What's Race Got to Do with It?


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The discussion prompts below are organized by topic and scene order. Each contains questions appropriate for different levels of use. For complete scene descriptions and transcripts of the film and DVD Bonus Material, visit The Film section of this site.

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Diversity vs. Social Justice

(DVD Chapter 1: “the way we talk about race”) Wale complains that diversity on campus is all talk and no action: “The university should, instead of talking about racism and diversity, maybe make the campus diverse with the incoming freshman classes.” How diverse is your school? In which areas and at what levels? How is it measured? Are diversity values reflected in admissions, hiring and promotion practices, funding priorities and/or curriculum offerings and student activities? What’s the difference between diversity and equality?

(DVD Chapter 6: “to be an American”) Mayra says, “I think celebrating cultures and social justice is a very different thing.” What is Mayra referring to? Why is cultural celebration an inadequate response to racial problems? What are the differences between ‘celebrating diversity’ and challenging racial injustice? Cite examples of each. Which is more predominant on your campus? How is diversity addressed at your school? How can it be better tied to notions of social justice?

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Underrepresentation & Segregation

(DVD Chapter 2: I’m more Black than ever”) Ulili opines: “I wish I wouldn’t have to always stand up and be like the Black person. I wish I could just be me.” Wale adds: “I don’t want to bear the burden of Blacks everywhere....It robs me of my college experience.” What do they mean? How does it feel to be the only person of your race in a large group? Does being underrepresented create additional burdens and stressors for students of color? What campus conditions might adversely impact their opportunities for success? How can faculty, administrators and staff be more aware of challenges? What specific efforts (policies and practices) are being made to mentor, support, and retain students of color?

(DVD Chapter 5: “I can be sure my race will not work against me”) Mark comments, “We’re kind of in this bubble up on the hill, a lot of white students, the Greek system. I notice the segregation of the Greek system. I notice that that’s predominantly white.” What’s the racial make-up of your classes, social groups, and study circles? Do racial groups cluster together in certain activities or parts of campus? Which settings are more or less diverse? Why do you think this is? What can you do to make your study groups, clubs and social circles more diverse? What obstacles might you run up against? As faculty and administrators, what efforts do you make to help students cross racial lines? Does balkanization happen on an institutional level – in your department, among your staff? How can you encourage more dialogue and interaction? What are the benefits?

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Discrimination / Stereotyping

(DVD Chapter 3: “a lot of us are getting pushed") Mayra says, “We’re not seen as individuals, we’re seen as a group. Like if a white person does something, it’s an individual problem. And if a Black person does that, it’s a race problem.” What does Mayra mean? Do you agree? Later in the film, Mark complains that it’s unfair to generalize about him as a white person because he has Latino friends and has faced challenges in his own life. How are the two situations different? Which stereotypes are likely to affect academic performance? Is it enough to just treat everyone as an individual? As educators, how can you mitigate stereotype threat and empower students? As administrators, how can you create more supportive conditions?

(DVD Chapter 5: “I can be sure my race will not work against me”) Following the racial inventory exercise, David says, “I was approached when I was in the computer lab and I was asked to leave because they told me this was only for students. To get into my friend’s dorm, I had to sign in four times. I had to show the lady my ID twice. It felt very bad.” Everyone gets treated poorly sometimes. So when is it because of racism? Who gets to decide? How is it different if it happened to a white person? How might such experiences affect academic performance? Are complaints of discrimination made by students, faculty, and staff of color taken seriously on your campus? What efforts are being made to sensitize faculty, staff or administrators? What steps can be taken to create a more welcoming environment? Do performance evaluations reward faculty and staff for such efforts?

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Colorblindness / The Burden of Race

(Prologue) At the beginning of the film, two students offer their views on how race has affected them: (1) Wale: “The biggest challenge for me is understanding that it is possible for people not to believe there’s racism; to never have been exposed to it, to never have spoken about race.” (2) Paige: “There’s nothing like hearing from any of the students saying...you know? Their experience – how different it is, I guess, than mine, in life.” Why do you think race has impacted Paige and Wale’s lives so differently? How might their experiences contribute to a disconnect when they discuss race with each other? How can educators help bridge this gap? How might your institution’s approach to race relations take these different views into account?

