Activity 2: Racial Scapegoating in Texts
In this activity, students will be reading and analyzing three excerpts on the Chinese and Chinatown in San Francisco during the smallpox epidemics of the 1870s and 1880s. Two use racist stereotypes to argue that the Chinese in Chinatown should be discriminated against as part of public health policy, while one defends the Chinese passengers and argues that they have been unfairly treated.
Step 1 (5 min)
Distribute the hand-outs (download here) to students and explain the historical context behind the primary sources. These three excerpts discuss Chinese and Chinatown in San Francisco during the smallpox epidemics of the 1870s and 1880s.
Step 2 (15 min)
Instruct students to read these excerpts and think about their purposes in relation to the Chinese in San Francisco by answering the following questions on the worksheet (reproduced below for teacher reference). You may use the rhetorical triangle to guide student analysis.
Step 3 (10 min)
Split students into pairs and instruct them to share their answers to these rhetorical analysis questions, then analyze the texts using the guiding questions on the worksheet (reproduced below for teacher reference):
Step 4 (3-5 min)
Bring the students back together as a class and introduce the concept of “scapegoating.” Scapegoating occurs when a person or a group of people is targeted and blamed for a bad event/thing without merit. For example, the Chinese were scapegoated in the 1800s smallpox epidemics even though there was little evidence that they were the cause of the disease outbreaks. Scapegoating a particular racial group occurs frequently and often reflects racist beliefs and prejudices, which can lead to harmful consequences such as unfair treatment and violence.
Step 5 (8-10 min)
Lead the students in a discussion of racial scapegoating using the below questions:
Unscrupulous: Dishonest, not having morals
Treacherous: Disloyal, betraying or tricking someone
Sanitary: Clean, germ-free
Distilling: To make very concentrated or strong
Contaminate: Make dirty
Alien: Different from, not belonging
Promiscuousness: Being amoral, having many sexual relationships
Ventilation: Breathing, the circulation of air
Unaccountable: Can’t be explained
Stench: Bad smell
Quarantine: Separating from other people to prevent the spread of disease