Two Towns of Jasper

PBS Premiere: Jan. 22, 2003Check the broadcast schedule »

Lesson Plan: Examining White Privilege

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Two Towns of Jasper raises many questions about race relations, prejudice and privilege in America today. The documentary reveals not only that racism still exists in America, but also how brutal it can be. In 1998, in Jasper, Texas, James Byrd, Jr., a black man, was chained to the back of a pick-up truck and dragged to his death by three white men. The killing of Byrd horrified the nation and left the town of Jasper forever altered.

The film is a nuanced view of the subtleties of race relations in America and the different viewpoints forged by racial identity. The lessons below will guide students to a better understanding of privilege -- one of the pervasive causes behind racism -- and, more specifically, the impact of "white privilege" on racism against non-white Americans. An exploration of the concept of privilege can also help students understand the societal factors that contribute to other "ism's": sexism, ethnocentrism, classism and heterosexism.

POV documentaries can be recorded off-the-air and used for educational purposes for up to one year from the initial broadcast. In addition, POV offers a lending library of DVDs that you can borrow anytime during the school year -- FOR FREE! Please visit our Film Library to find other films suitable for classroom use or to make this film a part of your school's permanent collection.


By the end of this lesson, students will:

  • Better understand the history and intent of hate groups in the United States.
  • Define the concept of privilege.
  • Analyze the role of privilege in the documentary.
  • Reflect on the impact of privilege on one's own life.
  • Identify the effects of privilege on daily activities
    for others.


SUBJECT AREAS: Civics, U.S. History, Law, Multiculturalism, Psychology and Sociology



1. DVD of the POV/PBS program Two Towns of Jasper.
2. Computers with Internet access.
3. Copies of Writing for Change: Section 1 - Worksheet 1.19, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh, and "The History of the Klan"
An overhead transparency or photocopied hand-out of the "Hate Map" from

History of the KKK and Hate Groups in the United States: One class period
Defining Privilege: One class period
Demonstrating Privilege: One class period
Watching the Documentary: One and a half class periods (83 minutes)
Post Viewing Activity: One class period


Before Viewing The Documentary
Create a safe environment that welcomes open, respectful participation.
The strategies below can help you create an atmosphere that encourages students to share their experiences and insights in respectful and productive ways:

  • Set ground rules. You might involve your students in this process by asking them what rules would help them feel safe enough to participate openly. You'll need strategies for how people will take turns or indicate that they want to speak, and how you will prevent one or two people from dominating the discussion.
  • You'll also need guidelines for the way students express themselves: No one may interrupt someone who is speaking; no one may use a "put down" or "slur"; yelling is off limits; people may speak for themselves ("I think. . .") but may not generalize for others ("everyone agrees that. . ."), etc.
  • Talk about the difference between "dialogue" and "debate." In a debate, participants try to convince others that they are right. In a dialogue, participants try to understand each other and expand their thinking by sharing viewpoints and actively listening to each other.

The History of the KKK

Review the role of the Ku Klux Klan in the Jim Crow South. Distribute the article from on the history of the Ku Klux Klan. Discuss the tactics used by the KKK to intimidate African Americans.
Guiding questions for discussion:

  • What is the KKK?
  • Why did they form?
  • Who joined the KKK?
  • What did/do they want to accomplish?
  • Who did/does the Klan target?
  • During the height of the KKK's reign of terror, lynching was a popular tactic. What is a lynching? Why was it effective in keeping African Americans from demanding their rights?

Hate Groups in the United States
Print the hate map from Either project the map onto a screen in the classroom from the computer or print out the map and make an overhead copy of it to display in the classroom. You can also photocopy it and pass it out as a hand-out to the class. Discuss the presence of hate groups in the United States today.
Guiding questions for discussion:

  • Why do hate groups still exist?
  • Are students surprised by the number of hate groups
    still active in the US?
  • What issues influence people to join hate groups?
  • Why are hate groups allowed to exist in the United
  • Is this an American phenomena or do hate groups exist
    in other countries? Give examples.
  • Are hate groups always composed of white people?
  • (Be sure to identify the New Black Panthers since a member
    is interviewed in the movie.)
  • Are hate groups solely concerned with race? What
    are other prejudices do hate groups organize around?
  • If a person is prejudiced would he/she always join
    a hate group? Explain.
  • Are there levels of prejudice? Do most people have
    some prejudices?
  • Is racism or prejudice based on religion, nationality,
    ethnicity, gender, or ability ever acceptable if the person
    who is prejudiced does not commit a violent act? Why or why
  • Can prejudice ever be benign? Explain.
  • Discuss the difference between prejudice and bias.
  • Are some biases acceptable? Explain.

