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Let’s Talk About Race

by Julius Lester

Summary

Let’s Talk About Race discusses the philosophy of story-telling, especially as it pertains to race and equality.

Author Julius Lester invites you into his book by writing, “I am a story. So are you.” He discusses how each individual has many different elements to their story, from family, to name, to likes and dislikes , and maybe even race. However, he says that race is just a portion of your story. But why do people think it is so important? He explains that sometimes we get too caught up on race and make quick assumptions based on skin color. He shares his own story as he explores what makes each of us special.

Read aloud video by ETeaches365

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester offers an opportunity for philosophical discussion about race and how racial identity affects the way we view one another. While thinking about their own lives stories and hearing those of their friends, students may begin to find that what looks like an easy question may not have such an easy answer. This will encourage them to break down their own assumptions about race and critically think about them.

The question sets “stories” and “race” bring up some of the basic questions about personal identity. They deal with questions concerning the nature of self, personal identity, and the role in race in determining these qualities. These questions will give the children the chance to try to understand and create ideas of being and feeling by exploring their own physical identities. The last question set “equality” will allow the children to interrogate whether or not someone can be “better” than someone else, and what it might mean to be “better.” The children will have a chance to think more critically about the effects and consequences of believing that one person is better than another based on aspects of identity.

One example of how to lead children through a discussion of this book is to begin by having them write their OWN stories. Let’s Talk About Race asks some questions the kids will be able to answer, such as: What’s your name? When were you born? Where were you born? Where do you live? What do you like? What don’t you like? These questions would give them a starting point to their own story. There should also be some room left for creativity. Letting them fill in other information that they feel is important to their lives, such as siblings, favorite book, etc.

After they finish writing their story, they should share their stories, observing whether or not people have similar experiences or dislikes. You can ask the kids why those things are important to them, or why something else wasn’t. Also, question if what they wrote down tells the story of their life. It might be helpful to allow two sessions for this book: one for the activity and one for the questions. This way, the kids have time to go home and observe what is important in their lives.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Stories

“I am a story. So are you. So is everyone.”

  1. Does your story begin when you were born? Why or why not?
  2. What makes up your story? Favorite food? Hobbies? Religion? Nationality? Favorite color? Race?
  3. Is skin color a part of your story?
  4. How does the color of your skin affect you?
  5. What is the important thing about your story?
  6. The author says, “race is a story.” What does he mean by this?

Race

“Just as I am a story and you are a story and countries tell stories about themselves, race is a story, too.

  1. Is race an important part of someone’s life? Why is race important, and does it define you?
  2. Is a person the color of their skin, their eyes, and their hair?
  3. If they were to change their skin, hair, and eyes would they be the same person?
  4. Is race an important part of your story? If so, why? If not, why?
  5. Why is the race story not true? Why is your story true?

Equality

“There are other ways all of us—even me, even you—think we are better than others.”

  1. Does being better at a sport make someone a better person than someone else?
  2. What does it mean to say everyone is equal?
  3. Are you better at something than others?
  4. Is that part of your story?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Nina Miller. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

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As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

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