Skip to Main Content

MSMS Common Read

A guide for reading MSMS' Common Read, with questions for discussion and resources for further exploration

Discussion Questions

Racism v. Prejudice

Many people use the terms “prejudice” and “racism” interchangeably, but the author says it is important to understand that they are not the same. Prejudice refers to individual attitudes, but racism is better understood as “a system of advantage based on race,” a system involving cultural messages and institutional policies and practices that operate to the advantage of White people and to the disadvantage of people of color (p. 87). Because these policies and practices are so well-established and engrained in American society, the system of advantage can continue to operate even in the absence of overtly prejudicial thinking. Does the definition of racism as “a system of advantage” make sense to you? Why or why not? If people of color are disadvantaged by racism, how are White people advantaged by it, knowingly or unknowingly?

Early race-related experiences

The author argues that many adults learned in childhood that they should not speak about race-related observations. Even when they had race-related experiences that were confusing or upsetting, many people learned early in life that they should keep their questions to themselves. The silencing in childhood leads to silence in adulthood, and the pattern repeats itself with their own children. Think of your earliest race-related memory. How old were you? What emotion, if any, is attached to the incident you recalled? Did you talk to anyone – a parent, teacher or other caring adult - about what happened? If not, why not?

Stereotype Threat

Stereotype threat is a kind of performance anxiety, often experienced by stigmatized groups, that can impact academic performance. Yet, as social psychologist Claude Steele states, “Although stereotypes held by the larger society may be hard to change, it is possible to create educational niches in which negative stereotypes are not felt to apply – and which permit a sense of trust that would otherwise be difficult to sustain.” (p.161) Reflection: Have you ever experienced stereotype threat in school or in the workplace? If so, what helped or would have helped  relieve your anxiety? What are some of the research-tested strategies that educators can use to create the kind of “educational niches” that foster a student’s trust and promote academic resilience? How might these strategies apply to the workplace as well?

Color-blind racial ideology

The author cites the work of various social scientists, including Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, who describe color-blind racial ideology as “the dominant racial ideology of contemporary America, in which White people deny or minimize the degree of racial inequality as the result of factors unrelated to racial dynamics (such as Black cultural values or economic forces unrelated to race.)” (p.226). Reflection: Do you agree that color-blind racial ideology is widespread? Why do the social scientists cited in the book agree that being “color-blind” is problematic?

Speaking and influencing change

The author concludes Chapter 10 with these words: “We all have a sphere of influence. Each of us needs to find our own sources of courage so that we will begin to speak. There are many problems to address, and we cannot avoid them indefinitely. We cannot continue to be silent. We must begin to speak, knowing that words alone are insufficient. But I have seen that meaningful dialogue can lead us to effective action. Change is possible.” Reflection: Do you believe change is possible? If so, what is your sphere of influence and how can you use it to bring about positive social change? If you are hesitant, what is holding you back? What support do you need to become a more effective agent of change?

These questions were selected from the full book group discussion guide, attached on this page.