Kindness and Systemic Racism — A series of assignments, culminating in a paper

from E110: Exploring Kindness, General section themed around exploring kindness, Fall2020, online, synchronous -- Eric Morel -- link to full syllabus here. 
This unit on Kindness Systemic Racism took about a month. It is comprised of a series of assignments (journal entries, reflection posts that work together to help students build a critical vocabulary around racism, and then begin to reflect upon the world around them using that vocabulary. It culminates in a writing project and a final reflection. As it works to build racial literacy, it also builds different writing skills: searching for and evaluating sources,  counter-argument, etc) 

Unit Two – Kindness and Systemic Racism

Unit 2 Goal-Making – Due October 7

When the subject of race comes into the classroom directly, it often becomes abstracted, such that students end up talking about racism as something that happens “over there” among and to other people. With one of our founding premises for the assignment being that racism touches every setting in American culture, however, it necessarily follows that all of us have work we can do internally and externally to undo racism’s effects.

For this assignment, as I mention on our class page, I want each of you to set two goals for “inner work” as discussed by our reading that you can set to make this unit more personally meaningful. I also want you to set one “outer work” goal. I am not grading you based on what the goals are, nor would it often be gradable for me to see whether they’re fully accomplished–we’re setting goals because it is simply psychologically more likely that you will learn more if you set these goals than if you don’t. I encourage you to set specific, realistic goals and to be kind to yourself in setting them. “Dedicating ten minutes to thinking about racism in my workplace” is better than “Eliminate any personal racism.” Measurable outcome-oriented goals are even better.

Kendi Paragraphs – Due October 9

Your assignment for today is to write 2 paragraphs. The first paragraph should establish Kendi’s definition of anti-racism based on reading his introduction and first chapter. Through a combination of quotation and paraphrase, explain his use of the terms anti-racism/anti-racist. You are not being asked to agree or disagree with the definition–only to write a paragraph establishing how Kendi uses the term(s). Then, perform a search to find two additional sources on the web that talk about Kendi and his work. These sources can be authored by Kendi himself or by others. Write your second paragraph about if/how the definition of anti-racism/anti-racist changes between those sources and the reading for today. Does the wording change? Do the examples? Does Kendi seem to explain himself differently to different audiences? How, if at all, do any of the changes matter? 

During Friday’s synchronous class, we’ll continue with in-class writing as a way to engage the arguments about the role of kindness in anti-racism.

Three Settings – Brainstorm – Due October 12

I want each of you independently to pick three settings and think about the relationship of those settings to systemic forces. By ‘setting,’ I’m trying to designate a really broad category, and I’m not just interested in physical locations as much as clusters of people: Professional football could be one setting, but so could the restaurant industry. Fans of Star Trek could be a setting, but so could YouTube fan communities or individual yoga studios. Name three settings you’re interested in, and try to generate bulleted lists of ways those settings and their participants are embedded in larger systems.

For example: Setting – Motorcyclists.

  • Transportation networks
    • Individual: purchasing motorcycles (finance), safety gear (knowledge, access)
    • Material: Roadway conditions, laws, safety regulations, petroleum industry
  • Tourism industry
    • hotels, restaurants
  • Licensing
  • Popular iconography
    • Gender, race
    • rebellion

Journal Entry 6 – Due October 12

In each post, I expect you to write at least around 300 words about something you did that week that was kind and whatever resulted. You’re welcome to do whatever storytelling you find necessary and contextually helpful, though you are also welcome to alter details such as names if you’re uncomfortable identifying anyone else involved. In addition to storytelling, however, the substance of the entry should consist of your explaining why the action is kind and/or how you know the action was kind. As part of this, you may reflect on, question, or criticize what happened; for example, you may have done something was kind but then reflect later that there was an even kinder option.

The journal entry should describe and analyze events that happened that week (so that your thinking about kindness develops as the course goes on), and you should not post about the same action in more than one entry, though you are welcome to compare actions/events from week to week. So, you cannot post every week about opening doors for people. But you can compare a later entry about smiling at strangers to a prior journal entry about opening a door, etc.

Unit 2 Post-Counterarguments Free-write – Due October 14

After your conversations in-class on October 12, you might now have your own thoughts about the question of what role, if any, kindness has in anti-racism. This free write is just meant as a space for you to do some processing that may serve you when you start forming an argument for our Unit 2 paper. I encourage you to type for at least five minutes, considering questions such as:

  • How is racism perpetuated? And where–if anywhere–could kindness intervene?
  • Are attempts to be kind, especially to others outside our own racial identification groups, beside the point when faced with systemic problems?
  • Who needs to practice kindness in anti-racism work? Who needs to receive it?