(DVD Chapter 6: “to be an American”) Linda says, “It’s just so divisive...when you look at race as an issue between different communities....Obviously we know there’s problems, but there’s no like mutual understanding about what we can do.” Linda feels that focusing on race is divisive, preferring a race-neutral approach. Do you agree or disagree with her? What are the limitations of “colorblindness?” Why might someone like Linda feel uncomfortable discussing racial problems? How might Asian Americans on other campuses or from other cultural/class backgrounds feel differently? What’s the best way to deal with this kind of resistance in a diversity discussion? How does your institution deal with conflict between campus constituencies?

(DVD Chapter 7: “part of the problem, part of the solution”) When Paige says offhandedly, “It seems like the point of the class is to enlighten the white people,” it upsets many of the other students, including David, who exclaims, “I’m already oppressed in many ways. Why should I put myself in an even more degraded position to educate people who are...part of the problem?” Whose job is it to educate others about social disparities? Does the “burden” to educate typically lie more with people of color? Who bears the burden of addressing problems related to race in your department? Are those people commended for bringing up tough issues or seen as troublemakers? How might we re-envision racial problems as an opportunity to work together to create the society we want – one that reflects our deepest values?

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Personal Bias vs. Structural Racism

(DVD Chapter 1: “the way we talk about race”) Mark: “I wouldn’t choose to not be friends with someone, or I never said, ‘oh, this person’s Black or this person’s Asian.’ Or if we said it, it wasn’t important.” What’s the difference between personal prejudice and social disparity? If we all treated each other better, would that solve racism? Why or why not? If we stopped noticing race, would it just go away? Do diversity efforts at your institution tend to focus on interpersonal relations or on underlying structural conditions, in society as well as on campus? How does one get others to understand the difference? How can those conditions be changed?

(DVD Chapter 7: “part of the problem, part of the solution”) During a heated discussion, Linda says, “We’re all part of the problem. No matter what race, we’re all perpetuating this racism everyday.” Do you agree? Why or why not? How does Linda’s comment minimize differences in the way race impacts us? What does it imply in terms of solutions (individual vs. societal)? As a facilitator, how do you give equal weight to everyone’s experiences without implying that they’re all the same? How do you avoid blame yet get students to take responsibility? Do diversity efforts on your campus tend to minimize racial differences or do they take account of historic and underlying (dis)advantages?

(DVD Chapter 8: “just like me”) Legal scholar john powell has said, “The slick thing about whiteness is that you can reap all the benefits of a racist society without personally being racist.” How does this comment relate to Mark and David’s discussion in the film about white people and white power? What’s the difference between assigning blame and acknowledging inequities or advantage? If you aren’t personally racist, what responsibility do you have for changing society? What obligation do educational institutions have? How might your institution’s policies and practices correct for or implicitly support white advantage?

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Guilt / Investment in Racial Advantage

(DVD Chapter 4: “lucky to be...”) When asked if she could choose her race, Paige answers, “I’m not gonna say I wouldn’t be white. I wouldn’t give that up. I’ve been blessed....To be completely honest, I’d probably be white.” Are there advantages to being white, presently and/or historically? What might they be? What about on this campus? If so, how should we balance things out for people of color? Why would Paige be reluctant to admit she wants to be white? How might educators address a white person’s investment (conscious or not) in racial advantage? How does it affect student learning or the way you teach about justice?

(DVD Chapter 9: “if you identify, pull yourself free”) After the privilege walk exercise, Vanessa says: “Whenever there was a division, I felt like I was being judged in some way.” For many advantaged students learning about disparities for the first time, guilt or defensiveness is a common reaction. Why? How might guilt be a limiting and counterproductive response? How does feeling empowered (vs. guilty) open up new possibilities for action? How do we shift this conversation so it gives students a sense of purpose rather than making them close down? Consider diversity efforts at your school – what outcomes have they produced? Whose interests do they serve? Is educating advantaged students about inequality the same as serving the needs of disadvantaged students? How can your institution strike an optimal balance?

