The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Tag: race

The New School Year: Processing the Summer’s Events in the Classroom

A lot can happen in a summer. With the new school year already off to a start for some and soon to begin for others, all of us at Choices want to take a moment to recognize the many tragic events that have taken place in the past few months throughout the world. International terror attacks, ongoing wars and conflicts, violence perpetrated against U.S. citizens of color, U.S. law enforcement personnel, and LGBTQ people in the United States, and other acts of violence and hatred have defined this summer, for many, as one of tragedy.

At Choices, knowing how to respond to acts such as these challenges all of us, and certainly there is not a perfect way to do so. But we also believe that these are issues that are on the minds of many students and teachers. Some teachers may find that the classroom can serve as a space in which students and teachers alike may begin to process and heal from these events by thinking critically and engaging one another in discussion. But at the same time, locating resources for facilitating these conversations is not always easy.

In response to this need, we wanted to remind teachers of resources that we offer, including two of our recent free, online Teaching with the News lessons—Black Lives Matter: Continuing the Civil Rights Movement (updated August 2016) and our Resource Guide on the Orlando Nightclub Shootings (June 2016). In addition to these resources, you may also find our blog post Approaching Race in the Classroom, Actively useful. In addition, Choices offers the curriculum unit Responding to Terrorism: Challenges for Democracy.

In our recently updated lesson on the Black Lives Matter Movement, students work in groups to review an interactive timeline of black activism in the United States from the 1950s to today and identify core themes of the civil rights and Black Lives Matter Movement. In our resource guide on the Orlando Nightclub Shootings, we have compiled an annotated list of sources that offer suggestions for various classroom approaches to the many dimensions of the nightclub attack in June 2016. Finally, in our blog post on approaching race in the classroom, we provide a wide array of information on relevant resources for teachers looking to discuss race in their classrooms. 

We hope that these resources prove useful as you navigate these difficult—but important—events and topics in the classroom throughout the upcoming school year.

Approaching Race in the Classroom, Actively

Authors: Mackenize Abernethy, Camisia Glasgow, and LIndsay Turchan

Inequalities embedded in the history of the United States—the legacies of colonialism, slavery, and imperialism—and the resilience of communities of color striving for liberty and equity, may gain more of a spotlight in the classroom during Black History Month.

These discussions may raise new questions for some students and a stronger desire to see more diversity represented in history. Many educators recognize the importance for all students to see themselves (and their ancestries) reflected in roles and events that have shaped our world. Educators might encourage students to discuss experiences of race on a more personal level, sharing lived experiences and their understandings of identity. As campuses and classrooms become increasingly diverse, it is often up to teachers to create opportunities for equitable inclusion. This can be unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or intimidating territory for teachers and students alike. Fortunately, many experienced researchers and educators have shared tips and tools for success.

Here we have compiled an annotated list of online sources that we hope will equip teachers to constructively engage students on topics of race, diversity, and identity, as well as create and sustain inclusive classrooms, and expand conversations about civil rights and contemporary inequalities beyond Black History Month. This list is certainly not complete, and we invite educators to share other useful resources.

20668821496_0fe30f7f1b_k

Racism: The Elephant in the Room (or Park). Photo by John Duffy. Seattle, WA, August 17, 2015.

Talking About Race:

What is race? What is racism? Should teachers talk about race in the classroom? Why can it be difficult to discuss? How can we productively approach complex, sensitive or controversial topics with students? The following resources, lesson plans, and activities offer suggestions for guiding thoughtful classroom conversations and helping students work towards a conceptual understanding of race and racism.  

  • The lesson plan Talking About Race and Racism from Teaching Tolerance asks students to rate their personal comfort level when it comes to talking about these complex topics, consider differences in the intention and the impact of words, and review inherent bias and stereotypes.
  • Race and Violence Should Be a School-Wide Subject, a blog post from Edutopia, analyzes school and classroom responses to racism. The post offers a series of suggestions for how to talk about race and racism, providing numerous examples for why this is particularly relevant today.  
  • Helping Students Deal with Uncertainty in the Classroom, a blog post from Edutopia, discusses the difficulties, but also the benefits of encouraging students to grapple with uncertainty in the classroom. While this post does not specifically address how to talk about race, it does provide a number of arguments for pushing students to confront the uncomfortable, as race and racism often are for many students.
  • Edutopia offers eight five-minute videos that explain concepts such as race, diversity, and inequality. The videos may serve as a helpful introduction into conversations about these complex ideas and others.
  • My Multicultural Self, a lesson on identity as it shapes our world views, also from Teaching Tolerance, encourages students to map out the various layers of their own identities. In doing so, students reflect on how identities influence the way that people experience the world, and they discuss ways to communicate more effectively with one another.

