As Dr. Joseph L. Graves shows in “Race ≠ DNA,” many individuals in the U.S. assume that biological race exists in humans and associate it with people’s physical features. While biological race in humans is a fallacy (and often used to further racist assumptions), research shows that the socially-defined racial group to which one belongs strongly influences people’s lived experiences. These ideas are worth examining since meaningful conversations about race and racism cannot take place among educators and students unless socially defined race, biological race, human variation and ancestry—and the misconceptions that surround them—are understood.
- How does your curriculum refute or reinforce common misconceptions about race and ancestry?
- How might implicit bias affect your relationships with students?
- How can your school counter stereotype threats among students and foster identity-safety?
Note: The following activities are intended for cross-curricular professional learning communities.
Apply the Research
Share “If Race is a Social Construct, What’s the Deal with DNA Ancestry Testing?” with your colleagues and then discuss the following questions.
- According to Dr. Graves, what factors help explain why “our collective understanding of race is so flawed and incomplete”? And, how are these factors relevant to educators?
- What risks and negative consequences, specifically for racial minorities in your school, do flawed understandings of race and ancestry carry?
Now, dive deeper and discuss the question(s) below that aligns with your respective subject area(s).
- Social studies: Do textbooks in our school discuss misconceptions about biological race, and how they have been used to promote white supremacy? Explain.
- Science: Does your school address human evolution and help students understand genetic variation and biological race? Explain.
- Language arts: Do any assigned readings perpetuate misconceptions about biological race and ancestry? Explain.
Challenge Your Assumptions
Read the three-part blog series on implicit bias, stereotype threat and identity safety by Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas—director of Not In Our School—and then lead a conversation around the discussion questions.
- Can you think of an occasion when you attributed a student’s behavior or ability to their socially-constructed race? Provide examples of how this stereotyping might stem from implicit bias.
- How can your school faculty and staff take steps to address implicit bias?
- What can you do to counteract stereotype threat among your students?
- What steps can you take to build identity-safe classrooms and school?
Take Next Steps
Devise a plan for teaching the distinctions between biological race, socially-defined race and ancestry to students.