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A Pedagogy of Resistance in the Struggle Against White Supremacist State-Sanctioned Violence*

December 11, 2016

Tyson E.J. Marsh, Ph.D.

Protests in Baltimore After Funeral Held For Baltimore Man Who Died While In Police Custody

Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Intended Audience: Middle School and/or High School Students

Overview: By middle school and high school, Black and Brown youth are disproportionately likely to encounter police or experience punitive zero-tolerance policies. As schools that serve predominantly Black and Brown youth are increasingly militarized through the presence of surveillance cameras, metal detectors and armed police officers, in-turn, it is critical that we become aware of how Black and Brown youth internalize their militarized school and community surroundings. As educators, we must also develop an understanding of how these surroundings communicate deficit expectations to Black and Brown youth. In order to understand how Black and Brown youth make sense of and experience their surroundings, it is imperative that we co-create spaces with them, in and outside of schools, for them to develop their voices and communicate their experiences, particularly in a standardized reform environment in which such opportunities have been severely limited. Compounded by the election of Donald Trump to the highest office in the land, the very real possibility of known white supremacists serving on the White House staff and the potential appointment of right wing school choice advocate Betsy DeVos to the post of Secretary of Education, we cannot fail to seize the opportunity to co-create spaces and opportunities for youth of color to express their voices, and translate their words into action in the struggle against white sup

Scope and Sequence: Through analysis and engagement with primary sources and popular culture that speak to the historical and present-day struggle for racial and economic justice, youth will consider how politics, the arts, and religion/spirituality have served as critical locations in the struggle against racial and economic injustice. In addition, students will develop their voices and sense of agency by identifying how these locations, and others, might be revisioned and combined to address issues of injustice within their own schools, neighborhoods, and communities.

National Council for the Social Studies Standards


  • Help learners to identify issues and problems in the past, recognize factors contributing to such problems, identify and analyze alternative courses of action, formulate a position or course of action, and evaluate the implementation of that decision.

Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

  • Help learners understand the concepts of role, status, and social class and use them in describing the connections and interactions of individuals, groups, and institutions in society.
  • Help learners analyze group and institutional influences on people, events, and elements of culture in both historical and contemporary settings.
  • Assist learners as they explain and apply ideas and modes of inquiry drawn from behavioral science and social theory in the examination of persistent social issues and problems.

Culture and Cultural Diversity

  • Have learners interpret patterns of behavior reflecting values and attitudes that contribute or pose obstacles to cross-cultural understanding;
  • Guide learners as they construct reasoned judgments about specific cultural responses to persistent human issues;
  • Have learners explain and apply ideas, theories, and modes of inquiry drawn from anthropology and sociology in the examination of persistent issues and social problems.

Civics and Government

  • Assist learners in developing an understanding of citizenship, its rights and responsibilities, and in developing their abilities and dispositions to participate effectively in civic life.


  • Students will develop critical insight and thinking skills regarding the relationship between race, racism and economic exploitation.
  • Students will recognize the role that formal and informal institutions have played and continue to play in reproducing racial and economic inequality.
  • Students will consider the historical and present day utility of political, artistic, and religious/spiritual counter-public spheres as physical and ideological spaces of resistance to various manifestations of white supremacist state-sanctioned violence.
  • Students will work to become more aware of the way in which their agency and voice can inform creative approaches to activism in the struggle for racial and economic justice

Lesson #1: Examining Racism and Economic Injustices


Initiating the lesson, the teacher should provide a broad description/synthesis of different types of racism (e.g. individual, institutional, colorblind racism, etc.) and economic injustice (See Teacher Resources below). Students should be asked to break up into groups of three to discuss how they have experienced and/or understand racism and economic injustice/inequality within their own community and schooling experience. Each group  should be asked to provide at least one concise example of racist injustice and one example of economic injustice that they have experienced or observed, which should be recorded or written on the board.

Part B

The teacher should proceed by engaging the class in a structured dialogue about the way in which racial and economic injustices/inequalities might interact and intersect with one-another based on small group discussions and the description of racism/economic inequality provided by the teacher. At the conclusion of the discussion, the teacher should ask students to think about how, historically, and in the present day, racism and economic inequality has/is being addressed through politics, the arts, or religious/spiritual means.

