A protester marches in a rally against the use of Native American caricatures as sports mascots. Photo by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr.

This resource is the final project for “Race and Racism in the U.S.” The course is designed to explore how race structures contemporary issues in the United States. The course focuses on historical and contemporary race issues to demonstrate that race is a constructed system of privilege, power, and inequality embedded in everyday life. Using sociological theories and methods, students learn to locate claims about race in society by examining media, news, television, and other fields of public discussion.  

This final project reflects students’ ability to assess the dominant social narratives of race in the United States. Students use secondary sources and critical content analysis to uncover what people think and feel about race.

Assess Narratives

Narratives are repeated stories or discourse that help people make sense of the world. Narratives can clearly say something about race; other times, the message is implicit. In the case of this course, narratives make sense of racism or racial dynamics in our society. Narratives are active — they are telling people to think or act in a specific way. Myths, stereotypes, and “common sense” statements can all act as narratives. They can be positive or negative. It is important to uncover unspoken assumptions about racialized populations that have the power to influence policy and social behavior.

Throughout the semester, students learn how to recognize narratives about race, how to use secondary data and content analysis methods to uncover what is being communicated about race, and using historical data to understand how the narrative came to be.

For the final project, students started with a topic they are interested in- then considered what is said repeatedly in that topic. The process of locating a narrative is difficult since many narratives are implicit and their repetition embeds them as “common sense.” While this is difficult, it is one of the goals of this class to teach students to scrutinize repeated ideas about race in society that contribute to structures of racism.

The final project follows this process of inquiry:

  • Start with a narrative about race that is present in society
  • Assess what this narrative is saying about race
  • Ask: What data do we need to assess this statement? Or How do we know? What kind of evidence would we need to have to know about this narrative?
  • How did we get here? What is the history of this phenomena- How does this history influence the narratives we hear in society?

Write For a Public Audience

The goal of the final paper is to write a short assessment of a popular narrative on race or race issues.  This paper should be written in a style that is appropriate for a common reader, a piece that could be published on a website like The Society Pages, or an online news source. The writer’s job is informing the reader. You (students) do not have to take a stance for or against the narrative, though you can if you have sufficient evidence to support your stance.

An important component of this assignment included teaching about writing for the public. The Society Pages graduate editor, Allison Nobles, provided a writing workshop in class on how to write clear, concise, and supported pieces that are accessible to many readers. The workshop included an insider view on editing writing for The Society Pages modeled with submissions from student authors.

Build up to the final project

This final project is a culmination of the teaching and learning throughout the term. Each section taught skills that supported the final project. The first section of the course introduced students to the history of race in the United States highlighting structures that continue to reinforce racial inequality today. Students considered their racial social position, seeing themselves in a racial social order. Race theories helped examine racial issues from different perspectives. Contemporary theories on race help to see through the implicit nature of current race talk, building student skills in identifying racist ideologies in everyday language. Research methods lessons examined what types of data and evidence is used to understand how racism works in society, paying attention to the potential for bias in dominant research methods.

The rest of the course was divided into three sections:

  1. The first section modeled the process of inquiry for the final project using a topic on race (Race and the Food System).
  2. In the second section, students practiced the process of inquiry as a class. Students selected narratives within a topic introduced by the instructor (Race and Immigration).
  3. The final section guided students through their research process. In-class activities allowed students to reflect on their research, get feedback from peers, the instructor, and the teaching assistant.

Assessing Popular Narratives on Race, Final Project


  1. Clearly states the narrative.
  2. States what this narrative is saying about race- there might be more than one point to be made.
  3. Provides a historical context for how this narrative developed.
  4. Utilizes at least 4 outside sources, one of which must be academic, the others can be news or academic. No op-eds, opinion, or blogs that are not supported with data.
    • Note: No use of your own personal experiences as data for this assignment
    • Examples of data: Ethnographies (Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies), Interviews, Primary documents from archives (journals, cookbooks, immigration records…), Documentaries, Statistics (Census), News articles from trustworthy sources


  1. No jargon- Jargon is language specialized for a field and may not be easily understood by the general public. Instead of trying to be fancy with your words, be direct and say what you mean.
  2. Provide readers with a hook at or near the beginning- this is a great place to center the reader on why this is an important topic to understand. A “hook” draws the reader in- makes them interested.
  3. All statements supported by evidence. All evidence cited. If you don’t know how to cite sources, please look to your resources (writing center, writing sources on the course canvas site, the internet). If you have attempted citations and are not sure if it is correct, cross check with a resource, then if you are still unsure you can ask your TA or instructor for feedback.
  4. Discussion of the topic should be organized in a logical order.
  5. Paper should be without grammar and spelling errors (points not taken off in the draft but will be in the final paper). It is up to you to locate errors.

