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Social Justice Lessons

Blog Post 58

January 16, 2023


(The following is lengthy unit on social justice in the form of simple lesson plans that was created by Sister Laila Hasib for her Grade 5-6 class, her last class before retiring in 2015. A lot of the information is intended as background education for teachers and can be used as is or modified during lessons with students. An experienced teacher should be able to use the unit plans to suit their class and create valuable learning lessons for the students. It is suitable for Muslim students in an Islamic School, but may require some guidance as to the use of songs and videos, inshallah. Some of the information is outdated. Sources for the information have been misplaced. Sorry. This is Part 1.)



The term race refers to groups of people who have differences and similarities in biological traits, that are inherited and visual, like skin colour, head and facial features and hair texture, and are seen by society to be socially significant, and so people treat other people differently because of them. For instance, while differences and similarities in eye color have not been treated as socially significant, differences and similarities in skin color have. The term race is a social construct.

 In 1779, people were classified into the following five races:  

1.Caucasian race or white race

2. Mongolian or yellow race

3. Malayan or brown race

4. Ethiopian or black race

5. American or red race

The 1950’s racial classification divided humanity into the following five races:

1.Caucasian or white race

2.Negroid or black race

3.Capoid or Bushmen/Hottentots race

4.Mongolian or Oriental/Amerindian race

5.Australoid or Australian Aborigine and Papuan race

Ethnicity - Shared cultural practices, perspectives, and distinctions that set apart one group of people from another; shared cultural heritage, including ancestry, history, language, religion, traditions and customs and dress. Ethnic differences are not inherited; they are learned.

Prejudice - the pre-judging of something. Prejudice generally refers to negative views of an individual or group of individuals, often based on social stereotypes.

Discrimination - the mistreatment of a group or individual based upon some criteria or characteristic

Racism - Prejudice based on socially significant physical features. A racist believes that certain people are superior, or inferior, to others because of racial differences. A racist believes people should be treated differently according to their race.

Segregation - the social and physical separation of classes of people

Social - the interaction of people in cooperative and interdependent relationships; the welfare of human beings as members of society

Justice - a genuine concern for fairness, peace and respect for all people; morally correct

Morals – proper, decent and positive behaviour, attitudes and values



The students will listen to the following songs. It is not necessary to show the video. The words to the songs are also given (at the end) and can be handed out to the students following the lesson. (If you do not want to have the students listen to the songs, that’s fine.)

1.Colored People by DC Talk

2. When the Day Goes Down by Annie Lennox

3. Higher Ground by Stevie Wonder

4. It is One by Jackson Browne


Character Traits

Most school boards have a list of Character Traits. The following is the York Region District School Board’s in Ontario, Canada. Discuss with the students. It can be handed out to the students following the lesson.

Character Traits

The ten character traits of the York Region District School Board are:

1.Respect - Polite, courteous and caring. Value for self and others. Treat all people with dignity, and uphold their rights. Protect property and the environment.

2. Responsibility - Responsible for thoughts, words and actions. Accountable for choices, admitting mistakes and working to correct them. Can be counted on to honour commitments. Demonstrate active citizenship.

3. Honesty - Being sincere, truthful and trustworthy

4. Empathy - Respecting the feelings of others, seeking to understand what others are thinking, to appreciate their perspective, listen and consider others’ views even if we do not agree. Act with kindness. Sympathetic to others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

5.Fairness - Sensitivity to the needs of individuals. Include others and value their uniqueness. Celebrate diversity. Treating people with dignity and consideration. Gathering as much information as possible in order to make a decision that is just.

6. Initiative - Eager to do what needs to be done without being prompted by others. Sees opportunities and is willing to take the steps necessary to achieve the goals.

7. Perseverance - Finish what is started, even when it is difficult. Do not give up when faced with obstacles and challenges. Complete all tasks and assignments to the best of one’s ability.

8. Courage - Faces challenges directly. Speaks up for oneself and others even when unpopular. Asks for help when necessary. Recognizes risks and dangers. Doesn’t take unwise chances to please others.

