TLDR: The following is a 2-3 day lesson plan for high school educators adapted from and inspired by Dr. Carla Martin’s course “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food” at Harvard University. The main goal of this lesson plan is to develop students’ contemporary understandings of race and racism by situating this knowledge within the historical processes of colonization, slavery, and racial representation—through chocolate! Students should already have basic knowledge about the world geography, colonization of the Americas, chattel slavery, and the Jim Crow era.
Background for Teachers
What’s the big deal about chocolate?
Chocolate is a unsung hero of many of our everyday lives in America, especially in the lives of young people who always appreciate a chocolate candy bar after a long day of school, some chocolate cake after they’ve finished their vegetables at dinner, or a waffle cone full of chocolate ice cream on a hot summer day. If chocolate is ever controversial, it is because we may disagree with our friends or family members about whether white chocolate versus milk chocolate versus dark chocolate is the best, or in deciding if it’s really that much worth it to spend a few extra dollars on a Dove bar over a Hershey’s in the supermarket checkout line. However, what if we step back and begin to think about how chocolate got to the checkout line, on our plate, or in a waffle cone? What if we begin to think about chocolate as something that is cultural, political, social, and historical? Why in our society, for example, do we use the word “chocolate” to describe dark skin? What might chocolate be able to tell us about social phenomena like race and racism when we dig a little deeper? In fact, to understand race and racism through the lens of chocolate—something that seems like such a mundane yet integral part of our everyday lives—allows us to understand, as Michael Omi and Howard Winant tell us, how race and racism indeed shapes all part of our society and our identities. 
This is where Dr. Carla Martin steps in. Dr. Martin is a lecturer in the Department of African and American Studies at Harvard as well as the founder and executive director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI), an organization which works to advance quality products and ethical practices in chocolate supply chains, especially issues related to unfair treatment of Black and Brown farmers in Africa and Central America. In her work and studies, Dr. Martin looks at the historical and global processes of colonization and harmful labor practices in the rise of chocolate production and consumption, predominantly focused on the people of Central America and West Africa. Through a disciplinary approach—combining anthropology, sociology, economics, history, political science, biology, African American studies, Latinx studies, and more—she teaches about the history of growing cacao (the plant used to make chocolate), chocolate’s changing cultural meanings from days of Aztecs and Mayans to being eaten by people around the world today, the relationship between the European colonization of Mesomerica and the rise of slavery to the global chocolate market today being controlled by only a few companies which often treat Black and Brown cacao farmers unfairly, and the ways that we have understood and represented race in and through this history to the contemporary moment. Her class at Harvard, called “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food,” is extremely popular. Incentivized by weekly chocolate tastings, this course brings together a unique group of students, many of whom are white and middle-class, that typically wouldn’t take a class focused on questions of race and racism.
Schools in the United States can be understood as institutions of knowledge and identity formation which have historically been both constituted by and constitutive of meanings of race since the moment European colonizers began eliminating Indigenous people and enslaving Africans on this land, Bettina Love calling them “spaces of Whiteness”—Black and Indigenous people have nonetheless remained resistant and resilient, forging since their own institutions of knowledge and collective identity, which included establishing the public school system in the American South.[2-5] Nevertheless, the dominant mode of American schooling has always been one that seeks to do away with Indigenous culture and sensibilities, disempower and exploit Black people, and uphold ideals and systems that privilege white people. Talking specifically about the logic of whiteness in schooling/formation of knowledge, Du Bois writes, “How easy, then, by emphasis and omission to make children believe that every great soul the world ever saw was a white man’s soul; that every great thought the world ever knew was a white man’s thought; that every great deed the world ever did was a white man’s deed; that every great dream the world ever sang was a white man’s dream.” A decade later, Carter G. Woodson would echo Du Bois’ sentiment, writing, “Why not exploit, enslave, or exterminate a class that everybody is taught to regard as inferior? There would be no lynching if it did not start in the classroom.” What Du Bois and Woodson are fundamentally pointing to, and what I am presupposing in my own argument here, is that, as Jarvis Givens puts it, “violence inflicted upon Black bodies” by white people originates “at the level of ideas and knowledge.” Thus, the intervention that Dr. Martin makes through her course allows us think about how chocolate can be used as a salient pedagogical tool for constructing anti-racist knowledge not only at the university level, but for all learners, especially in spaces that are white and middle-class.
Why teach about Race and Racism?
