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On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black teenager, was allegedly shot multiple

times and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Following the shooting, hundreds of people gathered at the scene of the shooting to organize vigils to remember Michael Brown as well as protest to demand answers as to why he was shot. Over the course of the next several days, these protests, the majority of which were peaceful, were reportedly met with a heavily armed police department. The story has captured the attention of the nation and the media. It struck a chord with many people who perceive the situation as emblematic of a trend in which a disproportionate number of young unarmed black men have been killed by police officers and a general feeling that white and black people’s perceptions of and relationships with the police are very different.

This lesson provides an opportunity for students to reflect on the killing of Michael Brown through the lens of race, privilege and power. Students will learn more about unearned privilege, examine the various levels of racial disparities in the criminal justice system and explore the role white privilege plays in the different interactions whites and people of color have with community service providers, such as law enforcement.

See these additional ADL resources: What Is Happening in Ferguson, MO? (Current Events Classroom lesson), Discussing Hate and Violence with Children, Microaggressions In Our Lives (Current Events Classroom lesson) and Anti-Bias Education.

NOTE: Discussions of privilege, and specifically white privilege, require advanced skills in anti-bias education. Teaching about it requires a solid foundation for you and your students in understanding unconscious bias, structural racism and other forms of oppression. In order to prepare for this lesson, reflect on your own comfort level and ability to discuss white privilege with students. It would be helpful for you to read and/or re-read Peggy McIntosh’s, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack and Excerpt from Privilege, Power and Difference by Allan G. Johnson. Consider the racial composition of your classroom as well as students’ sophistication with and ability to talk about issues of race and power.

Grade Level: Grades 9-12 Common Core Anchor Standards: Reading, Speaking and Listening Students will understand the concept of unearned privilege.

Learning Objectives:

• © 2014 Anti-Defamation League, www.adl.org/education-outreach Page 1 of 10 The Current Events Classroom adl.org/curriculum-resources Students will examine issues of power and privilege and the consequences unearned privilege has on marginalized groups.

• Students will learn about racial disparities in the criminal justice system and reflect upon how whites and people of color have different experiences with law enforcement.


Jesse Williams talks about Michael Brown (video of CNN broadcast) Privilege Statements (select 8-10 statements that will resonate with your students--print out and cut into strips prior to lesson) A Mother’s White Privilege (Manic Pixie Dream Mama, August 15, 2014, one copy for each student) Smartboard or projector for video screening Chart paper Review the following vocabulary words and make sure students know their meanings. (See ADL’s Glossary


of Education Terms.)

–  –  –

(If your students do not have a working knowledge of what is happening in Ferguson, MO and the shooting


of Michael Brown, use the What Is Happening in Ferguson, MO? lesson to provide background information.)

1. Watch the following 2-minute clip of Jesse Williams (actor) speaking to a news reporter: Jesse Williams talks about Michael Brown

2. After watching the video, engage students in a discussion by asking the following questions:

What is Jesse Williams saying?

How do you think he feels? How do you know?

• Why is he comparing the treatment of white people and black people?

• According to Jesse Williams, what does “privilege” have to do with Michael Brown? What does he mean • by “a certain element of this country has the privilege of being treated like human beings”?

3. If you are not able to show the video, (or in addition), read aloud this statement by Eric Holder,

Attorney General of the United States, which he made while visiting Ferguson, MO on August 20, 2014:

–  –  –

“I just had the opportunity to sit down with some wonderful young people and to hear them talk about the mistrust they have at a young age. These are young people and already they are concerned about potential interactions they might have with the police. I understand that mistrust. I am the Attorney General of the United States. But I am also a black man. I can remember being stopped on the New Jersey turnpike on two occasions and accused of speeding. … I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me.”

1. Write the term “unearned privilege” on the board or chart paper. Ask students to share what they think


–  –  –

2. Share the following definition for privilege and write or project it on the board:

Privilege is a term for unearned and often unseen or unrecognized advantages, benefits or rights conferred upon people based on their membership in a dominant group (e.g. white people, heterosexual people, men, able-bodied, etc.) beyond what is commonly experienced by members of the non-dominant group. Privilege reveals both obvious and less obvious unspoken advantages that people in the dominant group may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice. These advantages include cultural affirmations of one's own worth, presumed greater social status and the freedom to move, buy, work, play and speak freely.

Alternate definition: A right, advantage, benefit or immunity granted to or enjoyed by people in a dominant group beyond the common advantage of all others; an exemption in many particular cases from certain burdens or liabilities.

1. Explain to students that people identify themselves in many ways, such as race, gender, age, religion,


sexual orientation, ability, ethnicity, etc. People are advantaged by certain aspects of their identity and disadvantaged by others. For example, a heterosexual young woman does not have to worry about name-calling or harassment by walking in the school hallway with the person she is dating. The same young woman, however, may be disadvantaged by her gender due to the fact that over time as she grows up and enters the workforce, she is likely to earn less money than a man when she is equally qualified and doing the same job.

