Sample Assignments

1. Autobiographical paper example (experience/structural forces that influence gender understanding/ intersectionality)

Race, Class and Gender in the Classroom (and Anthropology)

In Reversed Gaze Mwenda Ntarangwi attempts to turn the ‘anthropological gaze’ back on itself and to ask critical questions about the people who produce anthropological knowledge. As we have been discussing in class, everyone has prejudice and biases, so how can we honestly and ethically study others? In this assignment you are asked to interrogate your own identity (race, class and gender) and to think about how that may influence your own perspective on ‘others’ you might study. And how does that identity (your race, class, gender identity) shape your experiences and opportunities as a college student in Brooklyn?


Ntarangwi writes “Race as a topic of anthropological inquiry has been glaringly absent in America, despite the discipline’s prominence as trope. This absence extends into the classroom, where many students find it hard to discuss topics related to race” (49). After describing the group research project he participated in, he mentions a particular class in which they discuss White Woman, Race Matters, a book he was excited to discuss in hopes of finally having a honest conversation about race, something he had felt was missing and surprising given the “enormous centrality of racial politics in public and private discourses” in the U.S. (25). However, he states the class made him angry because students seemed to have nothing to say about race in the U.S.

Why is it so hard to talk about race? Why is it particularly difficult for anthropologists to deal with race, especially considering it is supposed to be a study of cultural difference? What is your own experience as students at Brooklyn College? Have you had ‘honest’ conversations about race in any of your classes? If yes, which classes? If not, why do you think that is? Or does it make any difference to you to discuss race in your college classes?


In Chapter 3, Ntarangwi also discusses Social Class in the Classroom. He writes that, “The predominant focus that many American anthropologists have on cultures other than their own has made them inactive in studying classroom culture as well as social class in America” (67). He describes the contemporary university as a neoliberal market, in which students are like customers, paying for the ‘product’ of ‘education’. He writes, “This customer mentality that I mention here seems to be a middle-class attitude to life that asserts, “I am paying for it, and as the consumer, I want you to do all the background work and bring the product to me so I can consume it in the easiest way possible.”” (69).

Does this commentary reflect your own experience as a college student in the U.S.? Re-read Ntarangwi description of Social Class in the Classroom and reflect on your own experiences regarding class hierarchy at college. How do you understand the concept of social class? How do you understand your own social and socio-economic class position and how do you think that shapes your experience and opportunities at the university? How do you understand your own class identity intersecting with your racial identity? How do these together influence your experience as a student in an American college?

Finally, while Ntarangwi does interrogate his own racial identity and how that influences his conceptions as an anthropologist, but does he does he do this with his class position? How might Ntarangwi’s social class influence his perspectives on both the U.S. and Kenya?


While Ntarangwi does not deal as explicitly with gender, he does bring up some examples of how gender also impacts one’s experiences and opportunities. We have also discussed the importance of ‘intersectionality’ in class, so we cannot leave one aspect of identity out of our own analysis. How does your gender identity impact both your experiences and opportunities in the classroom/university?


Please write a 3-4 page paper (12-pt font, double-spaced, one inch margins) reflecting on your own class, racial and gender identity and reflect on how that shapes your experiences as a student at an American university. Use the questions listed above, and quotes copied below, to guide your reflection paper.

You must cite specific examples from Reversed Gaze.

Please remember, you must correctly site your sources. Any information included in your paper that is NOT general knowledge, must be sited. Please review the syllabus regarding plagiarism and academic integrity. It is your responsibility to know the official policies.

Quotes from the reading which may be helpful for organizing your paper

In response to such a scenario, Frankenberg says, “Whereas earlier, seeing race meant being racist and being racist being ‘bad, ‘ causation here is reversed: a person who is good cannot by definition be racist. . . . This is an important moment in the color- and power-evasive repertoire, for this is the logic that undergirds legislative and judicial approaches to both workplace race discrimination and hate crime, placing the burden of proof on the intent of the perpetrator rather than on the effects of an event or situation on its victim(s).” (49)

To render racism to intention—as did a number of those who shared their opinions with me—is completely to misread symbolic practices connected to race. The structural and cultural embeddedness of race in American society reveals the culpability of Whites, as the dominant social group, in the existing asymmetrical power relations that favors them because they are “already in power through multiple formal and informal processes. ” It is this analytical reality that made me find Frankenberg’s book quite intriguing to me, and I was looking forward to a lively discussion in class. (49)

“After the flyer issue had seemingly subsided, an African American administrator asked me how many Black faculty were in the anthropology department. When I told her there were none, she said that anthropology had all along been criticized for being racist and patronizing, and it was amazing how little had changed over the years, as the flyer had proved. I was perplexed. I had really liked the anthropological methods to which I was being introduced in graduate school and had been drawn to the discipline by what I thought it could do for me and the study of themes and topics I deemed important. I had indeed applied anthropological tools to critique the UGASA flyer, clearly showing that the discipline was vigilant in accurately representing others” (55).