More than 150 years since Emancipation and half a century since the Civil Rights Movement and social transformation out of the Jim Crow order, racism continues to structure American society. Today, life in the United States is characterized by what Michael Omi and Howard Winant call racial hegemony, that is whereas the nation’s past was characterized by violent, legally-explicit domination of Black and Brown people (such as through forced labor and lynching), racism today exists in the form of colorblind racism. While many people, particularly white Americans, use phrases such as “I don’t see color” to express that they try to treat everyone with understanding and compassion regardless of their racial identity, not recognizing the racial identities of others in our communities—Black and Brown people especially—can signal that we don’t see the histories and social barriers that play a role in the challenges they may face or unique cultural contributions they contribute.[10-11] By doing so in the context of education, we engage in ways of teaching that alienate and disempower Black and Brown students while socializing white students into thinking that their privileges are inherent and that racism does not exist in our contemporary moment and—therefore—does not need to be challenged beyond being friendly to people of all races. However, in a contemporary era of mass incarceration, the Black-White wealth gap, disparities for Black and Brown people in healthcare and education, widespread white nationalist politics, and the continued enslavement/exploitation of Black and Brown in global supply chains, it is crucial that educators reckon with the ways we are teaching our youth about race and racism and, just as importantly, thinking about these issues ourselves. As sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant tell us, “We cannot step outside of race and racism, since our society and our identities are constituted by them; we live in racial history.” All things considered—as Black and Brown educational leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Anna Julia Cooper, Carter G. Woodson, Bob Moses, and Bettina Love have modeled for us throughout U.S. history—educators can do their part to challenge racism today by teaching more critical approaches to history and society that 1.) acknowledge that racism is real today and plays a role in all parts of our lives, 2.) examine the history and dynamics of racism as a human creation organized around arbitrary meanings assigned to differences in human bodies in order to justify economic oppression that especially benefits white elites, and 3.) give students the knowledge and tools needed to be identify contemporary racism and challenge it in their schools and communities. Drawing from the example set by Dr. Martin, chocolate is a creative way that we may be able to do that.
Resources for teaching about race and racism.
- Article: Why Talk About Whiteness?
- Article: Teaching About Mass Incarceration: The Ongoing Narrative of Racial Oppression
- Lesson Plan: The Real Monopoly: America’s Racial Wealth Divide
Introductory Activity: Unpacking Assumptions about Race, Racism, and Chocolate
Live word clouds by Poll Everywhere are an fun, interactive, and effective way to introduce a new topic to your students, especially one as complex as this. Students, of course, bring their own assumptions, experiences, and associations into the classroom about any topic, and this approach allows you to draw out what those perspectives are so that you may reference and unpack them throughout your lesson.
As I discussed in the introduction, chocolate is thought of in our society as something that is ahistorical, apolitical, and acultural; however, many us of do have very personal memories, feelings, and preferences in regards to the sweet treat. This gives your students an opportunity to showcase those and begin thinking about the role of chocolate in their contemporary lives. The same applies to issues of race and racism.
- You may consider posing questions like this in the following order. After each question, pause to discuss the word cloud that was generated, paying attention to what words/concepts seem to be the most prevalent in the classroom but also those that may be unique:
- “What words or phrases come to your mind when you hear the word the word ‘chocolate’?”
- “What words or phrases come to your mind when your hear the word ‘race’?”
- “What words or phrases come to your mind when you hear the word ‘racism’?”
- While inputting their responses, encourage students to think about the feelings, memories, images, preferences, movies, TV shows, songs, commercials, and even things they’ve learned in school that they associate with the word.
Part One: Who is Willy, Really? The Racist Origins of The Chocolate Factory.
To begin this lesson, you will be discussing this clip from the 2005 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As explored below, the novel and film have racist origins that problematically normalize slavery and mock indigenous cultures as it relates to cacao’s origins and the production of chocolate. You can read more about that from David Yacovone whose work I will draw from below. In addition to showing this one clip, you may dedicate an additional class period or homework assignment to viewing the entire film before the start of the lesson.
- Begin by asking students to raise their hands if they are familiar with the story of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory; that could be the 1971 film, the 2005 film with Johnny Depp, or the original 1964 children’s book by Roald Dahl. Now have a student volunteer summarize the plot. You will probably hear back that five children, including Charlie, won golden tickets to tour Willy Wonka’s secretive chocolate factory; after each child except for Charlie failed to impress Wonka, they were each taken away by Oompa Loompas, leaving Charlie to inherit the factory.
- Ask your students to describe the Oompa Loompas. Most of us know them as the small, brown or orange, Wonka factory workers that sing catchy tunes as they whisk away the naughty children who have failed to meet Willy’s standards.
- Have your students break into pairs, brainstorm what the lives of the Oompa Loompas are like, and then share out to the group: How did they get to the factory? How much are they paid, and what kinds of benefits might they receive? Where are their families? How do you think they feel about their jobs? What are their individual personalities and lives like? What is their relationship to the chocolate their producing?
- Introduce the YouTube clip “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Loompa Land” from the 2005 film in which Wonka explains how he came into contact with the Oompa Loompas while exploring Loompaland. Post chart paper in four different locations of the classroom with the following quotes and related questions on them. Break students into four, pre-established groups; have them discuss and write out their responses on the sheets for 7-10 minutes.
