Race in America:
An Introductory Writing Assignment
Race relations have been a cultural concern in America since its inception. To what extent have race relations improved since the abolition of slavery? What factors contribute to increasing or decreasing tolerance in American society? How do prevailing forms of prejudice limit freedom, or maintain the privilege of the status quo? What are the consequences of institutionalized racism?
Carefully read the following sources. Then, in an essay that synthesizes at least four of the sources for support, examine the relationship between race and equality in America. You must use To Kill a Mockingbird as one of the sources. Do not focus on particular time periods, but focus on building a sophisticated argument based on the diversity of the provided sources. Each body paragraph needs to include more than one source.
Make sure that your argument is central; use the sources to illustrate and support your reasoning. Avoid merely summarizing the sources. Indicate clearly which sources you are drawing from, whether through direct quotation, paraphrase or summary [Use proper in-text citations throughout].
Source A: Lee
Source B: Baldwin
Source C: Blow
Source D: Douglass
Source D: Hughes
Source E: Kennedy
Source F: “Teenager”
- Carefully consider how the guiding questions (listed in the first paragraph above) are explored in the sources including the novel. Annotate the sources to help you make connections, explore differences and similarities, and draw conclusions to help frame your essays.
- Do not focus your writing on whether or not you agree with the authors’ arguments.
- Do not determine your opinion prior to reading the sources. Write about the ideas you come to after carefully reading and examining the sources. Your claim is informed by your reading.
- Your job is to create your best quality product in the time that you have available. This assignment is a demanding task, one that stretches your reading, writing and thinking abilities. Your essay gives me (and you) the chance to see where you are.
- Follow ALL MLA publishing guidelines in formatting your final draft, including the overall appearance of the document, and the use and format of in-text citations.
The final draft of your essay is due on Monday, September 14. Essays not submitted on time and/or properly submitted to TurnItIn.com will not be evaluated.
“A Talk to Teachers” (1963)
Now, if what I have tried to sketch has any validity, it becomes thoroughly clear, at least to me, that any Negro who is born in this country and undergoes the American educational system runs the risk of becoming schizophrenic. On the one hand he is born in the shadow of the stars and stripes and he is assured it represents a nation which has never lost a war. He pledges allegiance to that flag which guarantees “liberty and justice for all.” He is part of a country in which anyone can become president, and so forth. But on the other hand he is also assured by his country and his countrymen that he has never contributed anything to civilization – that his past is nothing more than a record of humiliations gladly endured. He is assumed by the republic that he, his father, his mother, and his ancestors were happy, shiftless, watermelon-eating darkies who loved Mr. Charlie and Miss Ann, that the value he has as a black man is proven by one thing only – his devotion to white people. If you think I am exaggerating, examine the myths which proliferate in this country about Negroes.
All this enters the child’s consciousness much sooner than we as adults would like to think it does. As adults, we are easily fooled because we are so anxious to be fooled. But children are very different. Children, not yet aware that it is dangerous to look too deeply at anything, look at everything, look at each other, and draw their own conclusions. They don’t have the vocabulary to express what they see, and we, their elders, know how to intimidate them very easily and very soon. But a black child, looking at the world around him, though he cannot know quite what to make of it, is aware that there is a reason why his mother works so hard, why his father is always on edge. He is aware that there is some reason why, if he sits down in the front of the bus, his father or mother slaps him and drags him to the back of the bus. He is aware that there is some terrible weight on his parents’ shoulders which menaces him. And it isn’t long – in fact it begins when he is in school – before he discovers the shape of his oppression.
Charles M. Blow
“Constructing a Conversation on Race” (2014)
…race is a weaponized social construct used to divide and deny.
According to a policy statement on race by the American Anthropological Association, “human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups” and “there is greater variation within ‘racial’ groups than between them.”
The statement continues:
“How people have been accepted and treated within the context of a given society or culture has a direct impact on how they perform in that society. The ‘racial’ worldview was invented to assign some groups to perpetual low status, while others were permitted access to privilege, power, and wealth. The tragedy in the United States has been that the policies and practices stemming from this worldview succeeded all too well in constructing unequal populations among Europeans, Native Americans, and peoples of African descent.”
“We conclude that present-day inequalities between so-called ‘racial’ groups are not consequences of their biological inheritance but products of historical and contemporary social, economic, educational, and political circumstances.”
“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” (1852)
Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man, (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgement that the slave is a moral, intellectual and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws, in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute,thenwill I argue with you that the slave is a man!...
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
“Let America Be America Again” (1938)
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland for the free.”)
Say who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the refugee clutching the hope I seek—
But finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the Negro “problem” to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean –
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today – O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead.
The poorest worker bartered through the years
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions who have nothing for our pay
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay –
Except the dream we keep alive today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be— the land where every man is free.
That land that’s mine—The poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain.
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath –
America will be!
Robert F. Kennedy
“Remarks to the Cleveland City Club” (1968)
For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.
This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all. I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies - to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.
We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear - only a common desire to retreat from each other - only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this there are no final answers... The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence…
Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.
“The teenager who saved a man with an SS tattoo.”
In 1996, a black teenager protected a white man from an angry mob who thought he supported the racist Ku Klux Klan, which was having a rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan, while a group of anti-KKK protestors were nearby. The protestors started to attack the man above (because of his clothes and tattoo). Keshia Thomas, 18, put herself between the protestors and man, probably saving his life.