Race is a socially constructed category of identity based on physical appearance that has greatly determined the social hierarchy in our society. The foundations of our society are based on white supremacy, an ideology that dates back to the era of colonization and slavery. Race was invented by white colonizers who sought to create a hierarchy between themselves, the Indigenous people whose land they were invading, and the African people they had enslaved. The colonizers used the concept of race to place themselves in the position of supremacy, and this legacy forms the foundation of modern American society. Today, race can be understood as a category that is shaped by social and political context. “Race” is different in different times, spaces, and contexts, and is not appropriate to characterize national, religious, geographic, linguistic, or ethnic groups. It’s very important for students to learn about race as a social construct to best act as agents of change for a racially just society.
There are many resources available on the internet for educators to refer to when teaching about race. Though this topic may be difficult to approach, it is essential for teachers to normalize discussions about race and to differentiate race from ethnicity. To face racism in our society, we must understand the nature of race as a social construct based in power dynamics and political contexts.
- Race & Ethnicity: Teaching Tolerance provides many helpful resources for those who want to teach their students about race and ethnicity. The website features sources (web packages, magazine features, publications, webinars, etc.) teaching about race, racism, police violence, the Black Lives Matter movement, whiteness, and more. The site offers almost 1,000 learning plans for various grade levels so there are many options to choose from depending on what information you want to focus on!
- Six Classroom Activities to Spark Discussion of Racism and Privilege: ASCD.org recommends six classroom activities to get students talking about race, privilege, and oppression. The activities include a bias quiz, analyzing Dr. Seuss’s The Sneetches, watching the 2017 Dove campaign, a microaggression exercise, a 5-minute film festival, and a lesson about labels. Some of these activities are intended for elementary and middle school students while others are geared towards older audiences.
- The Concept of Race: Facing History And Ourselves provides a 50-minute lesson plan about race and racism. The plan consists of essential questions, guiding questions, learning objectives, overview, context, notes to teachers, materials (three handouts, a video, and a reading), teaching strategies, activities, assessment, and extensions. The activities call for students to reflect on the meaning of race, learn about the history of “race,” explore the meaning of racism, consider the impact of racism, and reflect on the impact of categorizing people.
- Teaching Guide: Constructing Identity in the Spanish Colonies in America: This is a lesson plan to teach about the Castas paintings as historical context of the officialized beginnings of race and white supremacy. This history is crucial to understanding how pervasive white supremacy has been in building societies and defining relations between different ethnic groups. Knowing that this social system was made up by colonizers with no scientific grounding or collaboration between ethnicities provides students with a foundation for deconstructing the ways in which this unfounded and antiquated social system of hierarchy still holds structural power today.
- Teaching Race: Pedagogy and Practice: This article, which was published by Vanderbuilt, walks teachers through the common challenges to teaching about race and five principles to aid them along the way. The authors recommend teaching reflexivity, preparing for and welcoming difficulty, meeting students where they are, engaging affective and embodied dimensions of learning, and building a learning community. All in all, this lengthy article is a great resource for teachers because though it doesn’t provide exact lesson plans, it gives advice and strategies on how to teach about race in an effective way.
- America Has a Big Race Problem: The U.S. News & World Report published an article about the race problem in America. This article is an important one for all students to read, but it would probably be best for those in middle and high school. The topic mainly focused on is the fact that people still have racial prejudices about minorities due to the way they are raised. The author explains that each person is born without prejudice, but our experiences, conversations, and exposure to the media shapes us.
- TEACHING RACE IN SCHOOLS IN THE 21ST CENTURY: In this essay, “Douglas Edelstein, a Social Sciences instructor at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle, Washington, describes the challenges faced by instructors of all backgrounds in sensitively teaching issues of race in public and private schools” (Blackpast). This essay is important for teachers to read because it brings to light how many students in the minority feel when reading books, listening to lessons, and talking about race or racial issues that occurred in the past or present.
- Race and Racial Identity are Social Constructs: This article explains in plain accessible terms how race and racial identity are social constructs that depend on societal context and history. A good read for educators who want a more comprehensive understanding of race in the United States.
- Race and ethnicity: How are they different?: National Geographic’s Erin Blakemore wrote an informational page about the differences between race and ethnicity. She discusses the definition of race versus that of ethnicity, genetics and race, categorizing race, and the politics of race. This page is an easy-read that is fit for middle or high school students to read on their own to supplement lesson plans and class learning about race.
- Racism: Britannica’s page on racism is a good place for any teacher who wants to teach about race to start. The encyclopedia provides the raw facts about racism from the anti-semitism in Germany following World War I to segregation in the United States to the civil rights movement. Those who want to teach their students about the history behind racism and how it spread (in different forms) throughout the world will benefit from incorporating this page into their classroom lessons on race.
- Facilitating Critical Conversations with Students: This page by Teaching Tolerance offers links to many teaching strategies and ideas for educators to use when teaching about race in the classroom. The goal is to help teachers learn how to communicate with students about modern day racism in a productive antiracist way.
Discrimination due to race is an important topic that is often overlooked by parents, students, and teachers, because slavery has been abolished and segregated schools, water fountains, bathrooms, etc. are illegal. However, racial inequality, discrimination, and racism are not, unfortunately, facts of the past. Therefore, it is so important for students to be educated and aware of the impact of racism on the everyday lives of many people. As important as it is for students to be educated about this sensitive topic, keep in mind who your audience is. Certain students may be more responsive to your lessons than others because of their past experiences. Overall, it is important for you to be careful and aware of students’ reactions to the material!
- First Encounters With Race and Racism: Teaching Ideas for Classroom Conversations: The New York Times published an article to help teachers conduct lessons about racism with their students. The article provides a warm-up, videos, four stories, corresponding questions, class discussion questions, and ideas for going further. The author, Jinnie Spiegler, also offers much additional information to aid teachers with the goal to teach about the subject of racism.
- Teaching about Racism, Violence, Inequity and the Criminal Justice System: ADL provides a lengthy list of resources available for teachers to use in the classroom. Links for lesson plans, resources for educators, resources for parents and family members, and children’s and young adult books are provided. These resources are meant to be relevant to today’s times and help students (and possibly teachers and other adults) recognize their biases against other races.
- A Teaching Tolerance Guide: Let’s Talk: Teaching Tolerance put together a guide about discussing race, racism, and other difficult topics with students. The guide consists of a plan for teachers to prepare themselves for teaching about these topics, a plan for students, professional development resources, and student-facing resources.