9. Integrity - Behave in an ethical and honourable manner even when no one else is around. A person’s actions consistently match their words. Doing what you say you are going to do is consistent with the values of a democratic society.

10. Optimism - Positive attitude. View challenges as opportunities. Think, speak and act to make the world a better place. Have hope.

(Taken from 



Cognitive bias research shows that people are racially discriminatory even when they don’t want to be due to unconscious prejudices that operate automatically.

One study involved a video game with photos of white and black people holding either a gun or another object, like a wallet, drink can or cell phone. They were told to decide as quickly as possible whether to shoot or not.

Results: The black people targets were more likely to be shot because the object in their hand was seen to be a gun, while the white people targets weren’t shot even when they were holding a gun. Even black people shot at black people more often when they didn’t have a gun.

People may honestly believe they are not prejudiced against other races, but in fact are. Implicit bias studies have shown that people may have negative attitudes and stereotypes about black and other people even when they think they don’t and don’t want to.

Studies have shown that people who think

they are not prejudiced may have high levels of prejudice.

Other studies show that the darker and “stereotypically black” the alleged criminal is the more harsh, punitive and hostile people are against them.

In a recent study of jury judgments in which white participants made recommendations for the death penalty in a murder case, participants who scored high on a prejudice scale made significantly stronger recommendations for capital sentencing for black defendants than for white defendants, even though the facts in the case were identical.

A 2009 study, by researchers at Yale University and Toronto’s York University, involved 120 non-black students who were told they were being recruited for an experiment on team-oriented problem-solving. They were broken into three groups. The members of the first group were individually placed in a room with a black actor and a white actor, both posing as fellow participants in the study. They watched as the black actor slightly bumped the white actor while leaving the room. After the black actor had left, the white actor played out one of three scenarios, saying, I hate it when black people do that, Clumsy n______ or nothing at all. None of the people in the two other study groups experienced the interactions directly; one group watched them on video and the other simply read about them.

After the incident, students were asked to choose one of the two actors - still posing as fellow participants - for the teamwork assignment. More than 80% of the students who watched a racist exchange on video said they would not work with the white student. Those who read about racist behavior showed a similar aversion, with 75% preferring the black actor as a teammate. Participants in both groups said they were deeply upset by the racist comments.

This was different for the participants who experienced the racist event firsthand. None intervened to correct the white actor nor did they report being upset by his comments when questioned later.

71% of the students chose the white actor as their partner

for the assignment when he made a racist comment.

A similar percentage chose the white partner when he did not make a racist comment. The study’s authors say that the people who witnessed the event in person were less offended by the racist behavior because of the tendency for people to overestimate how strongly they will react to emotional events. Because they did not feel outrage, the participants may have rationalized the racist comment as somehow acceptable and let it pass.

“People expect to feel much more emotion than they actually do. We are good at rationalizing responses,” says Jack Dovidio, a Yale psychologist and co-author of the study. “If there are certain costs - we don't want to get involved, maybe because we aren’t quite as committed to equality as we thought we were - then we go through a series of rationalizations: Maybe it wasn’t that bad. That’s the danger - that we explain everything away. It justifies our behavior.” “I think this helps explain the big discrepancy…between what people say and think about racism and the actual persistence of racism in our society,” he says.

Researchers have long known that people hold culturally instilled associations with certain objects - English-speaking North Americans are faster to recognize the word butter if they have just seen the word bread momentarily flashed on a screen (ditto soy and rice for East Asians). Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji has found that Americans recognize negative words such as angry, criminal and poor more quickly after being exposed to a black face (often black people do too), suggesting unconscious racist associations with black people.

“The most worrying aspect is that even if a small proportion

of a society is active, old-fashioned racists,

and if the majority of people who believe they are not racist

rationalize away racist behavior and don’t intervene

or even get upset when it occurs, then the society is going

to be an unfair, unequal society,” Dovidio says.