- “What a terrible country it is… The whole place is nothing but thick jungles, infested by the most dangerous beasts in the entire world.” How does Wonka represent Loompaland? What other countries do Americans often stereotype this way? Do you feel that it is wrong for Wonka, who is an outsider, to describe to another country this way, especially based on such a limited experience there?
- “I went to Loompaland looking for exotic new flavors for candy. Instead, I found the Oompa Loompas.” What was Wonka’s primary motive for going to Loompaland? Think about it from his perspective as a business owner from another country. What might be wrong with Wonka saying he “found” the Oompa Loompas? Were they ever actually “missing”? How might the Oompa Loompas feel about a stranger coming to take their country’s plants, especially the cocoa beans that they view as sacred/religious, for his own financial gain?
- “The Oompa Loompas ate nothing but green caterpillars, which tasted revolting. But the food they longed for most was the cocoa bean. An Oompa Loompa was lucky if he found three of four cocoa beans a year. But oh how they craved them. And all they’d ever think about was cocoa beans.” The film then shows Oompas Loompas bowing down to worship the cocoa beans and dancing around it headpieces made from cocoa pods. How does Wonka represent the food and culture of the Oompa Loompas? How does he use their love of cocoa beans to his own advantage? What does Wonka taking the cocoa beans and selling them for his own financial gain mean for the sacred/religious value that the Oompa Loompas place on them?
- Speaking to the chief in Loompaland, Wonka says, “Come live in my factory. You can have all the cocoa beans you want! I will even pay your wages in cocoa beans if you wish!” Reflecting on that memory, he tells the family in his factory, “They are such wonderful workers.” How does the film represent the Oompa Loompas’ language? Why do you think the Oompa Loompas now sing in English when they initially spoke the language of Loompaland? How does Wonka use their love of cocoa beans to his own advantage? What purpose do the Oompa Loompas have for Wonka? Based on the way he represented their country, their food, and their language, do you think he actually values their culture or just their ability to work and produce chocolate for him?
- Go around the room and have each group share out some of the key points from their quote discussion for 3-5 minutes each.
- Have students return to their desks. Share the following with them:
As some of you have discussed in your responses to the clip, Willy Wonka represents the Oompa Loompas and Loompaland through unfair stereotypes and uses them for his own advantage while doing it. However, it is important that we realize that this just isn’t the case of one character in a movie, but actually represents a longer real history of how people in the United States and Europe represent certain people and their cultures and have taken advantage of them—or exploited and appropriated them—for our own enjoyment and financial gain, particularly as it relates to chocolate. As some of you may have gathered from our discussions so far, in our real world, these are the unfair, often inaccurate, racist ways in which we represent the people of African and Latin American descent, the people who we do actually have to thank for the chocolate we enjoy today. That’s something that we will be exploring in the rest of our lesson.
Nonetheless, these racist representations were not a coincidence to the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and were intentionally written in by the author Roald Dahl when he published the book in 1964, a time when Black and Brown people around the world were engaging in social movements to challenge white supremacy, racism, and poverty; such as the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power, and the American Indian Movement here in the United States. Historian David Yacovone tells us that Dahl originally wrote the Oompa Loompas in as enslaved Africans. The following image, in fact, shows how they were illustrated in the 1964 edition of the book:
According to Yacovone:
When Charlie and the four other golden ticket holders and their parents first spied the Oompa-Loompas Wonka explained that the workers were not made of chocolate, but they “are real people! They are some of my workers!” They belonged to “a tribe of tiny miniature pygmies known as Oompa-Loompas. I discovered them myself,” Wonka exclaimed. I brought them over from Africa myself—the whole tribe of them, three thousand in all. I found them in the very deepest and darkest part of the African jungle where no white man had ever been before.”
After luring them in with the promise of endless cocoa beans, according to Yacovone:
Wonka “shipped them over here, every man, woman, and child in the Oompa-Loompa tribe. It was easy. I smuggled them over in large packing cases with holes in them, and they all got here safely.”
Once enslaved and shipped over to England in way similar to that of real enslaved Africans on the Middle Passage, Wonka not only forced them to do labor in his factory for nothing but beans in return and no chance of leaving or asking for more, but he also performed unethical experiments on them at his own leisure, such as turning them into blueberries. This treatment reflects the real violent ways that enslaved Black and Brown people have been treated by Europeans and the United States in the production of chocolate both historically and even in many ways in today’s world.[24-25] Eventually, Dahl would revise this racist representation in his story in 1982 after decades of criticism from the NAACP, but he continued to use such racist representations in other stories, and as we just saw, those representations continue to circulate through the 2005 film, one the most popular movies about chocolate in our contemporary lives. By not questioning the meanings behind these representations, as you all have done so well today, and understanding their histories, we hide the ways in which Black and Brown people still experience racism in our world today. To learn this history, we can all do our part to create a world without racism and poverty.
