RACE: The Power of an Illusion


With the increased visibility of racial tension and terror, more and more people are realizing how important it is to talk about and do something to eradicate racism. In order to deal with racism, however, we must first be able to talk about race. But what is race, exactly? It is connected to skin color – but is it based in biology? It is a powerful basis of identity – but has it always been thought of in the same way? This resource links to the video “Race: The Power of An Illusion” and includes a facilitator guide for small or large group leaders to reflect upon and discuss race based in U.S. history, law, and culture.

You will need 1 hour to watch film and approximately 50-60 minutes for discussion or reflection afterward. Three options include: [a]utilize a 90 minute session to include both watching the film and follow-up discussion; [b]watch the film together on one day/night class period; then meet another day/night for 50-60 minutes to have discussion; or [c]assign the film to be watched on their own and then meet together for a 50-60 minute class period to discuss together. (If using for a T/F quiz – the time for discussion could be less)

You can use this as a T/F quiz or a discussion starter; you can also utilize some aspects of each depending on what will work best for your context; read through the directions for each option and feel free to “mix and match” in ways that will best reach your group. It might also help for you, as the facilitator, to watch the film first as preparation. This will give you time to think about options for helping to facilitate group discussions, etc.


  1. Hand out sheet of paper with statements on it. Have each individual mark the statements with “true” or “false.” If “false,” be prepared to discuss which part of the statement is false and why. (You won’t share your answers before you watch the film. This is just for your own knowledge and reflection. Let people know that their reasoning for writing “false” might reflect something like, “It just doesn’t seem right.” Those answers are acceptable before the watching the film since sometimes our perceptions of race are based on how we feel.)
  2. Watch the film.
  3. After watching the film, assess your answers to the T/F quiz.
  4. Discuss in small groups: What was most shocking to you? Why was it most shocking?
  5. Discuss with large group which information from the film was the most powerful. How does this information shape the way you think about race now? How should this information shape your church?


  1. Choose one or two statements (maybe statement #1 or statement #17) for small groups to discuss before watching film.
  2. Determine how many small groups of 3 or 4 people will be in attendance. Choose 2 or 3 statements for the number of small groups you will have. For example, statements #1 and 2 for group A; statements #7, 11, and 12 for group B; etc. You do not have to assign all the statements.
  3. When group gathers, create small discussion groups of 3 or 4 people and share the preselected statements from (#1) above with groups. Give people 10-12 minutes to share their understanding of statement/s with each other.
  4. Hand out the sheet with the statements on it. Assign each small group the 2 or 3 statements for their group to discuss (use the groupings from #2 above). Let people know their small group will be discussing these questions and reporting back to the large group. So, while everyone should pay attention to the whole film, they will be responsible for helping “teach” that portion to the large group. The statements are ordered to follow the timing of the film (the first statements reflect what is covered at the beginning of the film and the last statements reflect what is covered at the end of the film). They can take notes if they would like.
  5. Watch film.
  6. For the next 15-20 minutes, have the groups discuss the following for each of the statements:
    • What did the film say, specifically about this statement?
    • What information surrounded this topic in the film?
    • What was shocking for you? Why was it shocking?
    • What examples of, or consequences from, this statement do you see in the church, today?
  7. For 20 minutes have the small groups report back to the larger group. You might want to have each group focus on just one of the questions (i.e., what was shocking for you? Why was it shocking?
  8. For the last 10 minutes, ask the group what the church needs to do, specifically, to create and sustain racial justice (help the group make concrete suggestions, avoiding answers like, “We need to love Jesus more,” or “We need to treat everyone the same.” Determine what specific next 2 steps the church will do to live into their idea.

STATEMENTS for Race: The Power of Illusion Exercise

  1. What we perceive as race is one of the first things we notice about each other.
  2. We attach values and morals to race.
  3. Race is not a biological reality. Race is based upon cultural and societal norms.
  4. Racial markers (like skin color, hair texture, shape of the eyes or nose) are assigned cultural values.
  5. Society has a set public policy in response to racial markers and racial characteristics.
  6. Laws and practices create race based upon differences seen through the lenses of culture and society.
  7. At one time in U.S. history it was theorized that there were 35 white races.
  8. In the “melting pot” notion of the U.S. – only Europeans were intended to melt into the pot.
  9. At one time, to be naturalized into U.S. citizenship one had to be categorized as either “black” or “white.”
  10. White citizenship gave more benefits, by law, than black citizenship.
  11. Categories of white and black were determined by courts – even the Supreme Court.
  12. The social and political construction of “black” and “white” have differed among state governments.
  13. Whiteness is more than a skin color. It is about privilege and access to opportunities, reserved by public policy and private action, for those deemed white.
  14. Housing, wealth, and inheritance is systematically racialized by public policy.
  15. Between 1934 and 1962, the U.S. federal government loaned $120 billion dollars for new housing to U.S. citizens. Less than 2% of the funds were awarded to non-white people.
  16. In the U.S., whiteness and Christianity created the segregated suburbs.
  17. Even though Jim and Jane Crow laws became ill-legal, most of our housing is still racially segregated.
  18. Whites are subsidized in the accumulation of wealth while blacks are divested in wealth because inequitable housing laws and practices have excluded many black people from home ownership.
  19. Whites get the spoils of a racist system even if they are not personally racist.
  20. It is the legacy of racism for whites to be wealthier than blacks.
  21. It is impossible to talk about racial equity without talking about equal access to opportunity through wealth and education.

RACE: The Power of an Illusion
California News Reel Presents: Race – the Power of an Illusion (newsreel.org)
Episode 3 – The House We Live In

Written by Dr. Lynne Westfield.

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GCORR is building the capacity of The United Methodist Church to be contextually relevant and to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.