2002 studies documented that when Latinos and black people were treated by physicians for a broken bone in their leg, they received pain medication significantly less often than white patients with the same injury. They are less likely to be given appropriate cardiac medications or to undergo bypass surgery, and are less likely to receive kidney dialysis or transplants. By contrast, they are more likely to receive certain less-desirable procedures, such as lower limb amputations for diabetes and other conditions.

Research shows we tend to place people into categories of gender, race and age, automatically by our brain’s “primitive” categorization. Once we’ve made up our mind about a group, or even someone in particular, it’s often hard to change our opinion. When beliefs are formed, confirmation prejudices kick in and begin to look for information that supports our views and we ignore everything which doesn’t.

We quickly perceive the meaning of a thing and move onto other things

that require more elaborate thinking. These mental snapshots are pretty accurate,

but when we apply this automatic categorization to extremely complex human beings,

we often get first impressions wrong.

When we classify others, we mentally put them into an ‘ingroup’ or ‘outgroup.’ An ingroup is any group of which the perceiver is a part of. The outgroup is a group in which the perceiver is not a member. We have many ingroups for ourselves.

We tend to see ingroup members as unique snowflakes, while outgroup members are perceived to share most of the same characteristics, values and goals. We view these people as all alike, and that’s where stereotypes arise. Since we have much more interaction with ingroup members because of shared interests, we feel comfortable understanding their motives and expectations. We know how to behave around them. The lack of knowledge about outgroups leads to faulty assumptions and sweeping evaluations.

One reason people may have negative opinions about outgroups is because of fear. The amygdala, the limbic system structure responsible for emotions like anger and fear, plays a key role in forming prejudices. MRI studies show higher levels of amygdala activation when perceiving outgroups as a whole. Yet research shows that the more we view the members of outgroups as not all being the same or similar to us, the less likely we are to feel prejudice. Many people are afraid of people that are different from themselves.

To reassure themselves, many people imagine that they are superior

to who they are afraid of so that they don’t have to be afraid anymore.

Causes of Prejudice

Many prejudices are passed along from parents to children. The media, like television, movies and advertising, also perpetuate demeaning images and stereotypes about groups of people, including black people and other non-white people, women, the disabled and senior citizens.

Prejudices may bring support from significant others, like family and friends.

If we don’t hold the same views as our significant others,

we fear we will lose social support.

We feel pressured to agree with the views of family and friends.

Studies have shown that prejudice arises when groups are in direct competition for jobs.

Some people are especially prone to stereotypical thinking because of unconscious fears. They conform, submit without question to their superiors, reject those they think are inferior, express intolerant opinions and have rigid attitudes.

Ethnocentrism is the tendency to evaluate others’ cultures by one’s own cultural norms and values. It also includes a suspicion of outsiders. This leads to stereotypical thinking and behaviour.

Group closure is when groups keep clear boundaries between themselves and others. They refuse to marry outside their group, for example.

People want to hold onto their distinctive social status, power and possessions. Privileged groups, such as white people, do not want any competition for resources from other groups. These powerful people may even use extreme acts of violence against others to protect their interests. Sometimes the members of underprivileged groups may retaliate with violence as they try to improve their circumstances.

Legal and institutional racism and discrimination is the unequal treatment that is entrenched in social and political institutions. This is when social and political institutions favor one group over another.


The Media

The media causes a lot of prejudice and discrimination in its viewers.

The media’s portrayal of different groups may be a person’s main source of information.

Many people, some of whom have never encountered other people, believe that the degrading stereotypes of black people and other non-white people are based on reality and not fiction. Everything they believe is determined by what they see on television or in the movies. If the media communicates primarily in stereotypes and the viewer has little opportunity for personal contact with members of that group, they are more likely to become prejudiced.

Movies dehumanize the non-white world. White people are usually the “good guys.” They are portrayed as the bearers of civilization and all that is just and humane. Their superiority is taken as the natural order of things and their extermination of non-white people is justified.