For homework, the students should be provided with examples from one political figure, one artist, and one religious/spiritual leader (e.g. excerpt from a speech transcript, selected writing, artistic representation from leaders like Fred Hampton, Angela Davis, June Jordan, Amiri Baraka, bell hooks, David Walker, etc.), which will be discussed in the following class session. In addition, students should be asked to identify and bring to class the name of one politician, one artist (defined broadly), and one religious figure that has been/is influential in addressing both racism and economic inequality, whom they should also be prepared to discuss briefly with their group. NOTE: Students should be encouraged to think of figures beyond those who are typically discussed in the curriculum.

Lesson #2: An Historical Contextualization of Injustice


In beginning lesson two, the teacher should ask students to engage with their groups regarding how the assigned examples (political figure, artist, religious/spiritual leader) used their respective venue to discuss and act against racism and economic injustice.

After students have completed their brief discussion, the teacher should engage the class in a mini-lecture to contextualize, historically and in the present, the specific injustices that each of the key figures and their respective movements were seeking to address, using primary sources. For example, a comparison between David Walker’s Appeal, the Black Panther 10 Point Program, and the Guiding Principles of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement could provide critical insight into the way in which the struggle against white supremacist state-sanctioned violence has shifted and transformed over time. At the end of the mini-lecture, the teacher should pose the following questions:

  • How have we made progress in relation to racism and economic inequality?
  • How does racism and economic inequality persist at the societal level, particularly in relation to institutions (e.g., legal, politics, religion, education, etc.)? Is it different, or is it the same?
  • How can we use politics, the arts, and religion/spirituality to address racism and economic inequality?
  • How can we draw upon and strengthen the strategies proposed or employed by the political figure, artist, and religious/spiritual leader to address both present-day racism and economic inequality?


In concluding the discussion, and building on the final questions, students, in their groups of three, should be asked to work together to identify one specific example of how racism and economic inequality converge in their specific school and/or community. (As an example, some of my former students have made connections between the resources available to them in support of their academic success in contrast to those that are not available to them, but are available in neighboring, affluent, white communities [AP courses, college counseling, a stable and experienced teaching staff with high expectations, etc.]). Upon identifying a specific example of the convergence of racism and economic inequality, each group member should be assigned, individually, to speak to how the example can be addressed through political engagement, the arts, and religion/spirituality, respectively. In addition, students should be encouraged to think critically about how to build on and “reversion” the historical work of political figures, artists, and religious/spiritual leaders to address the context and community-specific issue. In addition, the following approach should be considered, though students should rely on their own voice and sense of agency to complete this assignment.

  • Use the arts (music, photography, dance, drawing, counter-storytelling etc.) to articulate the issue, as well as educate peers and community members.
  • Identify how the issue is framed through politics, personalize the issue, and envision new and unique opportunities for political engagement and activism to reframe and address the issue, as well as educate peers and community members.
  • Use religion (multi-faith) and/or spirituality to articulate the moral and ethical imperative and obligation of addressing the issue, to appeal to a broad audience.
  • Articulate a tangible plan of action with the intention of enacting change.

Lesson #3: Students as Teachers and Leaders


Lesson three situates the students as teachers, and teachers and community as students, working towards the end of educating their peers and community members. As such, and after a “rehearsal” and run- through where each group can be provided with critical peer and teacher feedback, students should be provided with the opportunity to present their work in a venue where they can engage a larger audience (state legislature, city council, school-board, school event, community event, political/artistic/religious or spiritual event). To maximize engagement with the audience, students might also work together to identify the venue where they might have the strongest impact. The format and timing of the presentation of group work will be dependent on the chosen venue, though students should gear their presentation to the respective venue and audience. In addition, one or two groups may be positioned to present collectively, if they have identified the same community and/or school issue.