 

Deconstructing Narratives of Race:

What are the origins of race and racism? What do we mean when we say that race is a social construction? Why is it important to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about race? The resources outlined below focus on contesting untrue narratives of race that some students may not have thought about critically in the past.

  • What White Children Need to Know, an e-newsletter from the research and community-building cohort Be’chol Lashon, offers tactics and conversation starters for talking about race and inequality in the classroom. This resource provides insight into processes of passive racial socialization and tips for combatting it in the classroom.
  • The Zinn Education Project’s lesson planThe Color Line,” challenges students to understand race and racism as historically and socially constructed. In this lesson, students study the origins of racism in the United States. Students examine the creation of racial divisions as a strategy used by the powerful to maintain the status quo. Note: to use lessons from the Zinn Education Project, you must register to create a free account (or login via social media).
  • Facing History spotlights one teacher’s effective lesson plan analyzing and discussing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” Adichie’s talk demonstrates that stories, while powerful, can also be dangerous, discussing the damage that interpreting one story as a representative of an entire  group of people can do. The lesson plan engages students in important conversations about identity and stereotypes.
  • The Unequal Opportunity Race, a video by the African American Policy Forum is useful for visualizing the ways in which systemic racism and privilege operate and disadvantage many. The video may help students understand how racism operates in society in ways that often go undiscussed. However, there has been controversy regarding whether it belongs in the classroom and whether it induces “white guilt.” Some teachers who have chosen to use the video as a tool with their students have faced backlash.

 

Creating Inclusive Classrooms:

What does it mean to create and sustain a racially inclusive classroom environment? How do teachers design racially inclusive curricula? How do teachers teach to students of different racial backgrounds, or to racially homogenous classrooms? The following resources provide some guidance for teachers looking for ways to tackle these complex and important questions in their classrooms.

  • For teachers looking to choose texts that represent people of many backgrounds, Reading Diversity from Teaching Tolerance provides suggestions. For detailed, step-by-step guidance, the extended version of their guide may prove especially useful.
  • Learn to Listen/Listen to Learn: Developing Deeper Conversations, a Facing History guide for facilitating classroom discussions maps out how teachers may wish to incorporate journaling, small group discussions, and class presentations to help students improve their ability to communicate and listen effectively. This approach may be particularly useful in creating a classroom culture that is both safe and productive for all students when discussing complex or sensitive topics.
  • Opening up dialogues in which students are free to discuss their personal experiences and hear many perspectives, Serial Testimony is  a method of facilitation that seeks to empower students by emphasizing that their personal insights are important. In addition to the facilitation method itself, this post from Teaching Tolerance discusses how approaches like Serial Testimony, created by Peggy McIntosh—author of “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” a personal essay on facing privilege—came to be and what they can offer in the classroom.
  • This educator’s book review endorses Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education (2012)the first in a series on multicultural education by Columbia Teachers’ College—as a “necessary book.” The book’s authors approach complex theoretical concepts (socialization, discrimination, oppression, privilege, etc.) in short, intuitive chapters, and aims to answer specific questions that students often ask when confronting issues of inequality. For example, two of the book’s chapter titles include, “What is oppression?” and “‘Yeah, but…’ Common Rebuttals.” Sample a free chapter for download at Teachers’ College Press.

 

Applying the Skills, in and out of the Classroom:

How can students apply their knowledge of concepts such as race, racism, and identity, to the world that they encounter, both in and out of the classroom, everyday? The following curriculum resources, lesson plans, and activities provide opportunities for students to apply the analytical skills that they have developed for thinking critically about race to their coursework and beyond.

