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Roots of Terrorism
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Student Assignment Sheet: A Class Divided

Alternative Definitions and Discussion Prompts

  • A Note to Teachers

  • Pre-Viewing Preparation

    Viewing the Documentary

    Post-Viewing Lesson Plans
  • First Reactions
  • Exploring Privilege
  • Meritocracy
  • Language
  • Taking Action

  • Internet and Other Resources

    Student Assignment Sheet
  • Definitions and Discussion Prompts

  • Racism

    Some people argue that racism is primarily a belief or attitude and that anyone who unfairly judges another based on race is racist. Others argue that racism is about action and systemic discrimination, so only those with the power to act, and not those who are the targets of discrimination, can be racist. Which argument do you find convincing and why? Is there a difference between racism and prejudice? If so, what is the difference?

    Consider the following definitions. What are the differences between them? How do they compare with the dictionary definition of "racism"? How might some people benefit and others be hurt from the use of one definition over another?

    "Racism couples the false assumption that race determines psychological and cultural traits with the belief that one race is superior to another."
    --A World of Difference project of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith

    "Racism is any attitude, action, or institutional structure which subordinates a person or group because of skin color."
    --U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1970

    "We define racism as an institutionalized system of economic, political, social, and cultural relations that ensures that one racial group has and maintains power and privilege over all others in all aspects of life. Individual participation in racism occurs when the objective outcome of behavior reinforces these relations, regardless of the subjective intent."
    --Carol Brunson Phillips and Louise Derman-Sparks in Teaching/Learning Anti-Racism: A Developmental Approach, (Teachers College Press, 1997)


    One of the goals of the civil rights movement was to ensure equal opportunity for every U.S. citizen, irrespective of race. When the civil rights movement began, the legal system did not grant the same rights to blacks and other minorities as it did to whites. Today, those laws have been changed, leading some to argue that the U.S. has achieved a level playing field for all. Is the field level? Is success based exclusively on merit and luck, or is race-based "privilege" still a factor? How was affirmative action policy crafted to address issues of privilege? Has it been successful?

    Consider the following definitions. What are the differences between them? How do they compare with the dictionary definition of "privilege"?

    • "unearned power conferred systemically"
      (Source: Peggy McIntosh, 1995)

    • white privilege (hwait 'privilidz), social relation, [ad. L. privilegi-um a bill or law in favor of or against an individual.]
      1. a. A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by the class of white persons beyond the common advantage of all others; an exemption in many particular cases from certain burdens or liabilities.
      b. In extended sense: A special advantage or benefit of white persons; with ideological reference to divine dispensations, natural advantages, gifts of fortune, genetic endowments, social relations, etc.

      2. A privileged position; the possession of an advantage white persons enjoy over non-whites and white individuals enjoy over non-white individuals.

      3. a. The special right or immunity attaching to white persons as a social relation; prerogative.
      b. display of white privilege, a social expression of a white person or persons demanding to be treated as a member or members of the socially privileged class.
      (Source: The Monkeyfist Collective)

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