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A provocative study illuminates our nation's collective civic fault lines

As a Harvard doctoral student researching the topic of youth leadership, author Max Klau stumbled upon a provocative educational exercise that changed the course of his life.

On the last morning of a week-long residential youth leadership program focused on teaching about social justice, high-school aged participants gather before breakfast for what they think will be normal day. Instead, something unusual happens: They are told by the Program Directors to separate into groups: Whites, Asians, Jews, Latinos, LGBTG, Latinx, Black. They are instructed not to make eye contact with other groups or talk with other groups, and then they are told to go to breakfast: The White group goes in first, sits at a big table and gets double servings, and every group lower in the hierarchy gets less food and a smaller table. The Black group ends up sitting on the floor with almost nothing to eat.

It’s called the Separation Exercise, and it’s an attempt to simulate a hierarchical, segregated, Jim Crow-style social system. Over the course of the morning, the participants begin to challenge these unjust norms, and events unfold that mirror events of the real-life civil rights movement in surprising ways.

The Separation Exercise, it turns out, provides a remarkable opportunity to observe the unfolding of social change using the tools of empiricism and social science. Klau spent the next four years of his life engaged in rigorous research of three more of these Separation Exercises in a quest to discover what might be learned from observing the unfolding of multiple simulated civil rights movements. This book describes the personal journey that led to this effort, the ethical considerations surrounding this kind of study, the surprising findings that emerged from this inquiry, and the implications that all this has for matters of race and social change in the real world today.

Readers will:

  • Review a long tradition of classic, provocative social science experiments-like Milgram's obedience experiments , the Stanford prison experiments, and the Brown Eyes/ Blues Eyes activity--and learn how the study presented here extends that tradition into new and unexplored territory

  • Encounter an introduction to the relatively new science of complex systems. It’s a perspective that is essential for understanding system-wide change, and that illuminates matters of race and social change in surprising and unexpected ways.

  • Engage with findings from years of research that reveal insights into dynamics of race and social change unfolding simultaneously at the individual, group, and whole systems levels

  • Encounter a call to action with implications for our own personal journeys and for national policy at this critical moment in American civic life

At a moment when our nation is once again bitterly divided around matters at the heart of American civic life, Race and Social Change: A Quest, A Study, A Call to Action seeks to push our collective journey forward with insights that promise to promote insight, understanding, and healing.

What People are Saying

"Provocative and deeply reflective….Articulate & wise….Klau inspires because he provides both a sober analysis of the complexity of race relations, and provides a practical way forward."
—Ronald Heifetz, Co-founder, Center for Public Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School

"Max Klau brilliantly helps us to understand racial privilege and inequity from an interrelated systems perspective. This is a must read.”
—Cynthia Cherrey, President and CEO, International Leadership Association

"Timely and remarkable… Must reading for social entrepreneurs."
—Robert L. Gordon III, Social Entrepreneur and Cross Sector Leader

"A learning journey and a jewel…for anyone who craves unity and harmony in our divided and challenged world.”
—Charlie Rose, Senior Vice President and Dean, City Year

“Brilliant….A Tour de Force”
-Rabbi David Jaffee, author of Changing the World from the Inside Out. 

“Undeniably important to society today.”
-Book review, Gobs of Reviews

“I couldn’t put this book down.”
-Reader review on Amazon

A portion of all proceeds from this book are being donated to Restaurant Opportunity Centers United, an organization dedicated to improving wages and working conditions for the 14 million people who work in America's restaurant industry.