This activity is designed to develop a common vocabulary to discuss ethnic relations.




Have volunteers read aloud each definition in a handout as described below.


A productive discussion begins with a clarification of terms. Below are some definitions of important terms that often come up in race relations dialogues. Although the definitions apply to many ethnic and racial groups, for clarity we have chosen to express some definitions by using a black race and white race polemic.


The persons involved in the activity need not agree on the definitions. Instead they are encouraged to use the terms to clarify their own thinking and comments. During the discussion, the facilitator may indicate whether he or she agrees or disagrees with the definition.


The time for this discussion varies according to group size, but could last approximately 1.5 hours with a group composed of 12 to 16 persons.





·        PREJUDICE:


A negative or hostile attitude toward a person or group, formed without just grounds or sufficient knowledge--impervious to evidence and contrary to argument. Prejudice is an attitude, often the result of a perceived  threat. It may be based or past experiences.





Unequal treatment of people based on their membership in a group. In contrast to prejudice, discrimination is behavior. To discriminate is to treat a person not on the basis of their intrinsic qualities, but on the basis of a prejudgment about a group. Discrimination can either be de jure (legal, as in segregation laws) or de facto (discrimination in fact, without legal sanction).




  1. To discriminate means to exclude people based on their membership in a group (ethnic, religious, etc.). Some groups (racial, ethnic, religious) have created separate traditions, organizations and institutions. What is the purpose of this “self-segregation”? Are all forms of discrimination socially harmful?


  1. Is choosing to marry within your religion “discrimination”? Do the following cases both represent harmful discrimination:


A.        A Native American decides to marry within his/her ethnic group to preserve their culture.


B.        A white supremacist want to marry within his/her ethnic group to preserve the white race.


Analysis: Suggest to the group that attitudes can change the meaning of behavior. Is the white supremacist’s intent to preserve an endangered culture, or preserve a majority group’s power?


  1. After this discussion, write on a large piece of paper:


Nonprejudiced discriminator

Prejudiced nondiscriminator


Ask the group to give examples of both.


Analysis: A nonprejudiced discriminator could be someone who makes choices based on ethnicity but not motivated by negative attitudes, e.g., (1) one who dates within their religious group to preserve a minority religion or (2) institutionalize racism (refer the group to that definition).


A prejudiced nondiscriminator could be someone who has prejudices but does not act on them. Ask the group if we might say that we are all, to some degree, prejudiced nondiscriminators? Normally we use the term “discrimination” in a negative sense. We are using the term in a value-neutral sense in this discussion to highlight how some choices based on race or ethnicity are not inherently harmful.



·        STEREOTYPE:


Usually negative image, belief, or assumption about a group of people without regard to their individual differences. Every stereotype contains a “grain of truth” that legitimizes it in the eyes of the person who holds it. Even positive stereotypes, such as “Asians are good at math” can have a negative impact.





1.      Have participants give examples of stereotypes as you list them on a large sheet of paper. The more ridiculous, the better. Include at least one stereotype that you can deconstruct, i.e., explain the historical origins. Have the group discuss how they think some of the listed stereotypes started. Is there some “grain of truth” that validates the stereotype in the eyes of the beholder?


As you analyze stereotypes, you may want to mention the “attribution error” theory. There is a tendency for in-groups to attribute the negative behaviors of an out-group to internal flaws (They don’t have a job because they are lazy). Within our in-group we are more likely to attribute negative behaviors to external circumstances (My son doesn’t have a job because the economy is down). The group will notice that the listed stereotypes invariably link negative behaviors or internal character flaws--ignoring external circumstances.


  1. What is the difference between a generalization (e.g., most cowboys like country music) and a negative stereotype (e.g., most young African Americans are lazy). Are generalizations about ethnic groups always harmful? If not, when do generalizations become negative stereotypes?


Hypothetical: Joan is going to Japan on a business trip. Her friend Evita advises her that the Japanese consider it an insult if one refuses to share a drink of alcohol with them. Is Evita stereotyping?