Presentation Format

It is of the utmost importance that in undertaking this work, one must acknowledge the strength and vulnerability required for youth to speak up and speak out on issues of racial and economic injustice, which are largely a result of the differential and unequal power relationship between adults and youth. As such, the teacher must serve as a strong advocate for the students presenting their work. In addition, the teacher should briefly introduce the origins of the initial two lessons that contributed to student identification of contextually specific examples of the convergence of racism and economic injustice, which have ultimately informed the development of the presentations. This requires reminding adults and other participants that the issues that will be discussed were generated from the specific experiences of student presenters, as well as the setting of ground rules for a constructive dialogue following student presentations. Specifically, adult participants should be reminded that they should treat presenting students with the same respect that they would expect from them, or that they might have shown their teachers. In addition, students should be encouraged to believe in the strength behind their voices, experiential knowledge, and agency. Specifically, the teacher may want to engage the audience to establish the following guidelines:

  • The audience should limit responses and feedback to youth presentations to an allotted, set time prime at the conclusion of presentations.
  • Audience participants should be encouraged to provide constructive feedback to youth presenters, engaging them in dialogue that will assist the presenters in revisiting and strengthening their approach to addressing the issues they are presenting.
  • Adult participants should encourage student presenters to advance their goals and plans, and offer resources that might assist in this process, if available.
  • At the conclusion of presentations and the question and answer session, students and adults should have the opportunity to informally debrief, and have the opportunity to have meaningful discussions surrounding the issues discussed.


In assessing student presentations, students should be evaluated on the following:

  • Creativity and effectiveness in concisely identifying and communicating the convergence of racism and economic injustice in their community.
  • Clear and concise explanation of the convergence of racism and economic injustice through the lens of politics, the arts, and religion/spirituality.
  • Articulation of how the issue can be understood and addressed through building on, reversioning and extending historical and present day political, artistic, and religious/spiritual approaches to addressing the issue.
  • Identification of a clear, concise, creative, and tangible plan of action to address the issue at the local community level.

Instructional Resources for Teaching and Learning

  1. Margaret Andersen and Patricia Hill Collins, Race, Class, and Gender: An Anthology, 9th edition (Kentucky: Cengage Learning, 2015). This anthology offers concise insight into race/racism, class/economic inequality, gender/sexism, and is an ideal source for teachers seeking to discuss these issues.
  2. Donn C. Worgs, “”Beward of the Frustrated…”: The Fantasy and Reality of African American Revolt,” Journal of Black Studies 37, no. 1 (2006): 20-45. This article considers political, artistic, and religious/spiritual figures and their role in influencing revolt and resistance to oppression.
  3. Gören Olson, director. Concerning Violence (Final Cut for Real, 2014), DVD, 78 minutes. This award-winning documentary focuses on African resistance to colonial rule in the struggle for African Liberation.
  4. Gören Olson, director. The Black Power Mixtape: 1967 – 1975 (Independent, 2011), DVD, 100 minutes. This award-winning documentary focuses on key figures in the Black Power Movement.
  5. Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller, directors. The FBI’s War on Black America (CreateSpace, 2007), DVD, 47 minutes. This documentary examines the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program and it’s role in compromising the Black Power Movement.
  6. Mike Gray, director. The Murder of Fred Hampton (Facets, 2007). DVD, 88 minutes. This documentary attempts to document the work of Black Panther Fred Hampton who, in the middle of the film shoot, is killed by Chicago police.
  7. Liz Garbus, director. What Happened, Miss Simone? (Netflix, 2015). Online Video, 101 Minutes. This documentary traces the life and activism of Nina Simone.
  8. Reggie Turner, director. Before They Die! (Mportant Films, 2008), DVD, 92 minutes. This documentary chronicles the stories and narrative of the survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots, articulating their quest for justice.
  9. Websites with Sample Primary Documents (#BlackLivesMatter, Black Panther Ten-Point Program, David Walker’s Appeal)
  10. Websites with Descriptions of Types and Forms of Racism and Economic Inequality:

Additional Websites for Consideration:

*This lesson plan was originally published in the Association for the Study of African American Life & History‘s Black History Bulletin, v79, (1) and is reprinted here by permission of the author. It has recently been upload and is available here.

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