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Normalization of Whiteness/Race

(DVD Chapter 1: “the way we talk about race”) Both David and Paige describe race as being “normalized.” What do they mean? Does normalization mean that racism has ended or that we take it for granted? Does it mean that everyone is viewed the same way? Does it make it easier or harder to combat existing disparities? How has your institution normalized certain views on race and/or silenced alternative voices? What might be another approach to race? How can we make inequities more visible?

(DVD Chapter 6: “to be an American”) David says in interview, “I think that it’s very hard, especially for people who have power in this world, to realize they have power. Because if they realize they have that power...then you have to have accountability.” What does David mean by accountability? Who should be held accountable? Does it mean taking things away from people or making personal sacrifices? What alternative strategies or solutions might exist? How does your institution measure accountability in terms of diversity outcomes and goals? How do your diversity efforts address power relationships and/or historic disadvantages on campus or within the institution?

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Affirmative Action / Racial Myths

(DVD Chapter 2: “I’m more Black than ever”) Ashley says, “I heard someone say, ‘Only the best and the brightest get in here, so if you’re not the best and the brightest, you’re not going to get in.’” What’s the underlying assumption about opportunity and merit in the statement Ashley refers to? How does this attitude affect the way some students might be treated? How does your school’s admissions process take into account disparate educational opportunities? How does it measure the “quality” of a candidate? What institutional conditions (e.g., prerequisites for certain majors, standardized testing, GPA inflation, availability of AP courses) might privilege or exclude students? What efforts are being made to recruit and select students from disadvantaged backgrounds? How can these be improved?

(DVD Chapter 10: “a paradigm shift”) Paige: “The most shocking thing to me in this class was the disparity in enrollment. We’ve talked a lot about the small numbers, but it was good for me to see the figure of how many white students there are in comparison.” Linda adds: “I thought affirmative action was oppressing me because it was kind of displacing me.” With such small African American and Latino enrollment numbers on many campuses, and high overall rejection rates at the most selective colleges, why do many white or Asian American students denied admission assume that “their” place on campus was taken by a Black or Latino student? How does our personal stake in something affect our attitude towards race-based programs like affirmative action? What happens when we take a broader view? Many people find it hard to accept race as a factor in admissions but don’t have the same objection to class – why do you think that is? How should institutions weigh disadvantage in evaluating candidates? Why is there so much fear and confusion surrounding this subject and what role can educators play in dispelling myths?

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Wealth and Class

(DVD Chapter 5: “I can be sure my race will not work against me”) In his native Nicaragua, Mayra’s father was a professor, yet Mayra tells the class, “I’ve never had medical insurance....My parents are janitors because they can’t speak English because they are brown. And janitors don’t get medical insurance.” In Mayra’s example, how does race affect class? What other things (home ownership, job protection, financial security, retirement, health, safe neighborhoods, good schools, fewer family obligations, a “safety net”) can some people take for granted that Mayra can’t? Why do janitors rarely have medical insurance? We often think of wealth in terms of luxury or material comfort, but how does it translate into security or social mobility? How does your institution leverage its wealth of resources to support or secure such low-income students?

(DVD Chapter 8: “just like me”) Dave says: “Hearing low-income students talk about how much they have to work to stay in school and manage everything else that a regular college student at Berkeley is under the stress of....It’s like the Third World and the rich living next to each other but not knowing.” How might the lack of a safety net affect students’ attitudes, their college experience and involvement, their academic performance, their life choices and willingness to take chances, their future career opportunities, and even their mental and physical health? How does the invisibility of their challenges add a burden or make it hard to relate to others? Are low-income students adequately represented at your school? Are their needs being addressed? How can efforts to recruit, admit, and support such students be improved?

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(DVD Chapter 10: “paradigm shift”) Towards the end of the film, Peter says, “I just remember speaking with you, Dave, about what people did in the ’60s...you said, ‘Yeah, people went out there and they put their asses on the line.’” Jerlena adds, “To be involved in any kind of justice, that means deconstructing what has been working for centuries for people...so that you can make informed choices.” What would it mean for you to “put your ass on the line” and/or make informed choices? Which issues matter most deeply to you? What are the personal challenges you face in addressing them? Where can you find allies and support, within your existing community or by reaching out to others? How can we, as educators and leaders, help bridge differences between groups and foster coalitions? What programs and practices need to be strengthened or re-examined?

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