PLE 2: Module 5

Section 2: Race and White Privilege 

Powerful Learning Experience 2.1 What is Race?

Element Participant Instructions Instructor/Facilitator Notes


Purpose: Develop an understanding

Review the agreements you developed in our previous session.

While race is a social/political construction, it is not unusual for individuals to hold strong beliefs in misconceptions that race is biologically or genetically based. This learning experience has been designed to guide participants in recognizing that humans created categories of race and that beyond surface characteristics and physical traits, people who are identified as having the same racial identity are not more similar genetically than those individuals identified as having a different racial identity.
In America, race and ethnicity are often used interchangeably.
Process & Guided Questions

Please be willing to share your definition of race. Remember, this is your interpretation so there is no right or wrong answer.


Read this brief online article entitled “What is Race?”

Read online Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race

How would you now define race? What does it mean to you?
How many races do you think there are? What are they? How do you decide which race someone belongs to?
Look around the room or around your community. Who do you think is likely to be most similar to you, biologically or genetically? Why?

Where do your ideas about race come from? What are the sources of your information?

  1. Invite participants to write personal definition of race. Stress that these are personal definitions so there are no right or wrong answers at this time.  
  2. Ask for at least 3-5 volunteers to share their own definition. Ask for clarification as needed – but do not dwell on or deeply discuss these definitions.
  3. Provide time for participants to read Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race
  4. Ask for volunteers to share anything that they found to be surprising.
  5. Offer this online definition of race:

Audrey Smedley’s Definition

Race is an ideology that says that all human populations are divided into exclusive and distinct groups; that all human populations are ranked, they are not equal… Race wasn’t invented because it is a set of beliefs and attitudes about human variation. It has nothing to do with the biological variation itself. You can have many societies with great diversity in physical features without the idea of race. Race represents attitudes and beliefs about human differences, not the differences themselves.

Guided Discussion

What did you find surprising in the readings?
What else do you want to know?

Which definition of race is consistent with your current thinking?

Review these questions to close the unit.

Have students reflect and write written responses in their journals. This gives them time to process the information and to help them reflect on what they want to say in this processing stage.

Readings & Comprehension Questions

Complete the Race Literacy Quiz
What is the difference between a biological and a social view of race?
 Excluding your immediate family members, are you more likely to be genetically like someone who looks like you or someone who does not?
Who has benefited from the belief that we can sort people according to race and that there are natural or biologically based differences between racial groups?

How did you do on the quiz?

What do you now know about race that you did not know before?
Does taking the quiz enhance your thinking about race and its application to you leadership?
Could these materials help you have better discussions about race and its impact on educational leadership and learning?

Provide time to take the Race Literacy Quiz (about 20 questions) and allow participants to self-check answers.

Supporting Materials

These additional readings offer an opportunity to explore these topics more deeply:

Cook, A.E. (1995). Beyond critical legal studies: The Reconstructive theology of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In K. W. Crenshaw, N.Gotanda, G. Peller, & K. Thomas (Eds.). Critical race theory: The key writings that formed the movement (pp. 276-291). New York, NY: The New Press.

Cook’s article on Beyond critical legal studies: The Reconstructive theology of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. offers participants an opportunity to see some of the origins of critical race theory as described in the Ladson-Billings article. It helps participants to consider that racism is prevalent in law and education and likely other aspects of life. They continue to grapple with how the pieces fit together. It is important that they continue to explore at this point what all of this means for them as leaders. Another important point from Cook is the idea that there is a reconstructive element that follows the large amount of deconstructing that will happen in the class. The Cook article gives them exposure to Dr. King’s thinking about how to advance a social justice agenda.
Related Websites

Additional Resources:

Race: The Power of an Illusion: The Difference Between Us. This film provides an historical perspective about the development of racism and white privilege in the United States and lays a foundation for understanding the systemic features of racism.
The film can be purchased or checked out from university or community libraries. Transcripts for all 3 film are currently available for free at the website.
Ask participants to be prepared to reflect as they watch the film by jotting down questions, reactions, and feelings as they watch. This can be used in conjunction with the Tillman article that explains a reality that happened in schools and impacted lives even though race is a social construct.  

Reflective Journaling  

One way to maximize the journaling experience is to give students time in class to share what they are learning about themselves/their leadership. This serves to highlight the value of the journal and also give you insight into where their learning needs are.

These journals can also be done on-line via individual discussion boards, blogs, etc.

Assessments Level One    
Extended Activity    


Building a Community of Trust through Racial Awareness

Section 2: Race and White Privilege 

Powerful Learning Experience 2.2 Unpacking White Privilege

Element Participant Instructions Instructor/Facilitator Notes

Explore Whiteness and privilege and the impact that each has on the individual as well as on education
Describe the cultural and institutional privileges/advantages attached to “Whiteness” in the United States.

  1. Revisit the Class Agreements (PLE 1.2) before proceeding with any discussion.
  2. We will explore What is White Privilege?

Many people who have grown up white in America do not recognize white as a race, nor have they considered the benefits regularly experienced by people with white skin. When asked about their race and ethnicity, whites in America often respond that they are Americans. This inability to see white as a race reinforces white normative values. In schools, and elsewhere in society, these white values are often used invisibly as a basis to include and exclude others based on race (Singleton & Linton, 2006).