Defining Privilege
Assign students to read Peggy McIntosh's essay "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack". Depending on the reading level of your students you may want to give them a condensed version of the essay. If you do this be sure to include in your shortened version the 26 conditions she outlines that exemplify white privilege. Ask them to bring a definition of privilege to class. When students return to class ask them to share their definitions of privilege. Decide as a class on a working definition of privilege. Write for Change provides an excellent definition of privilege in handout 1.14. Then divide students into small groups and ask them to answer the questions from Writing for Change: Section 1 - Worksheet 1.19. After students have grappled with the questions pertaining to "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," discuss their responses as a class.

Demonstrating Privilege
Ask students to reflect on Peggy McIntosh's essay and their own situation in society and write a one page essay about a trait that they possess that has granted them "privilege" as McIntosh describes. They may examine race, gender, sexual orientation, class and even academic achievement (for example honors students are often times able to do things that other students can't not because of individual merit but because of the reputation of the group).

Students can also write about a negative experience that they believe someone of privilege would not have had to endure. A teacher may allow students to describe a scene witnessed or heard about instead of a personal experience. Because this is a sensitive topic, teachers should evaluate their students' ability to complete the assignment in a comfortable manner.

The Documentary
While students watch the documentary ask them to write the definition of privilege the class decided on at the top of a piece of notebook paper. As the students watch the documentary ask them to note examples of privilege they notice. When they have noted an example they should raise their hand.

Pause the video and allow for a brief discussion on whether the noted example does indeed illustrate privilege. The questions below can be used to spark discussion at points during the documentary or be assigned to students after they have viewed the film.

  • Discuss the significance of the title Two Towns of Jasper.
  • Why do you think the filmmakers chose to use two film crews to make the documentary?
  • Compare the conversation at Unav's beauty shop with the conversation at the "Bubbas in Training" breakfast club.
  • The second time the "Bubbas in Training" were filmed they were discussing the use of the word "ni--er." How does this dialogue reflect their sense of invisible privilege?
  • A woman at the beauty shop commented that after the murder of James Byrd, Jr. she would now have to always be looking over her shoulder. What did she mean by this comment? Why was this not a reflection of one of the "Bubbas"?
  • One of the women in the beauty shop described walking into two banks in Jasper. How did she describe the banks? Why is her description of the banks important in understanding white privilege in Jasper?
  • The radio announcer discussed the meaning of the Confederate flag for himself. What did he say the flag represented? Explain why his answer is a result of white privilege. Include in your answer how an African-American teenager might view the Confederate flag.
  • Why was the school district's decision requiring students to attend school on Martin Luther King Day so upsetting to African Americans in Jasper? Was the school district being directly racist? Was the decision racist? Did the school district demonstrate white privilege in their decision to require school on Martin Luther King Day?

Ask students to research a recent violent hate crime against a member of a minority group. Students should then describe the facts of the crime and the community or national response to the crime and compare it with the murder of James Byrd, Jr. After they have described the crime they should indicate the issues of privilege related to the crime and compare them with white privilege as seen in Two Towns of Jasper. Examples of recent hate crimes they could research include the murders of Matthew Shepard and Billy Ray Gaither. They could also investigate violent backlash against Arabs and Muslims after September 11. On a more abstract level, students could research rape statistics and other forms of violence against women and compare those with the documentary.
Below is a list of websites students might find helpful as
they research:

American Civil Liberties Union
Amnesty International/USA
Anti-Defamation League
Human Rights Campaign


Browse Online Compendium Standards and Benchmarks (