When Race Breaks Out

Conversations about Race and Racism in College Classrooms – 3rd Revised edition

by Helen Fox (Author)
©2017 Textbook XXIV, 262 Pages
Series: Higher Ed, Volume 29


The third revised edition of "When Race Breaks Out" is a guide for college and high school teachers who want to promote honest and informed conversations about race and racism. Based on the author's personal practice and interviews with students and faculty from a variety of disciplines, this book combines personal memoirs, advice, teaching ideas, and lively classroom vignettes. A unique insideräs guide to the salient ideas, definitions, and opinions about race helps instructors answer students' questions and anticipate their reactions, both to the material and to each other. An extensive annotated bibliography of articles, books, and videos with recommendations for classroom use is included.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction to the Third Revised Edition
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Starting with Ourselves: Telling Our Stories About Race
  • Note
  • Chapter 2: Insider’s Guide Part I: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity
  • Notes
  • Chapter 3: Insider’s Guide Part II: Discrimination, Racism, and Race Hatred
  • Note
  • Chapter 4: Classroom Confrontations
  • Notes
  • Chapter 5: Having a “Civil Conversation”
  • Notes
  • Chapter 6: Start with Students where they are: White Student Reactions
  • Update
  • Notes
  • Chapter 7: Mixing It Up: Reactions of Students of Color
  • Update
  • Notes
  • Chapter 8: Exercises, Assignments, and Advice
  • Setting the Tone
  • Model sensitive intercultural interaction
  • Respect students’ needs for safety
  • Affirm human similarities
  • Show students of color you can be trusted
  • Show students that you “expect respect”
  • Avoid Asking Students of Color to Speak for Their Entire Ethnic Group
  • Exploring ethnic identities
  • Using online blogs and videos
  • Promoting Dialogue About Race, Racism, and Privilege
  • When discussion is silent or superficial
  • Promoting Discussion of Texts
  • Using Reading Journals
  • Video journals, vlogs, and blogs
  • Student-generated questions for class discussion
  • Discussion of key concepts
  • Students calling on students
  • Simulations
  • Helping students recognize racism
  • Teach students media analysis
  • Developing antiracist arguments
  • Counseling frustrated, angry, or resistant students
  • Working with large classes
  • Community Projects
  • Now What?
  • Summary of Advice
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Annotated Resources and More Ideas for Assignments
  • Genetics and Human Origins
  • Social Construction of Race
  • Histories, Cultures, and Contemporary Realities of People of Color in the United States
  • African-Americans
  • Arabs, Arab Americans, Middle Easterners, and Muslims
  • Asian Pacific Americans (APA)
  • Latin@
  • Native Americans
  • Biracial, Multiracial, and “Mixed”
  • Identity and Stereotyping
  • Orientalism and Cultural Appropriation
  • Anti-immigrant Attitudes
  • “Whiteness” and White Privilege
  • White Extremism
  • Racial Socialization
  • Racism: Contemporary Stories and Examples
  • Psychology of Racism
  • History of Racism
  • Institutional Racism
  • Government
  • Criminal Justice
  • Health
  • Urban Neighborhoods
  • Education
  • Language
  • Media and Popular Culture
  • “Postracial” Culture, Politics, and Economics
  • Activism
  • Series index

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Many thanks

To my daughter Cybelle Fox for her splendid editing, research, advice, and enthusiasm for this project

To my daughters Elizabeth and Maria, and my stepchildren Sara and Jaime for their insights and their presence in my life

To my friends and colleagues in social justice work, whose questions and challenges to my ideas about race have kept me thinking, and whose kindness and company I could not do without:

Nehrwr Abdul-Wahid, Dan Adams, Marion Aitches, Patricia Aqui, Kanthie Athukorala, Janice and Gus Augustus, Nancy Barron, Ruby Beale, Teresa Brett, Dianna Campbell, Raymond Chauncey, Mark Chesler, Matthew Countryman, Louise Dunlap, Frieda Ekotto, Sandra Harris, Karen Henry, Chuck Hutchcraft, Yes Iman-Jihad, Said Issa, Margaret Jackson, Steve Jefferson, Fred Johnson, Ryung-wha Lee Kim, Michael Koen, Jeanne Koopman, Ann Larimore, Edith Lewis, Michael McConnell, Harry Mial, Sharon Miles, Barbara Monroe, Barbra Morris, Eliana Moya-Raggio, Jennifer Myers, Gail Nomura, Shari Saunders, David Schoem, Marla Solomon, Shirley Smith, Julie Steiner, Ralph Story, Sylvia Tesh, Pat Trammell, Victor Turner, Robert Walker, Tom Weisskopf, Osei David X, and the memory of Norman Hiza ← xi | xii →

To my research assistants from the University of Michigan’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program:

