This toolkit for “Why Talk About Whiteness?” offers nine steps to engage high school students in a guided viewing of The Whiteness Project. The Whiteness Project, an “interactive investigation into how Americans who identify as ‘white’ experience their ethnicity,” is available for free online.
Visit The Whiteness Project online. You will find two installments: “Inside the White/Caucasian Box” and “Intersection of I.” Select one installment to use with your class and watch the video interviews before sharing them with your students. Note: Because of the diversity of views expressed, including biased views, select segments carefully and be ready to engage in challenging discussions. Once you have made your selections, use the nine steps below to facilitate a guided viewing.
- What are some common ways white people think about race and their own racial identities?
- What are my students’ attitudes and beliefs about whiteness?
Step 1: Project either “Inside the White/Caucasian Box” or “Intersection of I” onto a screen. Tell students you're going to scroll through a carousel of faces and that they'll each need to choose one person from this carousel for an activity. Instruct students to jot down the names of the people they select and point out that the names are located below the quotes in the carousel. Scroll through the carousel slowly once so the students can see all the images and then a second time so they can make their selections.
Note: If your classroom has multiple devices or your school has a one-to-one program, adapt this first step accordingly. Make sure students, either on their own or in groups, choose one person from the carousel and instruct them not to click on the images yet. Project the website onto a screen as well to help walk students through steps two through nine.
Step 2: Call on volunteers to share which people they chose. Use the following questions to guide the conversation, and give all students the opportunity to respond.
- Who did you choose? What made you choose that person? (List these names on the board to return to later.)
- Would you say you made your selection out of curiosity? Or based on familiarity?
- What is one word you would use to describe this person based only on what you saw on the screen? (List these words on the board to return to later.)
- What feelings do you have from looking at this person?
Step 3: Once students have contributed, point to the generated list of names. Ask students the following questions:
- Some (or many) of you chose person X. Why do you think that is?
- I noticed that none (or few) of you chose person Y. Why do you think that is?
Step 4: Once students have shared, point to the generated list of one-word descriptors. Ask students the following questions:
- What patterns do you notice in the words you chose?
- Are they generally positive or negative?
- Do they describe physical attributes? Personality traits?
- Are these words based on learned stereotypes? Explain.
Step 5: Once all students have contributed, ask them to respond to the following prompt in writing:
- Before we continue, make a prediction about what you would expect the person you chose to say about race. What do you think they might say about whiteness in particular? What is your prediction based on?
Step 6: On the projected webpage, play the video interviews of the people students selected. After each one, ask students the questions below. Consider replaying the interviews multiple times and pausing at poignant parts for discussion.
- What surprised you about what this person said?
- To what extent did their comments match what you expected based on their profile picture?
- How do you think this kind of predicting and assuming might play out in this person’s everyday life? In yours?
Note: If your classroom has multiple devices or your school has a one-to-one program, you might choose to adapt this step so students view the interviews on their own devices one at a time.
Step 7: Go back to the list of one-word descriptors generated before viewing the interviews. Ask students the following questions for each person:
- Now that you’ve heard this person speak, do you want to change your one word? What was the word you chose before listening and what might you change it to now? (Cross off any words students want to take away and add replacement words.)
- Are these new words generally more positive or negative?
- Do you have any problems with me asking you for one word? What and why? (Explain the fallacy of the one-word task and make connections to implicit bias, prejudice and stereotypes.)
- What impact did listening to this person talk about their experiences and feelings have on the way you described them? What can that tell us about context and diversity? (Underscore the importance of active listening when talking about race.)
Step 8: Discuss the content of each interview. Have students evaluate the claims and perspectives using the questions below. Consider highlighting the facts at the end of each video to spark additional critical thinking,
- Now that you have heard this person speak about race and whiteness, how would you summarize their point of view on the topic?
- Do you think this point of view is common among white people?
- Have you heard this point of view expressed before? By whom? Where?
- Do you agree or disagree with this point of view? Why?
Step 9: Have students make personal connections to the interviews. Ask them the following questions:
- Can any of you relate to this person? If yes, explain how.
- Have you encountered similar people in your own life?
- Do you share their experiences?
- How did hearing them speak make you feel? Angry, sad, sympathetic, frustrated, etc.?
Extension Idea: Work with other educators to help students create their own documentary or film series about whiteness in their school and community.