Wednesday October 14 – Asynchronous Session Researching a Case Study

Hi, All-

As a class, we have laid a groundwork for Unit 2, reading sources that have defined core terms like racism and anti-racism, made claims about the insufficiency of kindness, and presented counter-examples of kindness making a difference in anti-racist efforts. All of this reading should serve as a background conversation for the work you will now embark on to begin researching for your Unit 2 Paper. Today’s session will focus on finding sources to use; Friday’s will slow down and help us think about how to use the sources we find.

Our activities last week had you brainstorm “settings” you were interested in possibly researching for this paper, and it is these settings you should now choose among to move forward with.  You can choose first, or you can spend a little bit of time research a few to see what yields the most promising results.

Your goal for today’s activity is to identify a specific and documented instance in your chosen “setting” when the subject of race/racism arose–and then collect documents that help you track that instance from its emergence to it endpoint. Remember that your paper will try to understand what happened and analyze in particular what role kindness did or could have played in those events. The “instance” or event you research could be one of various things: it could be a moment of direct racial conflict (including verbal or physical violence), but it doesn’t need to be; you could also choose to track a moment of protest or legal action, or you could track the efforts of a person or group to create anti-racist change in your setting. There are lots of potentially good topics for the Unit 2 paper, so reach out if these directions are seeming too fuzzy to help you get oriented.

Popular search engines may be effective for topics that are very recent or visible in popular culture, but you may want to draw on some of the library resources I link below, especially if your event is more historical. I will not dictate where you find your sources, or how “reliable” they should be, because our class for Friday will address some of those questions. No source ever tells the full story.

When you have found five primary sources that seem important for helping you understand your chosen “instance,” submit the links and/or descriptions of the sources here in this assignment space.

Example:

To generate an example, I picked a setting of interest to me, poetry publication, and tried first going to Google and simply typing ‘racism poetry publishing.’ One of the first results was this story. about the Poetry Foundation and its weak response to BLM. Those events could qualify as my “instance.” Even better, the story links to even better primary documents, including the open letter from the foundation’s critics and statements by members of the organization. Those kinds of links to documents by people involved are good sources! Using the database Global Newsstream and now having the search terms “Poetry Foundation racism”, I found additional newspaper articles, including several by one writer for the Chicago Tribune. This article pointed to additional sources, including individual poets whose websites and twitter accounts might be important sources too. With these sources combined, I would likely have enough to bring to class Friday: enough of them are substantive enough to comment on their point of view and given me idea of the main events.

These are some resources you can use to either help you get started or start supplementing what you find with popular search engines. Don’t think of it as either/or and more about helping you find what you need at different points. I’m available to help you get to know these resources if you’re interested.

Resources in addition to Google:

UD Library:

Primary Sources Research Guide: https://guides.lib.udel.edu/primarysources (Links to an external site.) 

Newspapers Research Guide: https://guides.lib.udel.edu/newspapers/home (Links to an external site.) 

– Global Newsstream: https://library.udel.edu/databases/pqglobalnews/ (Links to an external site.) 

– Nexis Uni: https://library.udel.edu/databases/nexisuni/ (Links to an external site.) 

– Proquest Historical Newspapers: Black Newspapers: https://library.udel.edu/databases/pq_black_newspapers/ (Links to an external site.) 

– Ethnic Newswatch: https://library.udel.edu/databases/ethnic/ (Links to an external site.) 

ACLU Racial Justice Court Battles Page: https://www.aclu.org/defending-our-rights/court-battles?topics=239 (Links to an external site.) 

Equal Justice Initiative: https://eji.org (Links to an external site.) 

Friday, October 16 – Asynchronous Session Working With Research Materials

Hey, Everyone-

Maybe you lit up with ideas during the last class session when you were finding your sources. Whether or not that’s true, today’s class page is meant to help you think about how you can start to treat your sources with your thinking cap on, which should generate useful ideas you can write about and develop. You may have more ideas during this exercise than I require you to turn in for the exercise, so I encourage you to have a word processor document open where you can start to write additional thoughts!

For today’s class, I want you to go through the steps below twice and submit them in this assignment space

Step 1: Get to Know Your Document

  • What kind of document is this? (Personal letter, Agency Report, Blog post…)
  • Who generally uses this kind of document, and on what occasion?
  • How has this document been made available to you? (Database? Public Signage? Google search? Family papers?)

Step 2: See What It Says

  • What timeline for the events of your instance does it establish?
  • Does it mainly convey one person’s point of view, or does it speak for a group?
  • What does it confirm/document?
  • Can a word-cloud generator help you see what it emphasizes by showing you what words it uses most? https://www.wordclouds.com (Links to an external site.) Are the biggest words the ones that you’d expect to see the most from this source, or are there any surprises?

Step 3: Ask What It Doesn’t Say

  • What are the limits of this source’s knowledge? What can it not know or confirm?
  • What, if any, relevant names or events does it not mention?
  • Does the source ask anything of its readers, and if so does it explain why?