2. Explain to students that they will be reading statements that describe unearned privileges some people enjoy in our society. Take out your basket of Privilege Statement strips (choose 8-10 and prepare in advance) and explain to students that some of them will take a strip of paper out of the basket and read it aloud. Give the basket to a student who will start. After they read the first statement aloud, ask: “Are there identity groups for whom this is true? What groups is it not true for?” After this, have the student pass the basket to the next person and repeat the process (student reads aloud, you ask the two questions). Have students continue to pass the basket and read the statements until all the statements have been read aloud.

3. Engage students in a discussion by asking:

What stood out for you as you heard the statements being read aloud?

What is an example of how you have been personally affected by one of the privileges read aloud?

• •

–  –  –

How do you think the existence of these privileges affects people or society in general?

4. Ask students to raise their hands if they believe they personally enjoy unearned privileges based on an aspect of their identity. Elicit a few examples of these privileges from students. For each, ask: What is the consequence of you having that privilege? Who is not receiving that privilege and what is the impact on them? As a result, how is their situation and life different from yours?

5. Tell students that they will be working in pairs to explore some of the unearned privileges associated with different aspects of identity. Assign each pair one of the three identities: race, gender or ability.

Instruct each pair to brainstorm as many unearned privileges as they can think of that are associated with their assigned identity category; they should record their notes on paper. Clarify that when they list privileges associated with the dominant (power) group, for gender it will be male, for race it will be white and for ability it will be people without disabilities. Students will work in their pairs for 5-10 minutes. Provide an example if you feel the students need one.

6. Reconvene the whole class and draw three columns on the board or chart paper and write the words RACE, GENDER AND ABILITY, one at the top of each column. Take turns asking each pair to share one item from their list and record that on the chart under the appropriate column. Continue moving around the room with students sharing one item from their list; if the idea has already been stated, they should move on to the next item on their list. Continue this process until all their items have been shared.

7. Engage students in a large group discussion by asking:

Was it difficult or easy to come up with unearned privileges?

What are the consequences of privilege on people in the non-dominant group?

• What are some of the structures in our society that support these systems of privilege?

• How are stereotypes used in the system of unearned privileges?

• What does privilege have to do with the shooting of Mike Brown? (Remind them about what Jesse •

–  –  –

Are young black men unfairly targeted by the police? How do you know?

How do you think white privilege plays itself out in dealing with the police?

• •

1. Distribute the article A Mother’s White Privilege and give students 10-15 minutes to read it silently.


2. Engage students in a class discussion by asking:

How did you feel after reading the article?

What is the author’s perspective?

• How does she define white privilege? Can you give an example?

–  –  –

1. Share the following information with your students:


While it is difficult to compare the number of blacks versus whites killed by police because not all municipalities report information about police shootings to the federal database tracking police shootings, the FBI reports show that 18% of the blacks killed during those a seven year period were under age 21, compared to 8.7% of whites killed by police officers.

In analyses of various cities, it seems police are disproportionately more likely to shoot at and kill a black person than a white person. For example, in NYC between 2000 and 2011, police killed or wounded 244 African-Americans, representing 63% of all shootings yet African Americans constitute about 26% of the NYC’s population. In Oakland, CA, the NAACP reported that out of 45 police officerinvolve shootings between 2004 and 2008, 37 of those shot were black and none were white; one third results in fatalities.

In NYC in 2013, 88% of all people who were stopped and frisked were innocent. The data show racial disparities in that blacks and Latinos are subjected to stops and police interrogation at higher rates than whites. Of all stops, 56% were black, 29% Latino and 11% white.

African Americans make up 13% of the general U.S. population yet they constitute 28% of all arrests, 40% of all inmates held in prisons and nails and 42% of the population on death row. Specific details

about African American and other racial groups include:

–  –  –

African Americans were on probation at almost 3 times and on parole at over 5 times for the rate for whites. Latinos and Native Americans were each on parole at 2 times the rate for •

–  –  –

African Americans were admitted to prison at a rate almost six times higher than that for Whites. Latinos were admitted at 2 times the rate for whites. Native Americans were admitted •

–  –  –

As an illustration, between July 17 and August 11 (less than a month), four unarmed African American men were allegedly killed by the police. They are Eric Garner (NYC, July 17), John Crawford (Beavercreek, Ohio, August 5), Michael Brown (Ferguson, MO, August 9) and Ezell Ford (Los Angeles, CA, August 11).

2. After sharing this information, engage students in a discussion by asking:

How do you feel about the information and statistics you heard?

Why do you think these disparities exist?

• •

–  –  –

Knowing these statistics, how do you think this impacts the level of trust African Americans, especially men, have for the police?

• Do you think racism and privilege play a factor in these statistics? Why or why not?

Do you think white and black people have similar interactions with and perceptions of the police?

–  –  –

Have students share one new thing they learned today.


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