Monica Austin, Nadia Grooms, and Rebecca Kinney

To my students, whose intelligence, sensitivity, and courage to think deeply about this painful and difficult subject keep me optimistic about the future of the human race

And to my husband, Jim Koopman, whose love sustains me

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In 2012, when I was writing the Second Revised Edition of “When Race Breaks Out,” Barack Obama had just been elected president for a second term. A slow, steady recovery from the economic crash of 2008 was by then underway, and despite the persistent social and economic divisions between whites and people of color, President Obama’s calm, deliberative manner, his unending patience with lawmakers who opposed him at every turn, and his frequent evocation of hope, change, and unity had lulled many Americans into thinking that our nation had finally overcome the old racial divisions of the past. Journalists had begun to use the term “postracial” to describe the new reality of a black man in the White House. Most did not appear aware of the paradox—that Obama’s visual blackness was proof that our country had moved beyond race. Students too seemed oblivious to the contradiction: “We’re color-blind,” they would say. “How can we not be? We elected a black president. Twice!”

It was true that the generation of students who had entered college only a few years prior to Obama’s first election—the Millennials—were both more multiethnic than any previous generation and more socially progressive. Racial identity, gender, and sexual orientation, were, to them, “no big deal.” But strangely enough, it was this attitude of openness and egalitarianism that made students—particularly white students—more impervious than ever to ← xiii | xiv → the serious study of race and racism. Classrooms were calmer than in previous years; students more politely disengaged from contentious discussions. Race rarely “broke out.” Students of color sat in pained silence as their white peers confidently argued that there were no longer any significant barriers to advancement for people of color, no need for race-conscious policies, no need to consider race in explanations of economic inequality or to recognize racism, either interpersonal or institutional, on campus. And there was certainly no need to talk about racism within their generation. Their parents and grandparents might be racist, they said, but they, the youth, had left all that behind.

In such an atmosphere, I thought, teachers needed an approach that would engage this “postracial” generation in talking about race in ways that were the most intriguing and natural to them, yet at the same time, pushed their boundaries. If students could discover for themselves how central the idea of race remained in both institutions and personal interactions they would be more inclined to see it as a subject worthy of study. So as I revised the Second Edition I described an approach I had started to take in my own classes, one that built on students’ fascination with popular culture. Even if they weren’t willing to discuss race in any depth in class, I thought, they were engaging with it during their screen time. They were watching videos posted by their peers about all sorts of racial topics: ethnic identity, standards of beauty, stereotyping, interracial love, and marriage. They were listening to the provocative lyrics of hip-hop artists, and watching racially edgy video clips on Comedy Central. White youth were laughing at the “harmless” ethnic jokes posted by their friends, while youth of color were ranting about the ways they were stereotyped by their ignorant white peers. Even though they denied that racism was still a pernicious problem, Millennial students of all ethnicities were in fact primed to talk about race and eager to discuss it on their own terms.

How quickly times change. One rainy evening in 2014, a 17-year-old African-American high school student named Trayvon Martin was headed home from a convenience store where he had gone to buy an after-dinner snack. As he walked through the middle-class gated community where he and his dad were visiting, his hoodie pulled up over his head to ward off the rain, he was accosted by a Neighborhood Watch coordinator convinced that he was up to no good. A scuffle ensued, and within minutes, Travon had been shot dead. When the shooter, George Zimmerman, was acquitted of any wrongdoing a year later, the nation’s racial divisions were brought into stark relief, and the idea that racism was no longer relevant began to crumble. ← xiv | xv →

Suddenly, after a sixty-year hiatus, student activism reappeared on campus. And just as they had during the Civil Rights movement, young people of color were leading the way. In Florida, where the deadly encounter had taken place, hundreds of black and brown youth marched on the state capitol, demanding to talk to the Governor about changing the Stand Your Ground law, which made it legal for citizens to use deadly force when they feared for their life. George Zimmerman, a “white Hispanic,” had feared the black teen he was hunting down. “But what about Trayvon’s right to stand his ground,” student activists asked. “If he had been legally armed and had shot the man who had been trailing him through the community, would he have been found not guilty? Hardly.” As frustration mounted, students of color began to organize nationwide.

What brought youth of color out in such numbers? A young black organizer told me about his elation when he first came upon Dream Defenders, a Florida group that grew out of the verdict that exonerated George Zimmerman. When he dropped into a campus meeting, curious, but not expecting much, he was floored. “I’d never seen a more beautiful sight,” he said. “I’m in a room surrounded by people who look like me, who have dreads, who have afros, who have braids, who have tattoos, people who society would write off as trifling, as unintelligent. And here they are having these really, really important discussions about social movements, about philosophy, about plans to represent our communities in a positive way. And among them were so many black and brown women who were so vocal and unapologetic about what they were saying. That was just a beautiful thing for me. I’m thinking, I don’t know what this is, but I’m getting involved!”

