We will study responses to injustice, specifically, the history of redlining and also the origins of rap as a response to social injustice. They will also explore the ways music has and can serve as a modality for human connection.11 Students will engage in discourse about race, society, and the specific perspectives of the artists. Ultimately, through the modality of verbal, visual and written expression, students will illuminate an issue they see within their own society, and craft a form of response.
1. Opening: Reading/Analyzing The Structure of Racism in Color-Blind Post Racial America, by Eduardo Bonilla Silva. (4 days)
Students will analyze this reading to understand different definitions of racism, colorblind ideology, and what this looks like in modern day. The biggest struggle in conversations on race and racism in the classroom is the lack of language and terminology we operate with. Having language in the different types of racism gives students access to having more nuanced and complex conversations. In opening, students will reflect and engage with each other on the following written reflection:
Warm Up: What is racism? Where have you either witnessed, or experienced racism?
This is where the opening unit in learning about each other pays off, as students are more inclined and comfortable to express their understandings, misunderstandings, and engage in discourse. After this warm up, students will read an excerpt from Bonilla-Silva’s essay with the following guided questions:
- What are the different kinds of racism?
- Where have you either experienced, learned about, or witnessed each of the different types?
The last activity will be a formative assessment, revisiting the beginning. I will pose the question, “Taking today’s text and conversations into consideration, what is racism? To what extent did your understanding of it change?” By engaging in the opening, the reading, and returning back to the original question, I am trying to move the students’ individualistic understanding of racism to one influenced by social structures and forces. There will be two days worth of reading, finding specific lines for comprehension, and then a day of full discussion.
2. Reading/ Analyzing excerpts from, The Case for Reparations (2 days)
Opening: Video Response: Vice: The Case for Reparations Goes to Congress.
- What are your thoughts and reactions?
- What connections can you make to Bonilla Silva’s reading?
Reading/ Analyzing Excerpts: Redlining, Clyde Ross and The Contract Buyers League
In this essay, Coates illuminates the practice of redlining while simultaneously telling the lived experience of activist Clyde Ross. Ross’ push was for fair housing practices.12 In this essay, and the mini-documentary embedded in it, it is a concrete example of systemic racism and unlocks understanding of the formation of modern day segregation and oppressive practices. In watching the mini documentary, the primary questions will be: What is the relationship between race and housing? What emotions do you think Ross experiences, and what is the reasoning behind each?
Exploring Interactive Maps of New Haven
Using the interactive map, students can explore documents of their specific neighborhoods in New Haven, the historical documents labeling each section, and unpack the language used to describe each area. I’ve done this activity in the past, in a previous unit and its a multi-functional resource, to no surprise, students feel a deep connection seeing history directly connected to themselves.
Note: In implementation, be sure to allow platforms for students to speak and write their truth. It’s especially important to encourage students to feel and express emotion. The nature of the subject matter, especially for students who currently live in low-income housing, is intensely relevant and current. Having language to a specific feeling is deeply impactful in many ways. In connection to Critical Race Theory, this is the time where it’s
the most visible. The teaching of this specific history, and it’s visible effects on marginalized communities, blatantly questions the notion of the law as neutral, and illuminates racism contributing to societal advantage and disadvantage.13 Using this as a case study illuminates racism as a systemic issue, further supporting the ideas in Bonilla Silva’s essay.
3. Reading from small from Music and The Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1968: A Classroom Approach and Analyzing “We Are the Children.” (3 days)
Students will read, annotate and discuss this reading in order to study music as a response to social injustice, as well as music being key historical artifacts revealing not only the sentiment and emotion of the artist, but also, the conditions of society during that time period. They will engage in the following questions:
- What is the relationship between music and history?
- What is the relationship between music and activism?
- What are the connections between this reading, and Bonilla Silva’s?
- After this, students will then listen to, and analyze “ We Are The Children,” by Chris Kando Lijima, Joanne Nobuko, and Miyamato “Charlie” Chin. They will listen and engage in discussion /analysis of the following:
- What does this song reveal about the artists and their lived experience?
- What does this song reveal about the time period?
- What are your thoughts and reactions and connections?
After discussion, I will present a powerpoint of the significance of this song, and its ties to Asian-American Civil Rights, and Anti-War Movements in the late 60’s and early 70’s.14 Without having any knowledge of this time period, through the emotion, lyrics and rhythm of the song, they will be able to understand many of the artists’ struggles and responses to conditions of this time period.
Note: The most important understanding from this lesson is understanding is recognition of as modality for expression, organization, and key artifact unlocking knowledge of history. Many students, and educators, especially in literature, choose to analyze songs for their surface level value in contrast to unpacking everything. The powerful takeaway is being able to unpack so much within just a 3 minute song.
4. Response to Social Injustice: The Birth of Hip Hop. (3 Days)
In the opening, students will engage in a gallery walk of images of the South Bronx in the late 60’s and early 70’s using the strategy, Big Paper, in combination of a gallery walk. Each picture will be intentionally curated to elicit a full spectrum of emotion and storytelling in this specific period of turmoil.
Viewing: Hip Hop Evolution/ Discussion
After debriefing, students will view a 20 minute segment of the Netflix documentary, Hip Hop Evolution, which gives context to the specific pictures, and also, makes direct connections to the birth of Hip Hop. This documentary is an incredibly engaging piece of visual storytelling, as told through historians and also the pioneers of rap. It also breaks into the segment informing us of the historical impact of GrandMaster Flash and the
Furious Five’s , The Message, the song raising awareness in the conditions of the Bronx in the early 70’s. We will pause the documentary for students to do a stop and jot, reflecting on connections of the video, and the readings from yesterday. I will specifically push students to reflect on the structures of racism, and also the role of music in this era.