Assignment 1: Topic Proposal

DUE: One Month Before Final is Due

Topic proposal will respond to the following prompts:

  1. What is the narrative about race you are taking on?  This should be clearly stated as a narrative and NOT as a broader topic. If you need help, ask for it.
  2. Why is this interesting to you?  (4 sentences)
  3. What data do you want/need to assess this narrative? What kind of information or knowledge will be helpful to understand and discuss this narrative? Why is the data you are pursuing going to be useful? Remember, data can come in many forms. (4 sentences)
  4. Provide at least 2 sources that you plan to use with a couple of sentences on why they will be helpful for this paper. Sources should include: Author name, date, title of website/publication, Title of document, web address (if applicable).

You can type the responses to each prompt and paste them into the assignment template which is accessible on our course website.

Some example narratives from students in the course include:

  • Where are you really from?
  • Sports mascots using indigenous people are “honoring” them
  • Mexico is not sending its best people
  • They are stealing our jobs
  • Make America Great Again
  • Black Lives Matter/ Blue Lives Matter/ All Lives Matter
  • #TakeAKnee
  • (Insert racialized group) is sexy/not sexy
  • Angry Black Woman
  • Dreadlocks, braids, and natural black hair are “unprofessional.”
  • Undocumented immigrants/“illegals” are not entitled to basic human rights
  • Muslims are terrorists
  • Blacks are lazy, which is why they are uneducated
  • Real American
  • Asian Americans are Rich
  • Black people are in prison because they are violent
  • Black women are innately hypersexual
  • Affirmative Action is discrimination
  • Work Hard= American Dream

Assignment 2: Rough Draft of Final Paper

DUE:  Two Weeks Before Final is Due

Draft should meet all of the requirements of the final paper, missing requirements will result in a 4 points (10%) grade reduction for each missing element. The goal of this assignment is to take a complete paper and improve upon it through revision. Revision is an important step in good writing.

Length: 1,500 words MAX

***NOTE***  Drafts can be slightly longer than the final paper, since editing wording to be shorter is easier than adding something that is missing.

Assignment 3: Peer Review of Final Paper 

DUE:  One Week Before Final is Due                           

Peer reviews will be completed online using the same process that was followed for Paper #1. You will be automatically assigned a paper to review. Peer reviews are not anonymous so be aware of your tone in the comments.

Rubric will be provided in class and on the course website.

Final Paper

DUE: Final Class Meeting

Final Paper submissions must have revisions highlighted so we can easily assess your progress from one paper to the other.

Length: 1,000-1,100 words


Final Paper-  (40 points)  (Points earned/40 points = percent/100%)

Content (15 points) (38% of grade for final project)

  • The narrative being addressed is clearly stated (2) (5%)
  • Clearly connects the narrative to race (5) (12%)
  • Historical context of how the narrative came to be/developed (5) (13%)
  • Positionality is discussed- how does your social position influence how you approached this subject (3) (8%)

Organization (4 points) (10% of grade for final project)

  • Point of the paper is clear in first paragraph (2) (5%)
  • Ideas in the paper follow a logical progression (2) (5%)

Sources (6 points)  (15% of grade for final project)

  • At least 4 sources outside of course. One source is academic. No opinion (2) (5%)
  • Sources are cited throughout (4) (10%)

Writing  (15 points)  (37% of grade for final project)

  • All statement supported by evidence. (5) (13%)
  • Clear writing: ideas and points are clear and direct.  No jargon used, specialized language defined/clarified   (3) (7%)
  • Hook- has found an interesting way to draw reader in (2) (5%)
  • Direct quotes: Used no more than 2 (2) (5%)
  • No grammar and spelling errors  (points not taken off in the draft but will be in the final paper) (2) (5%)
  • Maximum 1,100 words (Final) 1,500 words (Draft) (1) (2%)

Monica Jarvi is a PhD student in sociology at the University of Minnesota.