. You must also attempt to prove
the responsibility of least one other defendant.
Some students may be chosen to serve on the jury.
Meet with your groups to gather the facts of the case,
outline your argument and write it out. Read the "Go
Deeper" article in the Where Race Lives portion
of the RACE Web site and the Facts on Environmental Racism
handout. Study all the specific indictments and read the
supplementary text selected for your group in order to prepare
for the activity. Select two spokespersons to present your
defense. Everyone else in the group must understand the
case and be able to serve as a witness representing your
group. Each presenter will be scored for CIM speech requirements
during this role play.
The teacher will prosecute one group at a time. First,
spokespersons for the group under prosecution will present
their group's defense, using evidence from the texts. Then,
nonpresenters from other groups will cross-examine the group
on the stand to expose contradictions in their argument
and bring attention to important facts neglected by their
defense. The nonpresenters in the prosecuted group are expected
to respond to cross-examination questions and offer counter
arguments. Every student must participate actively to receive
participation grades. Each person will also be required
to write about the tribunal at the end.
After all the groups have had their turn, the jury will
direct remaining questions to any of the groups in order
to clarify each group's final position. The jury will then
retreat to the hall to determine the guilt of each defendant
(the jury may assign a percentage of guilt to different
defendants), offering clear reasons for their decision.
Following the jury's verdict, all students will come out
of their roles and write their own verdict and explanation.
NOTE: The ultimate goal of this activity is not to place
blame on a particular group. It is to understand how racial
segregation and environmental racism are created and sustained
by many forces interacting in complex ways. This understanding
will help identify the social policies and institutional
practices that perpetuate racial inequities.
The Six Indictments
A. Suburban Residents
You chose to move out of the city into all-white suburban
neighborhoods, taking your resources, services and jobs
with you. Whenever more than one or two African American
families managed to overcome obstacles and move out there
too, you fled to maintain your segregated suburbs. You claimed
that you were not racist but feared the loss of your property
values. But it is your "white flight" that causes the devaluation
of property and the movement of resources and businesses
away from the city and inner-ring suburbs out into white
suburbs. You are responsible for reducing inner-city communities
to the rock bottom, making them vulnerable to and even desperate
for polluting industries.
You claim not to be racist, but you like to maintain your
white advantage whether you acknowledge it or not. You claim
that racism is not a problem anymore because the Civil Rights
Act was put into place almost 40 years ago. You blame people
of color for their own suffering. This kind of blaming allows
you to explain outcome disparities as the result of differences
in "natural" ability or motivation. In a 1990 National Opinion
Research Report, more than 60 percent of white Americans
like you said that Blacks suffer from poor housing and employment
opportunities because of their own lack of will power. Some
56.3 percent said that African Americans preferred welfare
to employment, while 44.6 percent said that Black people
tended toward laziness.
Some of you even accuse people of color of reverse racism
now, claiming that nonwhites get unfair advantages through
affirmative action. Yet you have benefited from a long history
of "affirmative action" for whites, passed down through
generations - from discriminatory and racist immigration
and citizenship laws, land give-aways and housing programs.
You have unfairly accumulated wealth and protected your
interests at the expense of poor people of color. For example,
you fought off toxic industries, saying "Not in my backyard,"
knowing or not caring that these toxic substances would
end up in the neighborhoods of poor people of color. How
can we blame racism or capitalism? It is individuals who
do things, including making and maintaining systems.
You only wanted what any family would want: a good investment
and safe, clean neighborhoods with good schools and other
resources. As individuals, you had no control over unethical
government policies or business practices. You broke no
laws. There may have been a lot of racism in the past, but
you were not responsible for it. You don't have personal
prejudices or hostilities towards nonwhites and don't attempt
to take advantage of others by being white.
print-friendly version of Uncle Sam Lends a Hand.
B. Government and Public Officials
Historically, you have been responsible for enabling and
overlooking racist conditions - from de jure segregation
to restrictive housing covenants (even long after the Supreme
Court ruled restrictive covenants unenforceable in 1948).
