Sample Lesson: The Race - Inequalities That Promote Success or Get in the Way of Success

From Theme Two: The Framework

Youth participating in 'The Race' activity.


For students to experience what it feels like to be excluded based on race or ­privilege.

Student Outcome

Students will discuss systemic privilege and disadvantage related to class, race, gender, and sexual orientation.

Portfolio Placement


Time Frame

45 minutes

Size of Group


Materials Needed

  •  “The Race” video segment
  • Flipchart paper, markers, and pens
  • Handout: 'The Race' Questions
  • Handout: 'The Race'
  • Candy bars for the winners of the activity

Note to Facilitators

This exercise aims to show students that they may be propelled forward or reverted backward due to no action of their own, but rather, based on the unearned advantage or unearned disadvantage. It is not a video segment intended to place blame, shame, or guilt. The video segment is an illustration of systemic judgments that are made by the dominant US society about who deserves to succeed and who does not. The facilitator of this lesson will need to have a clear understanding of the following terms and be able to discuss these meanings with participants. For purposes of this Resource Guide and the lesson, “The Race,” please refer to the following definitions for clarification. We are deeply indebted to Dr. Peggy McIntosh of Wellesley Center College for Research on Women for her writing on privilege systems and her expertise in this lesson and in defining these concepts. These concepts are defined below from the perspective of the dominant society in the United States:

  • Unearned Advantage: Privilege and/or benefit of the doubt given to some people based on their class, race, gender, and sexual orientation, etc. Examples of privilege can be easy acceptance, plenty of equipment, being believed, being seen as a perfect example, getting published, and getting let off from crimes.
  • Unearned Disadvantage: The dominant US society, as a whole, discriminates against groups and an individual because of class, race, gender, and sexual orientation and as a result, the people of those groups have less access, fewer supports, less respect, less credibility, and must continually prove worthiness to those that are most in power.
  • Earned Advantage: Privilege based on an individual’s personal hard work, respect for others, honesty, courage, integrity, leadership, etc. regardless of class, race, gender, and sexual orientation.
  • Earned Disadvantage: Punishment or hardship assigned to an individual regardless of class, race, gender, and sexual orientation but based on personal dishonesty, negligence, apathy, lack of hard work, lack of respect for others, lack of integrity, or application of skill.

Before You Begin

  • Set up the projector and cue “The Race” video segment of Finding Our Voice (use scene 13 of the video DVD) or go to “The Race” video segment of Finding Our Voice (this segment is on YouTube).
  • Set up a space large enough to accommodate the activity.


  1. Have students line up in a single file line facing you.
  2. Explain that before “The Race” starts, you have to determine your “starting positions.”
  3. Read the directions in Handout: “‘The Race’ Questions” and have students move according to the directions (i.e., take a step forward or backward). Mix some of the “Step Forward” and “Step Backward” statements.
  4. When the students are fairly spread out, instruct them to race to the prize.
  5. Use the discussion questions below with the students to process the activity.
  6. Students view Scene 13, “The Race” or the entire DVD, Finding Our Voice.
  7. Review with students the concepts of unearned advantage, unearned disadvantage, earned advantage, and earned disadvantage.
  8. After viewing Scene 13: “The Race” (or the entire DVD), ask students to use the activity sheet to process the activity. On the left-hand side of the chart, have students list some unearned advantages they have seen or experienced in the dominant US society. On the right-hand side, have students list some unearned disadvantages. Reinforce with the students that within privilege systems neither column is fair — some people get too much, and some people get too little. Have students complete this exercise as a group with chart paper or individually on this handout and then share as a group.
  9. Discuss the answers generated by students using the questions below.


  1. How did you feel after watching the exercise when the people the farthest behind the others were three American Indian young men?
  2. Was it difficult for you to watch the exercise?
  3. Why do you think the exercise ended this way with people of color at the back and whites in the front near the prizes?
  4. Is an American Indian youth “more Indian” if he/she lives on the reservation rather than a big city? Why or why not?
  5. What are some other inequities in the dominant US society that promote or get in the way of success? What are some advantages and disadvantages?
  6. Are there some equalizing forces that help to overcome systemic injustices? Have you found any equalizers that help everyone feel respected or supported?


Ask students to write in their journals reflecting on their personal experiences with advantages or disadvantages.