  • Allyship is yet another important concept for students to discuss. Teaching Tolerance’s lesson A Time to Speak: A Speech by Charles Morgan, explores the idea and role of allyship through an analysis of a speech by Charles Morgan following the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Students complete a K-W-L chart, actively listen to the speech, and engage in a discussion about their analyses.
  • The Death of Michael Brown: Teaching About Ferguson, from the New York Times Learning Network, offers a collection of ideas from teachers about how to approach race, particularly in the context of the events in Ferguson, in the classroom. The article includes links to lesson plans, activities, and tools for the classroom that teachers have found useful in their classrooms. In the wake of Ferguson, educators lead by Dr. Marcia Chatelain also united to create #FergusonSyllabus on Twitter and share resources and classroom experiences in  this collective Google document. In addition, Mapping Police Violence, an infographic, may spark discussion in the classroom about the relationship between race and police violence in particular with its visual representation of statistics.  
  • Introducing ‘The New Jim Crow’, a lesson plan with discussion-leading tips for teachers and student reading strategies from Teaching Tolerance, invites students to analyze excerpts from The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration During the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (2010). Bringing scholarship from an expert in the field into the secondary classroom in an accessible way, the lesson challenges students to draw connections between the criminal justice system and racial inequalities.
  • Some students may be interested in becoming involved in the ongoing activist efforts that they have heard about in school and on social media. The Black Lives Matter website offers background on the movement as well as opportunities to engage in activism, online or in person. Exploring the website will allow students to become more informed about the ongoing activism. Other students may wish to get involved by coordinating their own event at school or in the community that calls for racial equality. Black Futures Month, a new, annual initiative by BLM (in conjunction with Huffington Post), is an online repository of the latest news, blogs, and community conversations to keep interested students and teachers up to date about continuing the conversation on racial inequalities and injustices beyond a designated month.

 

The Choices Approach:

  • A Forgotten History: The Slave Trade and Slavery in New England, a curriculum unit from The Choices Program, uses readings, activities, and a simulation to help students explore the institution of slavery in New England. Students also think critically about how history, and the telling of history, affects people today. Teachers may also wish to consider constructing a short listening exercise with the 4 minute radio segment All Americans Share a Complex Racial Past” from NPR, which also engages issues relating at the history of slavery in New England.
  • Another curriculum unit from The Choices Program, Colonization and Independence in Africa, invites students to think critically about colonial and decolonial efforts in Africa. The readings, activities, and simulation challenge students to consider the perspectives of Africans–particularly Algerians, Congolese, Ghanaians and Kenyans – and the ways in which they responded to European colonialism.
  • Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, a curriculum unit from The Choices Program, explores the history of the civil rights movement at the local level as well as the national level. Students complete readings, activities, and a simulation that equip them to think more complexly about how people from different backgrounds experienced and understood the civil rights movement.
  • In the online lesson Oral Histories: Students in the Civil Rights Movement from The Choices Program, students hear and analyze stories from former civil rights activists about what motivated them to join the movement.
  • In this free lesson from The Choices Program’s Teaching with the News series, Fifty Years after the March on Washington: Students in the Civil Rights Movement, students read and analyze stories and letters written by activists who partook in the events of the Freedom Summer.

 

This post is part of a series that will address different aspects of teaching Black History as American History in secondary-level classrooms.

Pursuing Happiness: Whose American Revolution?

Excerpt from the Declaration of Independence
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the words that established an independent United States. It is these values that many continue to point to as essential to the nature of the country—the promise of existence as human, the assurance of freedom from tyranny, the right to pursue wellness. They are supreme ideals, a foundation of justice and equality upon which to build a society. But, the idea that these rights should extend to all humans is relatively new to U.S. history—the founding fathers did not intend for the full extension of the Declaration of Independence to colonial women, native peoples, or enslaved or free people of African descent.

In fact, in July 1852, Frederick Douglass, an African American abolitionist and orator, called attention to the fact that people of African descent continued to be denied the rights inscribed in the Declaration of Independence. By continuing slavery, the U.S. government did not merely fail to deliver the basic rights to enslaved people, it actively prevented these people from being able to obtain life, liberty, or wellness.  “Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us,” said Douglass. “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine.”

[A transcription of the speech can be found here.]

Truly, independence did not belong to all people. It certainly did not belong to all people in the former colonies in 1783. The peace treaty that ended the Revolutionary War and acknowledged the autonomy of the colonists also ignored land rights of native peoples (allowing them to be seen as “foreign nations” by the new U.S. government) and characterized black people as property. The new nation did not affirm the liberty of women of any race or ethnicity.

In fact, the Revolution itself, which we often view as an inevitable and logical response to the tyranny of British government, did not belong to all people in North America either. The common focus on the words of Jefferson and Paine, the idealistic commitment in action of Paul Revere and George Washington, and the engagement of crowds to fight British taxation often belies that “pursuit of happiness” in the colonies did not always take the form of allegiance to the patriots.

Some notable members of the "Sons of Liberty," a name given to some groups of colonial patriots leading the fight for independence.

Notable members of the “Sons of Liberty,” a name given to some groups of colonial patriots leading the fight for independence. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons).

For many white colonists, objection to taxation without representation did not necessitate a desire for independence. Many, attached to their British identity and the safety of being part of a larger British empire in the face of competition from the French for land, fought as loyalists. Even some of those who fought with the patriots in Quebec, Bunker Hill, Lexington, and Concord did so hoping to gain better representation in Parliament or autonomy over colonial finance rather than a complete break from Britain.