Step 4: Place It in the Whole

  • When was this source produced? Before the instance? After? In the middle?
  • Does this source raise anything that needs to be confirmed by another source to be credible?
  • What are two things does this source raise that you should look into further or better understand?

Unit 2 5 Initial Sources – Due by October 16

As explained on our class page, I want you to post either links to or substantive descriptions of 5 sources that help document the instance you’re thinking of researching and writing about in your Unit 2 paper.

I encourage you to look for a mix of coverage of the event as well as anything written or said by key players.

Unit 2 – Starting to Work with Your Sources – Due by October 19

Post answers in complete sentences to the questions raised by the list on the class page for Friday, October 16.

Journal Entry 7 – Due by October 19

In each post, I expect you to write at least around 300 words about something you did that week that was kind and whatever resulted. You’re welcome to do whatever storytelling you find necessary and contextually helpful, though you are also welcome to alter details such as names if you’re uncomfortable identifying anyone else involved. In addition to storytelling, however, the substance of the entry should consist of your explaining why the action is kind and/or how you know the action was kind. As part of this, you may reflect on, question, or criticize what happened; for example, you may have done something was kind but then reflect later that there was an even kinder option.

The journal entry should describe and analyze events that happened that week (so that your thinking about kindness develops as the course goes on), and you should not post about the same action in more than one entry, though you are welcome to compare actions/events from week to week. So, you cannot post every week about opening doors for people. But you can compare a later entry about smiling at strangers to a prior journal entry about opening a door, etc.

Outlining Activity October 19 – Due October 21

Outline Approach #1: From a Topic to Point Outline

Step 1: Make a column called “Topics” and list the things you want to talk about in that column. They don’t have to be in order.

Step 2: Where you can, start attaching evidence/links/references to items you listed in step 1.

Step 3: Next to your first column (or copy/pasting the list onto a new page), turn each item on the list from a general topic to a sentence-or-two version of what you want to say about it.

Step 4: Bold the places where you see the most potential to make a claim that involves kindness and systemic racism or antiracism

Step 5: On a new page, move your list items around into the order that you think might make the most sense for you to talk about them.

Outline Approach #2: Content Template

I. Introduction

  • What is the instance you’re talking about?
  • Who is at the center of your instance?
  • Why was this instance significant?

II. Setting

  • What do readers need to know about the setting you chose?
  • How does your instance reflect or differ from typical events in this setting?

III. Systemic Racism in Your Setting

  • What definition of racism will your paper use?
  • What systems did you brainstorm as tied into this setting?
  • What systems seem most activated by your instance?
  • What responses to your event, if any, seemed most automatic?

IV. Analysis of Kindness in Your Instance

  • How did the various parties act in your instance? Were any of them unkind? Were any of them kind?

V. Did the Kindness Matter?

Claim #1

Evidence

Reasoning

Claim #2

Evidence

Reasoning

VI. Tie Back to Readings/Wider Discussion 

After reviewing your instance, what value did or could kindness have in dismantling racism?

VII. Conclusion

Why should people keep thinking about your instance?

How are you thinking differently about kindness and racism?

Discussions – Purposeful Paragraphs – Due October 23

Each student should post twice in this conversation. Once with a paragraph they’ve drafted for the paper, and a second time as a responder using the questions below.

First Post: Your Paragraph

Post a paragraph as a draft body paragraph for your paper. It can be any paragraph except the introduction or conclusion. Along with your paragraph, do two things:

1) Preface your paragraph with a one- or two-sentence explanation of its purpose and how it would build from a previous paragraph.

2) For every sentence after the topic sentence, bold the transition that connects your new sentence to the sentence that came before. This is meant to help you practice the coherence and transitions.

Second Post: Response to a Peer

As a responder, copy/paste the list below and fill in your responses for your peer’s paragraph.

1) Assess the topic sentence:

  • Even if your peer has not actually written a paragraph before this one, what do you suspect the writer would have to have written about before you read this paragraph?
  • Does it orient you sufficiently to the paragraph’s contents, or does the paragraph deviate as it moves on?
  • Does it articulate the paragraph’s idea, purpose, or both? Can you tell not just what the paragraph is about, but why you need to read its content?

2) Assess the bolded transitions:

  • Pick the bolded transition you think is strongest/most helpful/clearest.
  • Even if all of them seem strong to you, pick one bolded transition that you think is the weakest and could be improved. Offer and explain a suggestion.

3) Offer additional thoughts:

  • Does the writer achieve the purpose they set out for themselves? If you think they do, offer a quick paraphrase of what you took from the paragraph. If not, offer a suggestion for what’s missing or where in the paragraph you feel they go off-track.
  • Does the conclusion sentence just summarize the paragraph, or does it help you understand how the paragraph may fit into a larger paper?

