PILAR OSSORIO, Legal Scholar / Microbiologist: We have a notion of race as being divisions among people that are deep, that are essential that are somehow biological or even genetic, and that are unchanging - that these are clear cut distinct categories of people. OSSORIO: All of our genetics now is telling us that that's not the case. We can't find any genetic markers that are in everybody of a particular race and in nobody of some other race. We can't find any genetic markers that define race.
HORSMAN: Jefferson seems to have thought about it as a Virginia plantation owner who has been brought up amongst slaves, and who at his heart of heart, I would suppose, finds it difficult to conceive of those slaves are fully his equal.
- > What are some ways that race has been used to rationalize inequality? How has race been used to shift attention (and responsibility) away from oppressors and toward the targets of oppression?
- > What is the connection of American slavery to prejudices against African-descended peoples? Why does race persist after abolition?
- > Why was it not slavery but freedom and the notion that “all men are created equal” that created a moral contradiction in colonial America, and how did race help resolve that contradiction?
- > Contrast Thomas Jefferson’s policy to assimilate American Indians in the 1780s with Andrew Jackson’s policy of removing Cherokees to west of the Mississippi in the 1830s. What is common to both policies? What differentiates them?
- > What did the publications of scientists Louis Agassiz, Samuel Morton, and Josiah Nott argue, and what was their impact on U.S. legal and social policy?
- > What role did beliefs about race play in the American colonization of Mexican territory, Cuba, the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico?
- What is the significance of the episode’s title, “The Story We Tell”? What function has that story played in the U.S.? What are the stories about race that you tell? What are the stories you have heard? Did the film change the way you think about those stories? If so, how?
- Organizers of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair put on display people whom they defined as “other.” Although few would do this today, many still see others as distinctly different from themselves. In your community, who is seen as "different"? What characterizes those who are defined as different?
- In the film, historian James Horton points out that colonial white Americans invented the story that "there's something different about 'those' people" in order to rationalize believing in the contradictory ideas of equality and slavery at the same time. Likewise, historian Reginald Horsman shows how the explanation continued to be used to resolve other dilemmas: “This successful republic is not destroying Indians just for the love of it, they’re not enslaving Blacks because they are selfish, they’re not overrunning Mexican lands because they are avaricious. This is part of some great inevitability... of the way races are constituted.” What stories of difference are used to mask or cover up oppression today? Why do we need to tell ourselves these kinds of stories?