Forty years ago black, Latino (Hispanic) and Asian people were almost never seen on TV and in movies. During the 1980’s they trickled onto T.V., but they did not have priority roles. Mostly they played roles in the backgrounds. Asian people were stereotyped as corner shop owners, taxi drivers and restaurant owners. Black people are stereotyped as violent criminals - gangsters, thugs, drug addicts and dealers and people who always carry knives or guns – as lazy and stupid, irresponsible, as athletes or uneducated people. Since 9-11, Asian people, especially from Muslim countries, are stereotyped as terrorists and suicide bombers. Non-white people on T.V. and in the movies continue to be shown as a lower class than white people. Women in the media are represented as weak, dainty and having to do so much to be beautiful.

The news has devoted too much time and space to the negative problems of non-white people and too little time to talking about why there are problems. If something is not a crisis it is usually not reported. If it is not or cannot be made visual it is often not on TV either. The news media respond quickly and with keen interest to the conflicts and controversies of racial stories.

In 1997, non-white people made up less than 16% of prime-time drama casts, even though they represented 25% of the population; 26% of major characters in movies were women, although they are 51% of the population. When non-white people, women and seniors are portrayed, their images are often stereotypical, inaccurate and not reflective of the individual diversity that exists in real life. Not only are non-white people underrepresented on television, but they are segregated in what they portray in content and they rarely engage in cross-ethnic interactions.

In the early 2000’s, black people played 15% of roles in film and TV. Today it is 13%. Black directors make up less than 6% of all directors and only two of them are black women. In 2002, Denzel Washington for “Training Day” and Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball” won Oscars. He was only the second black man to win best actor and she was the first black woman to win best actress. The first black man to win an Oscar was Sidney Poitier, thirty-nine years earlier, in 1963 for “Lilies of the Field.”

Researchers evaluated 500 top-grossing movies in the US between 2007 and 2012 and 20,000 speaking characters. They found that Latina (Hispanic) women are the most likely to be shown nude or in sexy attire and black men are the least likely to be portrayed in a committed relationship.

In 2012, 76% of all speaking characters in these movies were white. Only 63% of the country is white and 56% of movie ticket buyers are white. Latinos (Hispanics) have only 4% of speaking roles, but make up 26% of movie goers. Less than 11% of the speaking characters were black, 5% were Asian and 3% were from other non-white groups.

A study conducted in 2012 found that TV exposure

decreased self-esteem for white and black girls and black boys

and increased self-esteem among white boys.

Male characters are portrayed as powerful, strong, rational and the main character. Female characters are portrayed as emotional, sensitive and more likely to be the sidekick or love interest. Black male characters are more likely to be depicted as menacing or unruly. Black female characters are more likely to be shown as exotic and available. So young white boys have greater access to positive media representation. This helps young white boys believe that anything is possible and that they can achieve and be heroes.

White and black girls and black boys do not see themselves on T.V. as successful, the main characters or as heroes.

“Regardless of what show you’re watching, if you’re a white male,

things in life are pretty good for [people who look like] you.

You tend to be in positions of power, you have prestigious occupations,

high education, glamorous houses, a beautiful wife,

with very little portrayals of how hard you worked to get there."

“If you are a girl or a woman, what you see is that women on television are not given a variety of roles. The roles that they see are pretty simplistic; they’re almost always one-dimensional and focused on the success they have because of how they look, not what they do or what they think or how they got there.

“Young black boys are getting the opposite message:

that there is not lots of good things that you can aspire to.”

Superhero T.V. shows almost always features a majority of white male main characters. If there are black or female characters, they are usually featured less often than white male characters and nearly always in secondary roles.

“This is a visibility issue,” said Katherine Pieper, research scientist at Annenberg's Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative.

“Who we see in film sends a powerful message about who is important

and whose stories are valuable, both to international audiences

and to younger viewers in our own country....Are films communicating

to audiences that only certain stories are worth telling?”



Have the students watch the following videos. Discuss after each one.

Children with Dolls and Pictures Experiment – 9 mins.