For enslaved people, forms of government or taxation were largely irrelevant. Freedom from tyranny meant freedom from the bonds of slavery. Enslaved people selected their alliances based on who they believed would deliver this liberty. Some fought for the patriots, hoping that this would earn them the loyalty of a new government if independence were to occur. Others fought for the British, expecting that their service would be exchanged for freedom by a British government whose politics seemed to be drifting towards the prospect of abolition.

For native peoples, alliance-building was also a gamble. For native nations that aligned themselves with the patriots, promises of fuller autonomy after independence were key. For those aligned with the British, there was a reliance on a stronger hand from the metropole, which had typically restricted colonists’ expansion and the movement of the frontier.

Thinking beyond the patriotic language of the Sons of Liberty, we are forced to ask many more questions about American Independence. Whose Revolution was this? What was rebellion really about? What did “liberty” mean to different people in the colonies? How do we explain those who were “patriotic” to something other than the ideals of the patriots? How does this diversity of identity, political opinion, and economic interest help us understand the United States today?

These questions have profound importance for understanding the past and the future of the United States. Acknowledging that independence in the eighteenth century was incomplete helps show the reality of the United States being a continued work in progress. Freeing the country from the illusion that the pinnacle of justice and liberty was situated hundreds of years ago empowers learners to consider what the national goal should be, which of the principles of independence and revolution still need to be attained, and what we can learn from both the successes and limitations of the past. Examining how people in the revolutionary era made choices helps learners grapple with the options they face today.

 

Keep a look out for the new Choices curriculum unit, The American Revolution: Experiences of Rebellion, coming in 2016!
The unit considers how the varied populations of seventeenth and eighteenth century North America experienced and viewed colonization and revolution, encouraging students to step into the shoes of people in 1776 to debate the future of the thirteen colonies.
Watch our home page for the release of this unit.

More on Frederick Douglass’s speech.
More on black loyalists.

South Africa: News Engagement Series #1

October 6 is National News Engagement Day, a day when “everyone is encouraged to read, watch, like, tweet, post, text, email, listen to, or comment on news.”

News and the media is a vital part of social studies education today, which is why The Choices Program does our best to get current affairs content available for teachers to use in their classrooms. Our Current Issues Series deals with some of the most important challenges facing the world today, encouraging students to consider the decisions made by policy makers and citizens in facing a changing future. We also produce Teaching With The News lessons to address situations as we see them come into the focus of the media.

For the week of National News Engagement Day, some of the Choices staff will be sharing the news-related resources they use to inform and inspire their work.

Danielle Johnstone, Program Associate, Writing Team

My recommendation for a news-related resource:
The Mail & Guardian Online


What it is:
The Mail & Guardian is a South African newspaper. The website reports on National (South African), African and World news. M&G also runs various blogs and a center for investigative journalism.


Why I like it and think you might find it interesting:

  1. M&G should definitely be bookmarked if you are teaching about South Africa. The journalists reporting on national issues often make strong historical connections, particularly to the apartheid era and the challenges it has caused for contemporary South Africa.
  2. I like to visit the M&G world news section to be aware of how news outlets outside of the United States are covering U.S. and international issues. Often M&G will be covering issues or situations that have been ignored by the U.S. media. Sometimes they cover issues that have dominated U.S. and European news with a different (perhaps more nuanced) perspective. M&G’s coverage of African issues, in particular, tends to be remarkably different to what you will see on the BBC or New York Times.
  3. The M&G Thought Leader blog by Mandela-Rhodes scholars is a gem. The contributing writers are young South Africans who are/were recipients of the Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship, and they express their opinions about things happening in South Africa and beyond. Not only are the posts engaging and well-written, they also show how young people in South Africa are grappling with many of the same issues facing their counterparts in the U.S. and beyond—race, violence, injustice, an intimidating economy. Reading the blog is an excellent way to challenge stereotypes; it encourages readers to recognize that young people in the developing world are not just victims but are also educated, thoughtful, and facing complex questions about their world and their futures.

Bonus:
For a sample of M&G’s arts and culture reporting, check out this article on musician and composer  “Mac” McKenzie and his innovative impact on South African music.


Choices Program resource:
Freedom in Our Lifetime: South Africa’s Struggle

Continual Reconstruction: The Confederate Flag Controversy in the Classroom

The Confederate flag stands—or sits in a museum display case—as a symbol of very different sentiments depending upon perspective.