“for Harrison it was “curiosity about race and racism—a curiosity borne not only from an intellectual exercise but from the social suffering and outrage of a people subjected to oppression—[that] prompted me to raise serious questions that in later years I would realize were most amenable to anthropological inquiry with its comparative ethnographic lens” (56).

“When people from different social backgrounds come together in an institution of higher education governed by middle-class values, a paradox results: either the ‘outsiders’ conform to the middle-class values or they get excluded” (69).

Grading Rubric

  • Analysis of own experiences regarding race, class and gender in the classroom 40 pts
  • Connection of own experience to course materials (you can draw from any of the sources we’ve used in class so far?) 40 pts
  • Grammar, writing style, creativity 20 pts

2. Final paper example – Questions from scaffolding reading, incorporate as an essay on the ethnography

As noted on the syllabus, in this course we have sought to understand racism as a means through which ‘difference’ is translated into inequality. We have used the critical tools of anthropology – the academic discipline that engages ‘human difference’ – to rethink power and inequality in our everyday lives.

In The Predicament of Blackness, Pierre offers an ethnographic account of processes of racialization in the U.S. and Ghana. She conceptualizes race as “a process that is always historically situated, and of racial categories and meanings as fluid, unstable, decentred and constantly transformed by changing historical, social and political relationships” (4).

Using examples from the book, explain how Pierre shows race to be:

– a process that is historically situated, flexible and thus changes in different times and places in history

– explain why Pierre makes the case that we must think about race in this way

You are asked to use at least two written sources from the course in your analysis. How have other authors we’ve read shown how race is not ‘natural’ or inevitable, but something that is made within particular global configurations of power? Provide examples that show how ‘race’ is made and what are its effects. To “use” a source, you must include a detailed description of the author’s main point in the article or chapter as well as one direct quote (that is properly contextualized and integrated into your own writing – do not use a quote to stand in for your own words, use a quote to support the argument that you are making). You are welcome to use more sources, including audio-visual ones, but you must use at least two written sources.

Lastly, and significantly I ask you to think about what does this definition of race have to do with inequality and social justice? How can you relate this way of thinking about race to the ways that you understand systemic racism in the world today and what can be done to challenge it?

Final paper should be 7-10 pages, 12 pt font double spaced.

Grading Guidelines:

  • explain what it means to understand race as “a process that is historically situated”
    why does Pierre say it is important to understand race this way? What are other ways race was or is understood that Pierre is trying to write against?
  • you offer specific examples (2 from written sources) that show how racial categories are not “natural” but “created” in different times and places in history
  • you answer what this conception of race has to do with inequality, power and social justice
  • paper structure: you have a clear introduction paragraph that lays out your main argument and states what you will explain in the body paragraphs of your paper, body paragraphs that flow from one to the next, and a summary conclusion
  • sources are properly cited (please use this website as a reference.
    you are responsible to know what plagarism is and you will be penalized for not properly citing sources
  • include a works cited page

3. Other Ideas:

    • Comparison of two books through key words – how the books use these key concepts (gender/identity)
    • Take-home two essays – one of second book, then comparison
      • One bigger essay question or two topical questions
    • Wiki page on key concepts
    • Take home – what did this author mean by this term?
    • Incorporate ethnographic component
    • Mini-ethnographies – interpret an event (can use Geertz cock-fight as example of thick description.
    • Using news articles – how to relate new articles from the regions discussed in the ethnography to conversations in class?
      • Asking them to apply media literacy
    • Student presentations
      • Making them give questions make discussion questions=

End of Semester Evaluation Ideas:

  • Tell me what you learned
  • Three things you got out of this
  • Things that 5 years you’ll talk about
  • Three favorite not favorite readings
  • What problems can anthropology solve?

In-Class Activities:

Letting them do work, in the classroom

Make a chart – comparing these things

Group discussions

  • Students sometimes don’t know how to ask to professor – feel better to discuss in groups

Have the students write an essay question (gender, colonialism, etc)

Ask students: what do you want to see on the exam?/what do you NOT want to see on the exam?

A writing workshop

  • They bring an outline
  • Discussing how they want to organize it