As the youth movement began to build, killings of unarmed blacks, usually by white police, were being filmed by bystanders, who then posted their videos on social media. Community outrage spread as the death toll began to mount: Eric Garner, grabbed in a lethal chokehold while selling unlicensed cigarettes; Michael Brown, shot dead during an encounter with police about jaywalking; John Crawford, killed at an Ohio Walmart while holding an air rifle he had picked up off a shelf; Tamir Rice, twelve years old, shot by police within two seconds of arriving at the playground where he was sitting on a swing holding a toy gun. Black women and girls were among the victims too, activists pointed out: Tarika Wilson, shot dead in her own home while holding her baby in her arms; 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who had fallen asleep watching television on her living room couch, shot in the head as officers stormed into her house in a midnight ← xv | xvi → SWAT-style operation. Marlene Pinnock, a great-grandmother who was beaten within an inch of her life by police for wandering in and out of traffic lanes on a freeway; Aura Rosser, a mentally ill African-American woman armed with a fish knife, shot in the heart by police in my own hometown, Ann Arbor, when her boyfriend had only called the police to escort her out of his house. As the list of the dead grew, three black community organizers, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, created the hashtag #blacklivesmatter, which rapidly grew into an intergenerational movement that swept the country, engaging people of every ethnicity in street protests and demands for social change.

By 2015, when I was asked to write a third revised edition to “When Race Breaks Out,” the racial climate throughout the country had been transformed. Students of color were emboldened to demand more respect on campus, while other students reiterated their conviction that the protesters were exaggerating, or “playing the race card for all it’s worth.” As campuses grew more polarized, adults, too, took sides. Some cheered wildly when blatantly racist remarks were made on national television that had not been heard or accepted by the majority for generations. Whites publically sneered at “political correctness.” Relieved of the burden of civility, crowds roared their approval of ethnic stereotypes, threats to ban whole groups of immigrants on the basis of their religion, and the branding of entire ethnicities as criminals. A white senator expressed his belief that people of color had not contributed anything to western civilization. David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate.

It is in this racial cauldron that I have written the third edition of When Race Breaks Out. Since the protests began, the internet has exploded with new articles, blogs, websites, and videos about race. Selecting the best among them has been difficult, knowing that by the time this edition goes to press, more shocking scenes of violence will have been captured on cell phones, more hateful rhetoric will have been aired, more activists will have protested and many more perceptive analyses of racial events will have been written and circulated. Besides updating the Annotated Resources section, removing outdated pieces and adding new material that captures the spirit of these racially turbulent times, I can only encourage you, teachers and students, to use the power of the internet to find and critically analyze information about the new events from a variety of sources, and to use these resources to tap into the new curiosity, enthusiasm, doubt, and indignation about racial events that is now so evident among youth. ← xvi | xvii →

Among the new material you will find in this edition are resources on the white extremism that has developed and spread so rapidly during the Obama presidency, and how televised hatred is producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among young children of color.

I have added explanations of terms that, if not new, have recently come into more popular usage: micro-aggressions, cultural appropriation, orientalism, intersectionality, environmental racism.

The section on the psychology of racism has been expanded, and includes the latest research on implicit bias, which over the last 30 years has proven that so many of us, including myself, hold preconceptions about identity groups that go completely unrecognized.

I have added new information about the histories, cultures, and personal experiences of Arab Americans and Muslims, Native Americans, Asian Americans, African-Americans, and Latino/as, including common myths about immigration and the rise of lucrative private detention facilities to detain the undocumented.

I’ve added pieces on how disproportionate school suspensions for black children begin in preschool, and how that pattern continues throughout the criminal justice system. There is new information from black police officers about the extent of racism in their departments, and an extensive, searchable website that contains arrest records for African-Americans state by state, showing that blacks in the United States face overwhelming prejudice within the criminal justice system.

In the section on the science of race I have added important work on genetics that shows even more clearly how race is an imprecise biological concept. You will find articles and videos that show how the idea of race continues to be misused in science and public policy, and how unscientific assumptions about race and biology run deeply through medical practice, from genetic testing, to diagnosis of disease, to the development of new, “race-specific” drugs and treatments.

Finally, you will find information on local and national activism, and how whites can be better allies to people of color.

The times may be frightening, but we live at a teachable moment.

Helen Fox

July 25, 2016, Ann Arbor, Michigan

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XXIV, 262
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XXIV, 262 pp.

Biographical notes

Helen Fox (Author)

Helen Fox has taught about race and racism, human rights, peace activism, and international development at the University of Michigan for 22 years. She is the author of Listening to the World: Cultural Issues in Academic Writing (1994), Their Highest Vocation: Social Justice and the Millennial Generation (2012), and Fractured: Race Relations in "Post-Racial" American Life (2014).


Title: When Race Breaks Out
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288 pages