Shopping While Black – 8 mins.

The Eye of the Storm - Blue and Brown Eyes Experiment – 26 mins.


Blue and Brown Eyes Experiment

Ms. Jane Elliott developed and conducted an experiment for her third grade class in Riceville, Iowa after watching the evening news of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4, 1968. One scene she says that she remembers vividly is that of a white reporter, with the microphone pointed toward a local black leader asking "When our leader (John F. Kennedy) was killed several years ago, his widow held us together. Who’s going to control your people?" She then decided to combine a lesson she had planned about Native people with the lesson planned about Dr. King for February’s Hero of the Month. She used the Sioux prayer:

“Oh Great Spirit, keep me from ever judging a man until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.”

The following day Ms. Elliot had a class discussion about the lesson and about racism in general. She later said: “I could see that they weren’t internalizing a thing. They were doing what white people do."

"When white people sit down to discuss racism what they are experiencing is shared ignorance.”

The original idea for the exercise came from Leon Uris’s novel Mila 18, published in 1961, about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In that book, the author had the Nazis use eye colour as one method to decide who went to the gas chamber.

Most of Ms. Elliott’s eight-year-old students were, like her, born and raised in a small town in Iowa. They were not exposed to black people except on T.V.

She felt that simply talking about racism would not allow

her all-white class to fully comprehend racism’s meaning and effects.

On April 5, 1968, Steven Armstrong was the first child to arrive in her classroom. He asked why “that King” (referring to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) was murdered the day before. After the rest of the class arrived, Ms. Elliott asked what they knew about black people. She then asked these children if they would like to try an exercise to feel what it was like to be treated the way a person of color is treated in America, mentioning that it would be interesting if there was segregation based on eye color instead of skin color. The children agreed to try the exercise.

She designated the blue-eyed children as the superior group. Ms. Elliott provided brown fabric collars and asked the blue-eyed students to wrap them around the necks of their brown-eyed peers as a method of easily identifying the minority group. She gave the blue-eyed children extra privileges, such as second helpings at lunch, access to the new jungle gym and five extra minutes at recess. The blue-eyed children sat in the front of the classroom, and the brown-eyed children were sent to sit in the back rows. The blue-eyed children were encouraged to play only with other blue-eyed children and to ignore those with brown eyes. Elliott would not allow brown-eyed and blue-eyed children to drink from the same water fountain and often chastised the brown-eyed students when they did not follow the exercise’s rules or made mistakes. She often exemplified the differences between the two groups by singling out students and would use negative aspects of brown-eyed children to emphasize.

At first, there was resistance among the students in the minority group to the idea that blue-eyed children were better than brown-eyed children. To counter this, Ms. Elliott lied to the children by stating that the melanin responsible for making children blue-eyed also was linked to their higher intelligence and learning ability. Shortly, this initial resistance fell away. Those who were deemed “superior” became arrogant, bossy and unpleasant to their “inferior” classmates. Their grades also improved, doing mathematical and reading tasks that seemed outside their ability before. The “inferior” classmates also transformed into timid and subservient children, including those who had previously been dominant in the class. These children’s academic performance suffered, even with tasks that had been simple before.

The following day, Ms. Elliott reversed the exercise, making the brown-eyed children superior. While the brown-eyed children did taunt the blue-eyed in ways similar to what had occurred the previous day, Elliott reports it was much less intense. At 2:30 on that Wednesday, Elliott told the blue-eyed children to take off their collars. To reflect on the experience, she had the children write letters to Mrs. Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s widow, and write compositions about the experience.