Beginning in the 1930s, your housing programs were designed
to benefit whites only. You subsidized their low-cost loans
for home ownership, making it cheaper in some circumstances
to buy than to rent. You built freeways and infrastructure,
and poured subsidies into suburbs while neglecting or destroying
your inner cities. Meanwhile, your policies discouraged
banks from lending to people of color, who also desired
to buy better housing but ultimately could only afford to
rent. People of color became concentrated in inner cities
just as those areas were being razed and stripped of resources.
Your home loan policies not only contributed to de facto
segregation but also increased the huge wealth gap between
whites and nonwhites, resulting in white families today
having on average eight times the wealth of nonwhite families.
Furthermore, this difference in wealth is passed down from
one generation to the next, perpetuating racial inequity.
You have also neglected to develop good low-income housing,
leaving poor people of color with no options besides living
in concentrated, polluted, inner-city neighborhoods and
now older inner suburbs. Your urban renewal programs destroyed
more housing than they built, disproportionately displacing
and impoverishing African Americans and Latinos. Furthermore,
it is your responsibility to protect the environment (through
the Environmental Protection Agency), but you turn a blind
eye to the living conditions of people of color. Your actions
support corporate interests and business developers more
than your constituents.
It is a diversion to blame the situation on racism or capitalism.
Government officials are ultimately responsible for the
general welfare of society and the protection of every individual's
right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The
government is even accountable for the economic system we
have. While you have finally outlawed de jure segregation
and overt racism, you continue to overlook de facto segregation
and its consequences.
This is a democracy. The government is elected by the people
and for the people. People have to take responsibility for
the kind of government they choose or put up with. If you
don't like it, vote the rascals out. Besides, market forces
and individual choice led to people living where they do.
For the government to intervene would be "social engineering."
That's not the American way.
print-friendly version of The Downward Spiral.
C. Business Leaders (real estate agents, developers,
You can do business, provide good safe jobs, and still
make a decent profit without discriminating against people
of color or damaging their environment. Instead, in your
greed you have exploited everyone and everything for maximum
profit. Real estate agents profited from "block-busting"
when they pressured white residents to sell their homes
for less than market value by (1) fabricating fears of nonwhites
moving into the neighborhood and driving down housing values
and then (2) selling those homes at above market prices
to people of color. In banking, you have discriminated against
qualified people of color either by denying them home loans
or charging them higher rates and fees. Today, Black people
and Latinos are still 60% more likely to be turned down
for loans than whites with the same income. You have also
put communities of color in a desperate condition by not
investing in them or supporting local businesses as you
do in white suburbs, leaving residents no choice but to
travel great distances to do their shopping or pay higher
prices at neighborhood convenience stores. Corporations
are even guilty of environmental blackmail; you threaten
to move elsewhere and take jobs away if people don't accept
polluting industries or insist on costly pollution controls.
You'll take people's labor but don't give anything back
to the community.
How can we blame racism or capitalism? It is individual
business lenders who make the decisions they do.
You were pressured to maximize profits and minimize risk,
as your stockholders require. If your company didn't do
it, another would. You followed government guidelines and
broke no laws. You aren't a racist, you're just doing your
job. It's not your fault that some groups are more vulnerable
than others. You're running a business, not a charity. You
helped create jobs and put your money back into the economy,
which is good for the whole nation. Moreover, it's a systemic
issue: if one or even a few banks or businesses engaged
in such practices, you could say they were guilty of a crime,
but when all the banks and businesses engaged in such practices,
it's just the way things work. The economic system and government
are responsible, not you.
with john a. powell, legal scholar (beginning with "How
does geography do the work of Jim Crow laws?" and ending
with "Aren't whites the most segregated group?")
D. Environmental Groups
While you claim to care about the environment and peoples'
health, you have neglected poor people of color in favor
of whales and wildernesses. You use this kind of campaign
to avoid controversial issues of justice and to win the
sympathy and financial support of your well-to-do middle
class constituents. Even with your success at establishing
greenbelts and regional preserves, you are diverting valuable
resources from the inner city and catering to the interests
of a white middle class with the means to enjoy leisure
time in nature. You have done little to enable those who
would benefit most from fresh air and a clean environment
to partake of them.
