Power, Privilege, and Responsibility
Analyze how power and privilege shape our relationships and involvement in social justice and activism, using sources including clips from the film Driving Miss Daisy.
- One's power and privilege shape one's relationships and one's involvement in social justice and activism.
- How did systems and personal experiences of power, privilege, responsibility, and dignity affect individual relationships between American Jews and African Americans in the era of the Civil Rights Movement?
- How do power and privilege operate in contemporary movements?
- How do power and privilege operate in your own life?
Notes to Teacher
You will need to get hold of a copy of the film Driving Miss Daisy for part II of the lesson plan. The clips are not available on the JWA website. The scene numbers indicated in this lesson may not correspond to the scene selections in your copy of the DVD, and/or you may need to manually stop your DVD/video in the right spot. (The two clips used in this lesson occur immediately after one another.)
You may want to begin this lesson by introducing the concepts of power, oppression, and privilege. We suggest using the definitions in the Vocabulary section below. (These concepts are also found in Unit 1, Lesson 2. If you already taught that lesson, ask students to help define these terms.)
You may want to point out that power and privilege are not always visible to those who have them. Because privilege is generally unearned and may have always been part of one's experience, they can easily be taken for granted as "just the way things are" or not even noticed. Additionally, some individuals who possess power and privilege for reasons beyond their control, i.e. being born white or inheriting wealth, may be self-conscious of their position when faced with others' suffering, oppression, or experience of injustice. You can ask students if they can think of examples of power or privilege in their own lives/communities.
Though the documents in this lesson (the letters as well as the film) explore how power and privilege play out within interpersonal relationships, you should also emphasize that power, oppression, and privilege are social systems. Though they certainly shape and influence our interpersonal relationships, they do not originate there, but rather are larger structures that help organize all the ways society operates. (The systemic nature of power and privilege also contributes to their invisibility.) These larger systems can be broken down into different kinds of power and privilege – such as patriarchy (the social system based on governance by or dominance of males) or white supremacy.
Depending on the sophistication of your students, they may be more or less attuned to issues of power and privilege, so you may need to devote some time to unpacking these concepts and helping students become aware of how power and privilege operate in their own lives. You may want to use Peggy McIntosh’s classic article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” to help with this conversation.
In teaching this material on power and privilege, it is important to be aware of differences in power and privilege among your students. For example, if you have non-white students, make sure that discussions of white privilege do not assume shared whiteness (i.e. through using terms like “we” when discussing the experiences of white people). Also be careful to avoid putting students on the spot; though it is natural for students to be curious about the experiences of peers who come from different backgrounds, some may not feel comfortable answering questions about whether they feel oppressed or resentful toward people with more power or privilege, and students who have not considered their own privilege and power before may feel guilty when they recognize what they take for granted.
"An Orphan in History: Retrieving a Jewish Legacy"
Cowan, Paul. An Orphan in History: Retrieving a Jewish Legacy. (NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc.,1982).
"Letters from Mississippi: Reports from Civil Rights Volunteers"
Martinez, Elizabeth Sutherland, ed. Letters from Mississippi: Reports from Civil Rights Volunteers. (Brookline, MA: Zephyr Press, 2002).
"The Temple Bombing"
Green, Melissa Faye. The Temple Bombing. (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1996).
Counterblast: How the Atlanta Temple Bombing Strengthened the Civil Rights Cause
Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life
Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities, http://www.isjl.org/history/archive/. Includes rich encylopedia entries on individual Jewish communities across the South.
How Jews Became White Folks
Brodkin, Karen. How Jews became white folks and what that says about race in America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998.
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
Uprooting racism: How white people can work for racial justice
Kivel, Paul. Uprooting racism: How white people can work for racial justice. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2002.
Classified: How to stop hiding your privilege and use it for social change
Pittelman, Karen, and Resource Generation. Classified: How to stop hiding your privilege and use it for social change. Brooklyn, NY: Soft Skull Press, 2005.
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Power, Privilege, and Responsibility." (Viewed on October 3, 2023) <https://jwa.org/teach/livingthelegacy/civilrights/power-privilege-and-responsibility>.