  1. Assign participants to read Holladay, 2000 prior to session.
  2. 2. Reading this article and the dialogue in class that follows may be one of the first times white participants have considered what it means to be white. Confronting one’s own privilege may create significant cognitive dissonance. For an individual who has been reinforced to believe in meritocracy, confronting that much of what he/she has achieved may be influenced by invisible privilege may be overwhelming. Strong emotions are likely to surface such as anger, denial, shame, guilt and embarrassment. For students of color, who have dealt with issues associated with white privilege all their lives, the reaction of White students may also trigger strong emotions such as anger, frustration, impatience, incredulity, and disgust.


Pre-Activity Read Holladay (2000) (see below)  
Guided Discussion
  1. When you read Holladay, what became more clear?
  2. What questions do you have?
  3. McIntosh published her article, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack in 1988. Holladay published hers in 2000. As you consider today’s context, do you think white privilege has increased, decreased, or stayed about the same?

Holladay, J. R. (2000). On racism and White privilege White anti-racist activism:
A personal roadmap: Crandall, Dostie & Douglass Books, Inc.

Supporting Materials

MacIntosh, (1988). White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

Delpit, (2012) Chapter 1, There is no achievement gap at birth. Multiplication is for White People.

These two sources are ideal for digging in deeper to the topic of white privilege.
Related Websites  
Reflective Journaling    
Assessments Level One    
Extended Activity    


Building a Community of Trust through Racial Awareness

Section 2: Race and White Privilege 

Powerful Learning Experience 2.3 Experiencing the Color Arc

Element Participant Instructions Instructor/Facilitator Notes

Peggy McIntosh, (1988) in White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack, wrote:

As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage. I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks (1990, p. 1)

This learning experience offers a visual representation of how varying levels of privilege impact people with different racial and/or ethnic identity.


Introduce The Color Line/Arc. This activity has been designed to visually reinforce what White privilege entails in daily living situations. While it is important for students of all races to examine White privilege, this activity requires that participants in the group be representative of different races i.e. it simply will not resonate if everyone in the group is White. If the group is majority white, it may be beneficial to enlist the support of colleagues of color to join the class for this experience (see additional notes below).

Learning Environment: Individual seating for the completion of the Understanding White Privilege: The Color Line Exercise and an open area large enough for all participants to stand and form an arc.

Note: While this experience offers powerful representation of privilege, it can also cause considerable stress – especially for participants of color. Participants of color may feel exposed and vulnerable during this activity. If you have only a few participants of color, we suggest you invite additional colleagues of color to join the group during this activity. Consider the status of invitees. For a graduate course, inviting professors or color – or for a group of practitioners – inviting people of color who have at least equal – if not greater – employment status than the majority of the participants may help to alleviate power differentials within the group.


The Color Arc Activity (sheets)  Adapted from Courageous Conversations About Race (Singleton & Linton, 2006) by Mark A. Gooden, Ph.D. & Ann O’Doherty, Ed.D. The University of Texas at Austin;; 513.460.5234.

Complete The Color-Arc Exercise[1]
Please click here to download the Color-Arc Exercise file.
Respond to each question using one of the following scores:
5     if the statement is mostly true for you
3     if the statement is sometimes true for you
0     if the statement is seldom true for you

2. When directed to do so, form an arc with other participants beginning with the lowest number results and moving sequentially through the highest number results.

  1. Pass out Color Line Exercise sheet to each student/participant. Once complete, each person totals his/her score.
  2. Be sure to have participants form an arc with people standing from 0 to 65 in order of number. An arc shape allows participants to face each other.
  3. After everyone has settled into their numerical spot, have each individual, beginning with 0 report numbers.
  4. Stand proportional to the number. Ex: If one participant has a score of 40 and the next participant has a score of 60 they should not stand side by side, but should leave proportional space between them to represent the numbers 40 through 60

Note: When we conduct the Color Arc Mark (score = 13) and Ann (score = 65) were at opposite ends of the arc. Ann, (Euro-American, female) had the highest privilege score, Mark (African American, male) one of the lowest privilege scores. Typically, participants of color will have lower scores. White participants typically have scores above 50. We point out that Mark and Ann both have doctorates and teach at the same university, but that educational level, income and career did not mitigate our relative access to privilege. Only our race did.

Guided Discussion
  1. What do you notice happening with the arrangement of people?
  2. What does this mean to you?
  3. Does everyone experience privilege in equitable ways?
  4. What implications does this have for your work as a school or district leader?
Participants often focus on their personal economic ability to purchase “any home they want in any neighborhood”. Guide participants to understand the difference between housing choices restricted by economics and those restricted by race. When a person of color is not shown housing in areas that he/she has the means to purchase – that is the result of a lack of privilege.
Readings n/a  
Supporting Materials Courageous Conversations about Race-Singleton & Linton (2006)  
Related Websites    
Reflective Journaling

In your journal, respond to the following:

  1. When you were rating each question, what went through your mind?
  2. When the participants stood in the arc, what did you notice?
  3. In what ways, if any, have you observed or experienced school decisions or structures reinforcing the color arc?
  4. What might you take away from this experience in your work as a school or district level leader?

One way to maximize the journaling experience is to give students time in class to share what they are learning about themselves/their leadership. This serves to highlight the value of the journal and also give you insight into where their learning needs are. These journals can also be done on-line via individual discussion boards, blogs, etc.

Assessments Level One n/a  
Extended Activity n/a