After the group discusses this, volunteer the following definition:


Generalization: A general idea or judgment based on particular instances. Generalizations are assumptions about a group based or inferred from experience or perceptions. Generalizations are flexible and can be revised in light of new evidence.


Analysis: Generalizations are natural and human ways of organizing information. They are scripts that we pull from our memory banks to held make decisions about people. They are yardsticks for evaluating objects, people and events. They allow us to size up situations.


Generalizations are inevitable and frequently useful. But they always have the potential of becoming harmful stereotypes (a dangerous neighborhood can become “dangerous people).


Stereotype: A fixed, shared opinion of a group that allows for no individuality. They key difference between a generalization and a stereotype is that while generalizations describe behavior, stereotypes predict the behavior of individuals in a group. Unlike generalizations, stereotypes are often not altered in the face of new and contrary evidence.


Analysis: Suggest to the group that if we all generalize, then we all have the potential to stereotype. Admitting that we generalize is the first step to countering stereotypes in ourselves.


  1. Ask for some words of phrases that turn stereotypes into generalization (some, many, a few, often, most).


  1. Is there such a thing as a “positive” stereotype?


·        RACIAL MYTH:


Erroneous theory or story, ostensibly based on fact, that serves to explain the conditions of a racial group. Racial myths employ grand stereotypes to diagnose inequality and rationalize unequal treatment. For example, the myth that taxes have skyrocketed because blacks are living luxuriously on welfare. Contrast this myth with reality in some states where welfare program costs amount to a very small percentage of the entire state budget.






The belief that people of color are inferior to whites because of biological traits that produce inferior intellectual, emotional and cultural qualities. This overt racism was prevalent in the past. “Old fashioned” racists believed that racial differences were rooted in genetic differences; that “inferior genes” produced crime, poverty and racial inequality. In their view, biological inferiority justified inferior social treatment for blacks--slavery, segregation and discrimination.





Anti-black prejudice expressed through code words and symbolic issues rather than overtly bigoted language. This is “covert bigotry.” Some social scientists believe that “old-fashioned racism” has given way to “symbolic racism.” This theory maintains that many whites retain deeply embedded racist attitudes acquired in their youth. But, because of social pressures, whites feel uncomfortable publicly expressing these underlying prejudices. Instead, they profess to believe in equality while using code words such as “welfare underclass” to mean “African-Americans” as a way of venting their racial prejudices. The symbolic racism theory argues that public debates on crime and welfare issues can easily become polite ways to express racial resentment.





1.      Give some other examples of how code words might be used.





Those established laws, customs and practices that systematically reflect and produce racial inequalities in American society, whether or not the individuals maintaining these practices have racist intentions. Institutional racism is discrimination without prejudice. Individuals can unintentionally discriminate by applying policies that perpetuate past inequalities.


For example, some banks “redline”--refuse to make home loans in poor neighborhoods. Since many poor neighborhoods are composed of African Americans, redlining effectively denies loans to qualified African Americans. While the bankers’ attitude is unbiased, their behavior has the same effect as deliberate racism. For African Americans, white behavior can be more damaging than white attitudes.



·        RACISM:


Combining the above concepts we can broadly define racism as: Racial prejudices exercised against a racial group by individuals and institutions in a position of power intentionally or unintentionally. Power distinguishes mere prejudice from racism. Prejudice (an attitude) combines with power (a behavior) to produce racism (a system). Prejudice becomes racism when it is practiced by the economically, socially or politically powerful (business, government, political majorities.)




1.      Prejudice + Power - Racism. What does that mean? Can minorities or persons of color be prejudiced? Racist?


2.      Is racism common today? Why?





1.      When, during this discussion did you find yourself reacting with concern? Feeling anxious? Hopeful or upbeat?


2.      Was there a moment that you sensed that the discussion has a real connection to your everyday life?


3.      What suggestions do you have to combat bias/prejudice when it occurs in your presence?