You care more about saving trees and whales than the health
of people of color and the less privileged members of our
society. Your own segregated lives have blinded you to how
people of color and their environments have suffered disproportionately.
You fight against toxic substances and waste in your own
communities without raising an eyebrow when those substances
are eventually placed in the environments of people of color
next door or even halfway across the world.
Although you may mean well, your actions and omissions
have had consequences that are borne disproportionately
by vulnerable communities of color.
You didn't know what was happening to people of color.
In fact, you helped put into place many laws that can protect
everyone's health and environments. You may not be advocating
enough on the behalf of poor communities, but you're not
directly responsible for what's happening to them either.
You broke no laws. Also, the environment does need to be
protected, and there's only so much you can do with limited
resources. It's hard enough to get money to support the
campaigns you already run - although you might not like
it, your work is driven by the needs and wants of people
who have resources. You can't do everything. Other people,
including residents in those poor communities, have to take
responsibility as well.
print-friendly version of A Tale of Two Families.
E. Inner-city Residents
We live in a meritocracy, a society in which people are
rewarded according to their talent and effort. Look at immigrants
- whether it's Europeans in the past or more recently, Asians
- they come here with nothing, but they work hard and pull
themselves up by their own bootstraps. They are proof that
America is the land of opportunity. None of them got any
handouts, so why should you?
You can't blame others for your failures and misfortunes.
You are responsible for your own lifestyle and values, which
affect your opportunities and the condition of your neighborhoods.
Affirmative action programs already make it so much easier
for people of color to get jobs than whites, so stop trying
to blame others for your problems and do something to improve
You also can't expect businesses or the government to pour
money into your neighborhood when you don't take pride in
keeping things clean or in good working order. Crime and
vandalism are committed by individuals, not society.
This is a free country. You can live anywhere you choose.
If you don't like where you live, you should move elsewhere
or help improve conditions, instead of complaining and expecting
others to bail you out. If you don't want "toxic businesses"
in your neighborhood, you should work together to keep them
out, like people in the suburbs do. It's your own fault
for trading your health and environment for jobs. You should
take more pride in yourselves and your community and work
harder. Then maybe prosperity will come.
Whites have benefited from a long history of affirmative
action. Many of the problems that we face today are the
result of discrimination that occurred in the past and existing
structures that perpetuate inequality. Racism is not just
about interpersonal relationships, but about opportunities
and access to resources. Neither government officials or
environmental groups listen to us because we can't afford
to contribute financially to their campaigns. Inner-city
neighborhoods aren't deteriorating because of who is moving
in, but because of who is moving out and taking resources
with them. No neighborhood can be stable or secure without
It's easier for the other defendants to blame the victim
rather than take responsibility for their actions and figure
out how to help solve these problems. Turning this into
a race or lifestyle issue is just an excuse that lets them
"off the hook."
print-friendly version of The Downward Spiral.
A Long History of Racial Preference - for Whites
In the course of a normal football game, it's not unusual
for players to become injured. When they do, it's not anyone's
fault; it's just one of the risks of playing the game. Football
is antagonistic and violent by nature, regardless of who
the players are.
In the same way, capitalism by nature is self-serving.
This system of competition forces business leaders, bankers,
and even homeowners to work towards their own individual
betterment at the expense of others or society as a whole.
In capitalism, maximizing profit is valued above all else,
including people and social justice. This encourages exploitation
and promotes inequality. As long as there are winners, there
will be losers. Capitalism actively discourages other forms
of social relationships, like consensus building, fair distribution
of resources, or businesses taking any action that hurts
their bottom line.
Racial prejudice may have helped create segregated communities,
but most people are not bigots and they only want to live
in good, clean, safe neighborhoods, which happen to be mostly
in the suburbs. People who live in suburbs do not intend
to make people of color suffer; it's just one consequence
of the normal workings of the economic system.
Segregation and environmental racism are natural by-products
of capitalism. Individuals can't be blamed, because it's
the entire system that's at fault. Anyone who acts selfishly
for profit or gain is just seizing an opportunity; if they
didn't do it, someone else would. Those are the rules of
the game. Just like in football, it's all about winning.