For some, the flag flies in pride of past Civil War fighters and American heritage, but to others, it is an archaic symbol of racism, segregation and slavery in the United States. Following the fatal shooting of nine African Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley finalized a bill to remove the flag from the state capitol building on July 10, 2015.

“No one should ever drive by the statehouse and feel pain. No one should ever drive by the statehouse and feel like they don’t belong.”  Governor Nikki Haley

When the Charleston shooting first spurred national debate about whether the Confederate flag should be lowered, one female activist took it upon herself to scale the 30-foot flagpole and remove the battle flag herself.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 2.27.30 PM

June 27, 2015. Bree Newsome climbs South Carolina Capitol building’s flagpole, removes flag.   Washington Post.

“I’m prepared to be arrested,” Brittany Ann “Bree” Newsome told police, who demanded that she come down. Then she climbed a bit higher to unhook the flag before descending to greet the authorities, who handcuffed her and immediately put the flag back in its former position.

Newsome spoke for a greater community when she explained her motive:

”We can’t continue like this another day. It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.” —”Bree” Newsome

Politicians have struggled to reach an agreement about how to best honor history through the flag’s placement. A majority of civilians and government officials haven chosen instead to focus on what lies ahead; whether or not the flag represents a commendable moment in time, it does not represent the future of the United States.

An immense, mostly cheering crowd gathered to see the official lowering of the Confederate flag on July 10 — in the state that was the first to secede from the United States in 1860. Back then, Southern states that depended upon slave labor saw Abraham Lincoln’s election as a threat to their lifestyle and liberty. South Carolina lead the way in separating from the Union to form a new nation called the Confederate States of America. Ten other Southern states followed suit: Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The ideological and legal division between the (Northern) United States and the Confederate States of the South led to the Civil War.

[mediacore height=”375″ public_url=”https://brown.mediacore.tv/media/was-the-american-civil-war-a-war-over-slavery” thumb_url=”https://mediacorefiles-a.akamaihd.net/sites/11066/images/media/3668705l-6ZtcRbOI.jpg” title=”Was the American Civil War a war over slavery?” width=”670″]

“It wasn’t just about rights for African Americans, it was about reconstructing the nation…. It was about wholesale re-conceptualization of rights, on a national and international scale.” — Michael Vorenberg

Tensions continued to rise after officials removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol. On July 19,  confrontation occurred at a rally between members of the Ku Klux Klan and the New Black Panther Party.   At the height of the Klan in 1925, there were an estimated 5,000,000 members, while in the Civil Rights era (in the 50s and 60s) there were about 42,000 members. Approximately 24,000 remain today. While the KKK has diminished over time, this is the first Klan rally in South Carolina since the late 1980s.


Perceptions of race and its relevance throughout history remain a highly contested topic. Still able to provoke anger and pain, past instances of racial inequality can be difficult to discuss.   For students and future leaders who will likely face similar challenges, this history is important to learn.

New standards of the Texas State Board of Education in 2010 will introduce a new social studies curriculum to 5 million public school students this upcoming semester. Many people are concerned that stories of suffering and fighting for civil rights are veiled, important lessons left unlearned.

Continue reading

Black History Month Series #2: Women in the Civil Rights Movement

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 3.32.00 PM

 

“You had these women who were just amazingly strong… that didn’t mean there wasn’t sexism,” recalled Judy Richardson in an interview with the Choices Program about her experiences in the Civil Rights Movement. Richardson was explaining the involvement of women in SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), one of the most important Civil Rights organizations in the 1960s. SNCC’s most valuable work was in grassroots, community-led initiatives like voter registration drives, where the members and activists worked directly with the most downtrodden of disenfranchised people of color. Richardson, in remembering the work, makes reference to how important this hands-on interaction was and how it was often forgotten by larger Civil Rights organizations that took a more elite, patriarchal approach to racial justice.

The Civil Rights era is one of the most important moments in African-American history and in women’s history. It is a moment when African-American women played a vital part in defining U.S. history. Women of color were instrumental in leading the Movement, in engaging in powerful acts of protest, and in dynamically shaping action against discrimination. Judy Richardson remembers one of these women, her mentor and leader, Ella Baker, in the following video.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 3.32.00 PM

 

The powerful leadership and bravery Richardson celebrates in remembering Baker’s contribution can be attributed to many women of color who played defining roles in the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks, for example, became a role model for courage and commitment in the face of racial injustice when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus. Women like this are a vital part of the memory of the Civil Rights Movement.