Analyzing the lyrics / music video of The Message:
After learning the brief history of this song, and the time period, students will engage in the same analysis as yesterday’s song:
- What does this song reveal about the artists and their lived experience?
- What is the artists’ perspective on , and response to, racism?
- What lines give you the strongest reactions, and or connection?
Note: The Message is loaded with historical context, significance, and is easily one of the most important songs in history. With the students’ new lense of reading music as a modality of expression, and a historical document, the connections and reactions will be rich. The other added bonus in using this song, the beat as well as the song itself is very popular. At the same time almost nobody, even adults, have engaged in listening to the meaning of the song. On top of the historical significance, this song also provides a framework in moving forward in unpacking “the message,” of each artist.
5. An Analysis of Good Kid, Maad City, Kendrick Lamar. (2 Days)
This entire album is an autobiography of the adolescence of Kendrick Lamar. The two specific songs that make up the album title, and also thematic of the nature of history are “Good kid” and “Maad City.” The former is a reflection of growing up navigating around an environment riddled with violence, police brutality, and dire conditions. The second part centers around the duality of Kendrick’s decision in his affiliations with gangs; not joining mans no protection, but joining leads to a path of destruction.15 In each of these songs, students will discuss the following:
- What does this song reveal about Kendrick’s lived experience?
- Where do you see injustice?
- What is his response to it?
6. Reflection/ The Oracle Poem (1 Day)
Students will take this day to process their best notes, and engage in honest discussion in connection with each other. The oracle poem is a process in which student blindly answer questions in relation to the path to liberation.16 We will form a circle, and one student will start with writing a question. The next will write a response, not knowing the answer to the question. The object of this process is to gain connectivity in seeing how many have answers to questions students didn’t even know the questions to, and also, a way to bring everyone close. This day will also be dedicated to organic discussion reflecting on key ideas, concepts and the complexity of emotion and new understandings students feel.
7. Rap/ Video Analysis/ Discussion (2-3 Days)
This in the process in which students will use all their knowledge, shared language, understanding of systemic racism, rap music and its relation with activism. With this, they will engage in discussion and analysis, with an added component of visuals. In small groups, of no more than four, students will work together breaking down the lyrics, music videos, and message of three different artists from different backgrounds, each with different social identities, all expressing their message. The artists/ songs are the following:
Ruby Ibarra: Featuring Rocky Rivera, Klassy and Faith Santilla: Us.
Kendrick Lamar: Alright.
Prolific Rapper & A Tribe Called Red: Black Snakes.
Each small group will engage in a sustained discussion, going through each music video and set of lyrics one by one, and after, on their chromebook and a page for each artist they must:
- Screenshot + annotate 3 images from the video that elicit 3 different emotions. Explain why you picked each specific image
- What is each of the artists’ responses to racism/ injustice, and what lyrics best demonstrate this?
- What connections can you make to these lyrics? What connections do these songs and artists have with each other?
After finished with all three, we will go whole group and debrief our findings with each other. We will ground discussion around the following:
- What are the patterns in each song?
- What is a new learning, or understanding that you or your group came to?
- What are any specific words of appreciation, connection, you have for any of the artist?
Note: Each of these songs express a very specific story and express a wide variety and
range of emotion in each. I am intentionally countering the dominant narrative of poets of color being hollow and one dimensional, disrupting students’ orientation and colonial narrative they hold on indigenous people, Asian Americans, as well as the quest for equity.
8. Workshop Days: Essay/ Graded Discussion (6 days)
The following is the prompt to the essay students will prepare for: In Eduardo Bonilla Silva’s, The Structure of Racism in Color Blind “Post Racial” America, he outlines the different types of racism and how they manifest. In rapper, Joyner Lucas’ polarizing song and video, I’m Not Racist, he raps through the perspective of a white and black male holding a discussion on racism. Using both texts, craft a structured argumentative essay on the following questions:
- Which definition of racism does each of Lucas’ characters operate from? Evaluate each character’s response to injustice.
In preparation for this, they will read, annotate and explore the music video as well as the lyrics. In the gathering of evidence of the essay, they will also use this to participate in a formal discussion on the following:
- What emotions does this song/ video elicit?
- Is this an informed conversation in race/ racism?
- What, readings, information or general experiences would you recommend to both individuals from our class/ in general?
Note: The discussion is meant to capture any thoughts, reactions, or new understandings that the formal essay doesn’t lend itself a platform for. This song went viral in 2017 and was discussed on many mainstream news outlets, and on social media personalities. The video depicts a white man wearing a MAGA hat and a black man, but both voices are actually Joyner Lucas. They represent emotionally charged responses in conversation about racism, and the two go into a sudden embrace at the end. The content of this song connects to every reading and activity we’ve done thus far, but only scratches the surface of what we’ve discussed together. In having a discussion about a discussion of race, they are in the level of analysis and synthesis, and inherently will need language in order to engage with each other.
Summative Connection to Seminar:
The scope and sequence of a traditional literature curriculum is grounded in works by white authors, and then works from authors of color in isolation, positioned as opposition to “traditional studies.” In the 1960’s, and even to this day, scholars in literature fight for the preservation of “American Literature,” and consequently, black and brown students around the country are stuck reading literature from a colonial perspective, and even worse, the interaction with these texts are deemed as the highest standard of intellect.17 The curriculum I’m offering is not an alternative to white literature, nor is it a justification of why rap should be poetry. It is not a story leading to a positively framed story of an aggrieved population’s inspirational path to hope and perseverance. Using texts from the art form in rap, now the most popular and influential genre worldwide, my students will have tools to analyze a society that was never built for them, through a curriculum that was.