Part Two: Culture, Colonization, Slavery, and Chocolate Bars: How Chocolate Went from Something Sacred to Something Bittersweet
In part two, I will work with Professor Martin to further develop this lesson plan to include the cultural and spiritual significance of cacao in ancient Mesoamerican culture, the fundamental role of colonization and slavery in appropriation and production of chocolate in the Global North (drawing on my earlier blog post in the course), and the inequality and role of consumers in global chocolate production today.
Part Three: How to Recognize and Respond to Racism Today
To wrap up the lesson, teachers will revisit the earlier considerations around race and racism in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, examining chocolate’s broader use as a racist metaphor for Blackness in the twenty and twenty-first centuries. To end, students will again respond via live word clouds to the initial questions, comparing their original word clouds to the newly-enlightened ones, and the teacher will discuss ways for students to challenge racism in their lives today, which may include: creating a community action project to address an issue of racial inequality in their community in partnership with a local chocolate shop/producer, starting a reading/discussion group to talk about issues related to race and racism, starting a “Chocolate Week” to educate their school or community on the history of chocolate and celebrate/support the producers who we have to thank for it, implementing strategies to call out and change racist behaviors or representations. To celebrate their new knowledge, students should have a chance to enjoy ethically-sourced chocolate at the conclusion of the lesson!
 Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States, 3rd ed. (New York, Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2015), 137.
 Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (2006), 392.
 Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” 399.
 Heather Andrea Williams, Self-taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom, John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 13.
 Bettina Love, We Want To Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2019), 13.
 W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Souls of White Folk,” Monthly Review 55, no. 6 (2003): 46.
 Sylvia Wynter, “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues,” Forum H.H.I. Knowledge for the 21st Century 1, no. 1 (Fall 1994): 57-59.
 Jarvis R. Givens, “‘There Would Be No Lynching If It Did Not Start in the Schoolroom’: Carter G. Woodson and the Occasion of Negro History Week, 1926–1950,” American Educational Research Journal (2019): 9.
 Omi and Winant, Racial Formation, 132, 211.
 Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism Without Racists: Color-blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America, 5th ed. (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), 2-4.
 “Color Blindness,” Teaching Tolerance, accessed May 07, 2019, https://www.tolerance.org/professional-development/color-blindness.
 Bettina Love, We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom (Boston: Beacon Press, 2019), 14.
 Omi and Winant, Racial Formation, 137.
 Donald Yacovone, “Oh No! The Depressing Truth About the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory Workers,” History News Network, December 30, 2018, accessed May 3, 2019, https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170755.
[15-16] “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Loompa Land,” Youtube video, 3:41, “Willy Wonka,” January 16, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQ5GgslLgVQ.
 Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 3rd ed. (New York City, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2013).
 Jack Bareilles, “Women, Gays, and Other Voices of Resistance,” Zinn Education Project, 2011, accessed May 13, 2019, https://www.zinnedproject.org/materials/women-gays-and-other-voices-of-resistance/.
[19-23] Yacovone, “Oh No! The Depressing Truth,” https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170755.
 Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 186-196.
 Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power (New York, NY: Viking, 1985): 169-176.
 Yacovone, “Oh No! The Depressing Truth,” https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170755.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Loompa Land.” Youtube video, 3:41. “Willy Wonka,” January 16, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQ5GgslLgVQ.
Bareilles, Jack. “Women, Gays, and Other Voices of Resistance.” Zinn Education Project. 2011. Accessed May 13, 2019. https://www.zinnedproject.org/materials/women-gays-and-other-voices-of-resistance/.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. Racism without Racists: Color-blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. Fifth ed. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York City, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Du Bois, W. E. B. “The Souls of White Folk.” Monthly Review 55, no. 6 (2003): 44-58.
Givens, Jarvis R. “‘There Would Be No Lynching If It Did Not Start in the Schoolroom’: Carter G. Woodson and the Occasion of Negro History Week, 1926–1950.” American Educational Research Journal (2019): 1-38.
Love, Bettina. We Want To Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2019.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. New York, NY: Viking, 1985.
Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States. Third ed. New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2015.
Williams, Heather Andrea. Self-taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom. John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.
Wolfe, Patrick. “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.” Journal of Genocide Research 8, no. 4 (2006): 387-409.
Wynter, Sylvia. “No Humans Involved: An Open Letter to My Colleagues.” Forum H.H.I. Knowledge for the 21st Century 1, no. 1 (Fall 1994): 42-73.
Yacovone, Donald. “Oh No! The Depressing Truth About the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory Workers.” History News Network. December 30, 2018. Accessed May 3, 2019. https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170755.