But so many women of color have been excluded from how this history is often told. While other women had already been arrested for refusing to give up their bus seats, they did not gain the fame that Parks achieved. Many scholars suggest that this was because Parks fit a very specific model of how black women should act and appear. Women of color who did not project this precise image of quiet respectability were not held up as heroes. In fact, the very issues that Judy Richardson recalls seeing in 1960s American society and that she remembers as limiting certain parts of the Civil Rights Movement have also limited our own perceptions of the history. Women of color have far too often been forgotten as unimportant and insignificant, and many have been ignored because of their class, sexuality, or gender-expression as well as their race. Some of the incredible acts of heroism by LGBT women of color have been written about, but they are not part of the broader, more widely known history of the Movement, which prefers traditional, male figures for its heroes. These women are the tragically excluded heroes of the American past.

 

For more on forgotten figures in black history and “politics of respectability” see this HuffPostLive discussion.

For more on women civil rights activists, see this collection of biographies.

 

Interviews with Judy Richardson are an accompaniment to the full-length Choices unit,

Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi

View more video interviews on Civil Rights and other topics at our Scholars Online page.

 

Why is Nigeria important?

Street in Lagos, the most populous city in Nigeria (Zouzou Wizman CCby2.0)

Street in Lagos, the most populous city in Nigeria (Zouzou Wizman CCby2.0)

Choices recently released a Teaching with the News lesson on Nigeria and Boko Haram. In fact, Nigeria has been a country of interest in the Choices writers’ room this year—from this free lesson on the largest security threat faced by the country to inclusion as one of the key case studies in our soon-to-be-released full-length curriculum unit on climate change. So why is Nigeria a place worth studying?

 

1. It has one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Nigeria is one of only two African countries in the list of 3G (or Global Growth Generators) countries. These countries have been identified as attractive places for investment because of the incredible growth potential they have. In fact, Citigroup predicts that Nigeria will have the highest average growth in GDP in the world between 2010 and 2050. Not only does this anticipated growth imply that Nigeria may be a model for economic development for other countries in the developing world, it also means that Nigeria is bound to have more bargaining power in the international system and increasingly important relations with countries like the United States. Despite these prospects, however, there is vast economic inequality (particularly between the poor north and relatively more affluent south) and corruption is rife.

 

2. It has great cultural richness and diversity.

Nigeria’s cultural richness is evident in the arts. Nigerian music is enjoyed throughout the continent, with legends like Fela Kuti forming a cornerstone of African music. Nigerian cinema is also important. “Nollywood” is the second largest film industry in the world, ahead of the United States and behind India. Finally, Nigeria has been a hub for literary ingenuity—boasting Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, celebrated author Chinua Achebe, and popular writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Nnedi Okorafor.

Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country. Ethnicities in Nigeria include Yoruba (21% of the population), Hausa (21%), and Igbo (18%) as well as many smaller ethnic groups, and Christianity, Islam, and traditional African religions are practiced widely. This diversity is one of Nigeria’s great strengths, but has also been a source of conflict. In 1967, after a coup by soldiers from the north, a region that tends to be majority Hausa and Muslim, the Igbo-dominated southeast tried to secede from Nigeria and become the Republic of Biafra. As a result, the country was torn by civil war (known as the Biafran War) until the Biafrans were defeated in 1970. More recently, economic inequality between the north and south of Nigeria has created new religious and ethnic tensions, which have perpetuated the rise of the Islamic fundamentalist insurgency, Boko Haram.

 

3. It holds important natural resources.

Nigeria is the twelfth largest petroleum producer and has the tenth largest proven oil reserves. In 1971, it became a member of OPEC, an organization of oil-exporting nations that is famous for the price-inflating 1973 embargo in response to U.S. support of Israel. Nigeria’s oil reserves have certainly been a source of many of its successes (especially its growing influence) but have also led to many of the nation’s problems. Economic inequality, ethnic tension and mistrust, and the creation of a political culture of corruption can all be linked to the country’s oil wealth and the complications with governing it—making Nigeria a potential example of the “resource curse” discussed by political scientists and economists.

Oil production has also wreaked havoc on the local environment. Poor safety procedures by companies like Shell have gone largely unpunished and have damaged water supplies and polluted the air in the Niger River Delta. Gas flaring (burning the natural gas that is a byproduct of drilling) has received particular criticism and led to the rise of local community action against oil companies. Nigerian women’s groups in particular have been important in fighting against these practices, which not only degrade the immediate environment but also result in massive greenhouse gas emissions that damage the global atmosphere.

 

“Social conditions in Nigeria bring to light how women are especially vulnerable to climate change and that they play an important role in resisting environmental degradation.”