As a result, the system thrives on inequity and exploits
weakness and vulnerability. As long as people are locked
into a capitalist system, the benefits and costs of the
economy will be unfairly distributed. It's the system that's
You can't blame the system; it's individuals who are at
fault. Besides, people are racist, not the system. Racism
is profitable because people make choices based upon their
fears and beliefs, not because the system encourages them
to be racist. There's just a lot of ongoing racism in our
Capitalism also lifts people out of poverty. Investment
increases worth in a community, and economic growth benefits
everyone. The more money people make, the more they spend,
and the more jobs are created as a result. It's not the
fault of the system that some people are less qualified
than others for jobs or are not as good at playing the game.
Besides, without earnings, there would be no tax dollars
or private donations to pay for social services and charitable
contributions for the poor. Profit doesn't mean inequality
- people who make money give a lot back to society.
print-friendly version of Uncle Sam Lends a Hand.
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
- What are the biggest obstacles to remedying racial and environmental
- Given that we are already living in segregated communities,
what can we do to remedy the inequalities that result (in terms
of schools, jobs, safety, housing values, and environmental
hazards)? If we don't do anything to change this situation,
will things become more equal over time or less? (See Ask
the Experts - Society discussion for more information)
- What role can each defendant group play in helping to create
a fairer distribution of resources and opportunities? Historically,
groups have sometimes allowed themselves to be divided and have
fought with each other instead of working together for solutions.
How can different groups work together for racial and environmental
justice? Discuss how two groups in particular might work together.
- Should we ban environmentally harmful industries altogether?
Some argue that bureaucratic legislation to prevent environmental
injustice will hurt poor communities by denying economic opportunities.
What are other ways that these areas can be developed?
- Is gentrification good or bad for poor communities?
- Currently the costly burden of proof for environmental injustice
is on citizens and not on the industry. Is this fair? Why/why
not? What might be the best way to address allegations of environmental
- If science proves that biological race is an illusion and
that race has been only created and perpetuated through societal
laws and practices, what should we do about race and racism
in U.S. society today? Is colorblindness the answer? Affirmative
- Discuss the difference between equality of opportunity vs.
equality of condition. Can you really have equality of opportunity
without equality of condition? Consider the following two quotes
from the film:
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."
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.
- Research other consequences of white advantage and racial
disparity- e.g., employment, schools, criminal justice, etc.
Read A Tale
of Two Families and this online
article "The Wealth Factor" by Dalton Conley and
write about the consequences of racial segregation and the wealth
gap in the United States.
- Research the concept of regional equity and discuss what new
possibilities or solutions it might provide for remedying racial
segregation and environmental injustice. Read these two articles
by john powell to begin: "What
We Need to Do about the 'Burbs" and Achieving
Racial Justice: What's Sprawl Got to Do With It?
- Is there a community near you that is in danger? Have students
investigate and discuss different ways communities can get involved.
Find out about pollution problems in your area by using the
Scorecard Web site: Search
by geographic area or company name, or learn
more about environmental issues such as air quality, land
contamination, toxic waste from industry and animals and water
- Ask students to look into the history of different residential
communities in your area. Are there examples of different ways
certain communities have fought to maintain stable, integrated
neighborhoods? Compare success stories with those of nearby
neighborhoods that experienced rapid decline. (If there are
no applicable examples in your area, well-documented studies
include: Shaker Heights v. East Cleveland, Ohio; Maywood v.
Oak Park, Illinois; the neighborhoods of West Mount Airy v.
East Mount Airy/Germantown in Philadelphia, PA.)
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
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
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.
Center for History in the Schools:
STANDARD 2: Economic, social, and cultural developments in
contemporary United States
- Understands new immigration and demographic shifts
- Understands how a democratic polity debates social issues
and mediates between individual or group rights and the common
Research For Learning and Education:
U.S. History Eras 9 and 10, Level IV (Grades 9-12):
- Understands the economic boom and social transformation of
post-World War II United States
- Understands domestic policies in the post-World War II period
- Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and
for the extension of civil liberties
- Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in
the contemporary United States
Historical Understanding, Level IV (Grades 9-12):
- Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships
- Understands the historical perspective
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