Collaborative Session 2 – Due October 23

This assignment is a simple attendance score that you earn by being present and engaged (as evidenced by activity in the Google doc) during our mandatory session on creating a collaborative class rubric for Unit 2. I only mandate that you attend six synchronous meetings, and this is one of them!

Journal Entry Eight – Due October 26

In each post, I expect you to write at least around 300 words about something you did that week that was kind and whatever resulted. You’re welcome to do whatever storytelling you find necessary and contextually helpful, though you are also welcome to alter details such as names if you’re uncomfortable identifying anyone else involved. In addition to storytelling, however, the substance of the entry should consist of your explaining why the action is kind and/or how you know the action was kind. As part of this, you may reflect on, question, or criticize what happened; for example, you may have done something was kind but then reflect later that there was an even kinder option.

The journal entry should describe and analyze events that happened that week (so that your thinking about kindness develops as the course goes on), and you should not post about the same action in more than one entry, though you are welcome to compare actions/events from week to week. So, you cannot post every week about opening doors for people. But you can compare a later entry about smiling at strangers to a prior journal entry about opening a door, etc.

Kindness and Racism Claim Paper – Due October 30

Syllabus Description: Having celebrated kindness in Unit 1, in Unit 2 we’ll explore some of its potential limits through claims about the sufficiency of racism. Students will select a specific issue where racism and racist policy manifest and then consider if and how kindness has a role in redressing that issue.

Kindness and Racism Claim Paper: (Due Oct. 30)

This paper is a standard argumentative paper, where you take and defend a stance on an issue within the wider conversation from our readings on the limits of kindness for addressing systemic racism in the United States. You will situate your claims within a specific actual event in a field of interest to you (for example, not just “systemic racism in sports” but “responses to Colin Kaepernick kneeling,” etc.). After doing some research on that event, you will make your claim in response to our course readings by Kendi, DiAngelo, and others about what the role of kindness in that event could or should have been, as well as what limits interpersonal kindness may have had for redressing the conflict. Your paper should be 5 – 7 pages.

Because we will be talking about working with sources for this assignment, you are expected to draw from a variety of sources from a variety of perspectives—and to display critical thinking about those sources and perspectives in your writing. Specific requirements will be set during our collaborative rubric-making, but you should plan to draw at least from course readings and from primary sources documenting the event.

Through this assignment, you will hopefully come to a broadened understanding about how race activates in particular instances. This will improve your mindfulness in future instances where you are a participant or observer. It should also, by design, encourage you to think more expansively about how to move forward from racial conflict; many conversations about particular events fixate on events themselves without also covering what precedes or succeeds those events. Racial misunderstanding won’t disappear overnight, but most of us can be a lot better at thinking through what to do when it arises.

Journal Entry 9 – Due Monday November 2

In each post, I expect you to write at least around 300 words about something you did that week that was kind and whatever resulted. You’re welcome to do whatever storytelling you find necessary and contextually helpful, though you are also welcome to alter details such as names if you’re uncomfortable identifying anyone else involved. In addition to storytelling, however, the substance of the entry should consist of your explaining why the action is kind and/or how you know the action was kind. As part of this, you may reflect on, question, or criticize what happened; for example, you may have done something was kind but then reflect later that there was an even kinder option.

The journal entry should describe and analyze events that happened that week (so that your thinking about kindness develops as the course goes on), and you should not post about the same action in more than one entry, though you are welcome to compare actions/events from week to week. So, you cannot post every week about opening doors for people. But you can compare a later entry about smiling at strangers to a prior journal entry about opening a door, etc.

Diagnostic Survey 4: Post-Unit 2

This survey is made to help me evaluate the effectiveness of teaching as we enter the final stretch of the course. I welcome any comments on what could help me help you finish strong.

Discussion – Unit 2 Reflection Due November 4

Thinking back to our readings, exercises, and class sessions, pick one of the following topics and write a 200+ word reflection.

A) How is your definition of kindness changing? Is it being challenged? Clarified? Complicated? What have you found yourself learning about kindness that you didn’t know before?

B) Has our unit on kindness and racism given you a new window for thinking about current events related to racism and anti-racist movements? What new questions might you bring to accounts of racial tensions?

C) What, if anything, did this unit teach you about persuasive writing that your high school English classes had not? Has our attention to writing and structure helped clarify anything that seemed more difficult before?

Unit 2 Reflection Assignment – Due November 4

In addition to our public reflection format, I wanted to give everyone a space here to bookend our initial conversation about inner work and personal goals–or else to reflect on your experience in this unit in general. 

There is no length requirement for this assignment; I just ask that you reflect on how effectively the work of this unit has helped you understand systemic racism differently and whether you feel you were able to work on some of your own goals on this topic.

If you have further questions on the topic, I am happy to try and point to useful resources!