~ Climate Change and Questions of Justice (coming soon)

 

4. It is one of the historic centers of African Unity.

In 1960, Nigeria gained independence from Britain, and in 1963, after parts of British Cameroon decided to unite with Nigeria rather than with French Cameroon, it became a Federal Republic with Nnamdi Azikiwe as its first president.

Nnamdi Azikiwe and Princess Alexandra of Kent at Nigeria's Independence ceremony (Care2 CCbySA2.0)

Nnamdi Azikiwe and Princess Alexandra of Kent at Nigeria’s Independence ceremony (Care2 CCbySA2.0)

Azikiwe was a leader in the Pan-African Movement. Pan-Africanism was an ideology shared by important African and African American figures like Kwame Nkrumah and W.E.B. Du Bois, and it focused on a shared identity among those of African descent. This took particular importance during the decades of decolonization on the continent, where leaders of liberation movements and newly independent countries drew on the ideals of “collective self-reliance” to develop a united front against colonial forces. Azikiwe was one of the founders of the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union, or AU), a body that was instrumental in providing continent-wide support for liberation movements in countries that were late to achieve independence or majority rule (such as Zimbabwe and South Africa). This organization later came to be seen by many as a “dictators’ club,” where undemocratic and violent rule by many post-independence governments was ignored in favor of solidarity and a continued effort to limit the involvement of the United States and Europe in African affairs.

 

See the free Teaching with the News lesson, Nigeria and Boko Haram: Inequality, Injustice, Insurgency.

For more on liberation movements in Africa see our full-length unit, Colonization and Independence in Africa.

For more on economic growth, trade, and power see our full length unit, International Trade: Competition and Cooperation in a Globalized World.

One of the interesting things about the protests of the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and New York is how they are understood and interpreted.  TV news or the headlines tend to focus and report on them as responses to the grand jury decisions themselves, which they certainly are. But a long history is also at play here that can get missed or overlooked. Reading the signs or listening to protesters, one can hear calls for the end to systemic injustice and impunity—impunity that has affected African American victims of white violence for centuries. Underlying the protests is the belief that the justice system has never worked the same way for all of us.

December 3, 2014.
Photo by Charlie Magovern/Neon Tommy
(CC BY-SA 2.0).

This short clip of Dave Dennis giving the eulogy at the funeral of the murdered civil rights worker James Chaney in the summer of 1964 is a painfully apt illustration of this doubt about the justice system.

The clip omits his conclusion to “You see, I know what is going to happen. I feel it deep in my heart – when they find the people who killed those guys in Neshoba County….” What didn’t make into the clip was what Dave Dennis said next… “they [will] come back to the state of Mississippi and have a jury of all their cousins and aunts and uncles. And I know what they are going to say: Not guilty.”

As protests continue, there is an opportunity to add historical perspective to the debates that are playing out around all of us.  Race and the history of relations between white and black people in the United States remains a charged and challenging topic. Tackling this challenge can bring the reward of new understanding of the past as well the present for students. The Choices Program has curriculum resources that engage students with this historical context and provide a foundation to consider what’s happening right now.

Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi can be used as a springboard for explorations of current race relations in the United States. It gives students a good understanding of the historical underpinnings of racial inequality, drawing clear connections between inequalities of the past and inequalities that exist today.

There are free videos of scholars answering fundamental questions about this history as well as free activities and resources.

 A Forgotten History: The Slave Trade and Slavery in New England seeks to inform students of the economic and social impact of slavery and the slave trade in the North. Historians comment that New England has “forgotten” its slave-owning past, and that such a narrative—one that remembers abolition but not enslavement—has had far-reaching consequences for black-white relations and the nature of race in the United States.

There are free videos of scholars answering questions as well as activities and resources.

Scotland votes on independence

On Thursday, the population of Scotland will be voting in a referendum to decide on whether the nation will secede from the United Kingdom. “Should Scotland be an independent country?” says the ballot paper, and until recently it has seemed that the answer would be an inevitable “no”. However, the pro-independence “Yes” campaign has led an impressive grassroots effort to incite the optimism of the Scottish people, leading to a recent poll placing them ahead of the “No” or “Better Together” campaign.