Song Lyrics

Colored People

By DC Talk

1, 1, 1, 1... 2, 2, 2, 2... 3, 3, 3, 3... 4, 4, 4, 4

Pardon me, your epidermis is showing, sir

I couldn’t help but note your shade of melanin

I tip my hat to the colorful arrangement

Cause I see the beauty in the tones of our skin


We’ve gotta come together

And thank the Maker of us all



We’re colored people and we live in a tainted place

We’re colored people and they call us the human race

We’ve got a history so full of mistakes

And we are colored people who depend on a holy grace


1, 1, 1, 1... 2, 2, 2, 2... 3, 3, 3, 3... 4, 4, 4, 4

A piece of canvas is only the beginning for

It takes on character with every loving stroke

This thing of beauty is the passion of an artist’s heart

By God’s design we are a skin kaleidoscope


We’ve gotta come together,

Aren’t we all human after all?




Ignorance has wronged some races

And vengeance is the Lord’s

If we aspire to share this space

Repentance is the cure


1, 1, 1, 1... 2, 2, 2, 2... 3, 3, 3, 3... 4, 4, 4, 4

Well, just a day in the shoes of a color blind man

Should make it easy for you to see

That these diverse tones do more than cover our bones

As a part of our anatomy



We’re colored people and they call us the human race

(Oh, colored people)

We’re colored people, and we all gotta share this space

(Yeah we’ve got to come together somehow)

We’re colored people, and we live in a tainted world

(Red and yellow, black and white)

We’re colored people, every man, woman, boy, and girl

(Colored people, colored people, colored people, colored people, yeah)


When the Day Goes Down

by Annie Lennox

Well, don’t you cry now

Don’t go drowning in your tears

Haven’t you learnt anything

After all these years?


And all God’s little children

Are beautiful and pure

And you’re as good as all of them

Of this you can be sure


And we are just the same

Underneath the shadows of the sun

And we are just the same

No more no less than anyone


All the people of this lonely world

Have a piece of pain inside

Don’t go thinking you’re the only one

Who ever broke right down and cried


That’s when the rain comes down

That’s when the rain comes pouring down


And this is for the broken dreamers

And this is for vacant souls

And this is for the hopeless losers

And this is for the helpless fools


And the burnt out and the useless

And the lonely and the weak

And the lost and the degraded

And the too dumb to speak


And the day goes down

And the day goes down

That’s when the day goes falling down

And the day goes down

That’s when the day goes down

That’s when the day goes falling down

That’s when the day goes down, falling down

That’s when the day goes down (X4)


Higher Ground

by Stevie Wonder

People keep on learnin’

Soldiers keep on warrin’

World keep on turnin’

Cause it won’t be too long


Powers keep on lyin’

While your people keep on dyin’

World keep on turnin’

Cause it won’t be too long



I’m so darn glad he let me try it again

Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin

I’m so glad that I know more than I knew then

Gonna keep on tryin’ Till I reach my highest ground


Teachers keep on teachin’

Preachers keep on preachin’

World keep on turnin’

Cause it won’t be too long

Oh no


Lovers keep on lovin’

Believers keep on believin’

Sleepers just stop sleepin’

Cause it won’t be too long

Oh no




Till I reach my highest ground

No one’s gonna bring me down

Oh no

Till I reach my highest ground

Don’t let nobody bring you down (they’ll sho ‘nuff try)

God is gonna show you higher ground

He’s the only friend you have around


It is One

by Jackson Browne

They shot a man into the sky

The moon and stars became his bed

He saw the sun rise seven times

And when he came back down he said



It is one, it is one

One world spinning ‘round the sun

Wherever it is you call home

Whatever country you come from

It is one, it is one, it is one, it is one


They shot a man in Africa

At a time of rivalry and war

He had some dreams of a good life

But dreams aren’t what they killed him for


Now people stand themselves next to the righteous

And they believe the things they say are true

They speak in terms of what divides us

To justify the violence they do




One, the deep blue ocean

One, the endless sky

One, the purple mountains

One, you and I


It’s not a world of our own choosing

We don’t decide where we are born

This life is a battleground between right and wrong

One way or other we are torn


And people stand themselves next to the righteous

And they believe the things they say are true

And speak in terms of what divides us

To justify the violence they do




It is one, it is one

It is one, it is one

One, the purple mountains

One, the deep blue sea

One, all of creation

One, you and me

One, it is One, it is One, one