Campaign posters battle for space in Scotland. Image by The Justified Sinner (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) via flickr

Campaign posters battle for space in Scotland. Image by The Justified Sinner (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) via flickr

Indeed Scotland’s is a unique independence movement, relying not on traditional nationalist ideology or the heroism of overcoming an oppressor, but rather claiming that an independent Scottish government can do more for it’s people than the elected Scottish representatives in a British government. The “Yes” campaign is about not having to share oil revenue from the North Sea with the rest of Britain, being able to define policy without the involvement of those south of the Scottish border, and not having to put up with a government that is seen as not representing the interests of the Scottish people (Scotland tends to disproportionately vote for the Labour party, while the more populous England tends to vote in preference of the Conservative government in place in Westminster now).

The “No” campaign, on the other hand, hails pragmatic caution. It points to the problems with currency (while an independent Scotland may keep using the British pound, it seems that they would not have a seat at the table that decides on monetary policy and determines the value of the currency). Furthermore, should Scotland gain independence it would have to re-apply for its membership in the European Union—a membership that is very important for trade and economic development. It is not clear whether Scotland would regain this membership easily, or what agreements it would have to make to achieve this. Even the North Sea oil (what will be the pivot of an independent Scottish economy) has turned out to be less appealing, with technical experts pointing out that reserves are quickly diminishing and that the oil cannot be relied upon to prop up an entire country. With this economic insecurity, banks and businesses have threatened to move south should the referendum end in a “Yes.”

English, Scottish and Irish flags combine to form the Union Jack. Image by guilherme Paula (public domain) via wikimedia

English, Scottish and Irish flags combine to form the Union Jack. Image by Guilherme Paula (public domain) via wikimedia

One of the reasons that the “Yes” campaign and the Scottish National Party (SNP) are such a unique independence movement is because Scotland is not a colony. The Scottish people are not oppressed or overpowered by an imperialist power. They have a democratic stake in the British government, and they are treated as equal citizens. We can contrast this with the colonies in Africa, who were not fighting only for independence and the right to govern themselves but also for the overthrowing of a racialized system that established Africans as lesser beings. In the Choices unit Colonization and Independence in Africa, case studies on colonies and how they gained independence highlight this racism. In one of the primary sources used in the unit, a Ghanaian journalist points out that an aim of British colonial policy was “to suppress the educated African who is too articulate to be convenient to British repression.”

Even the independence movement in the United States, which did not have the same racial elements, compares unsatisfactorily to the Scottish issue. A More Perfect Union: American Independence and the Constitution considers how the American revolution grew out of discontent over the influence of the British Parliament in the colonies. As they became increasingly frustrated by the distance between them and Parliament, “colonists began to ask if they were obligated to obey laws passed without their consent.” When the Britain tightened its control over expansion in the colonies, imposed taxes, and enforced a staunch anti-smuggling regime, this anger turned into vast resistance of British controls. It is a fun oversimplification to say that the American Revolution was caused by taxes, but it is more realistic to argue that these taxes represented an oppressive British regime that was in no way accountable to the colonists and was out of touch with the situation in the colonies. This was the source of rebellion.

Realizing the differences between the Scottish “Yes” campaign and other independence movements makes the question of Scottish secession from the Union all the more complicated. It brings up new questions about how we define a country, how we consider the rights to self-determination, how we think about the problems of proportional or representative democracy. Should we keep drawing new borders until people feel appropriately represented by their governments? Where do we stop if we start doing this? How do we understand the roles of international organizations who seem to be a form of global government, if we believe that political decisions can only be made by a tightly localized government? Is there a case for other independence movements that have (like Scotland’s) up until now been dismissed as impractical or unlikely, such as in Texas or Quebec? Do the concerns raised by the Scottish independence movement help us to understand some U.S. modes of governance, such as state government and how the union works?

Rally for Scottish Independence. Image by Martainn MacDhomhnaill (CC BY-NC 2.0) via flickr

Rally for Scottish Independence. Image by Martainn MacDhomhnaill (CC BY-NC 2.0) via flickr

For up-to-date happenings surrounding the Scottish independence referendum as well as in-depth analysis, visit the BBC’s Scotland Decides page or Al Jazeera’s Scotland page.

Other interesting articles include Something extraordinary is happening in Scotland (from the Washington Post’s “Monkey Cage” blog) and Fate of United Kingdom hangs in balance after new Scotland polls (from South African paper, The Mail & Guardian).

 

More Choices units that deal with the theme of self-determination:

 

New in Scholars Online: Robert Lee

In January, we interviewed Robert Lee, an associate professor of American Civilization at Brown University, on the topic of immigration. Lee studies the history of Asians in the United States, racial formations, and relations between Asia and America.

In this video, Professor Lee talks about how race has affected the immigrant experience. Visit Scholars Online to see more videos from this interview, which can be used with our unit, U.S. Immigration Policy in an Unsettled World.

© 2017 The Choices Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