Race, Racism, and Genetics

What is race? Is there a biological basis to race? Students explore the socio-political construction of race and investigate whether there is biological and scientific basis to the idea of race.
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What is race? Students learn about the role of race as an important part of social identity before examining race as a social and political construct influenced and reinforced by bias and structural racism. Our current scientific understanding of the biological basis of human genetic variation demonstrates that there are no biological features that are present in all members of one "race" group and not in others. While race is not a genetically meaningful category, it can still impact biology through the enactment of racist policies and practices - which result in inequities in areas such as healthcare. 


8 Lesson plans
Adapted for Remote Learning 

"The arc of this unit is one of the things I find most useful and timely. Recognizing the on-going history of racism in science, the unit builds an understanding of the biological myth of race while helping unpack the social construct that still makes racism all-too-real, present, and harmful. In my 20+ years of teaching, I cannot think of any other curriculum I have used that so adeptly crossed disciplines, bringing science, society, and public policy together for teachers and students in ways that truly help them think critically about the world we live in."

Elliott Gimble, Science Teacher, Lexington High School, MA

Step 1: Complete Short Usage Survey

Complete the short teacher survey to support our grant-funded lessons.

Step 2: Review Unit and Teacher Prep Materials

Unit Overview

An overview of the unit with lesson summaries, unit calendar/timeline, and more information for the teacher before teaching this unit. 


Unit Preface

Information on our approach to science teaching & learning, background reading on race and racism for teachers, and credits & acknowledgments. 


Teacher Pre-modules

A set of interactive modules covering topics that teachers should be comfortable with before starting this unit. These pre-modules are set up for teachers to reflect on their own understanding of race, racism, and biological essentialism and work on developing their critical consciousness before teaching the materials to students. 


Setting the Stage

Ideas for setting the stage to have conversations about race and racism. This includes ideas for framing the lessons for students prior to beginning as well as resources for creating discussion guidelines and classroom norms. 


Step 3: Download Lessons

Driving Question Intro / Identity

Use a Driving Question Board to generate questions related to the idea of race. Explore elements of avowed and ascribed identities (including race and ancestry) and how these identities can influence one’s experiences.

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Implicit Bias and Structural Racism

Explore the three levels of racism (structural/systemic, personally mediated, and internalized), and how cognitive shortcuts our brains make are influenced by each to create implicit bias.

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Racism and Scientific History

Understand the impact of some scientists in creating and furthering the idea of race and racial hierarchies to justify oppression, exploitation, and genocide. More recently, scientists studying human variation have provided evidence for why race is not inherently a biologically meaningful category.

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Race is not Ancestry

Investigate whether race and ancestry are related examining  the fluid nature of race categories relative to a person’s ancestry. Learn about migration and mixing over human history. Study the US Census categories to observe the changes in racial ideas over time. 



Race is Not Genetic: Sources of Variation

Explore the impact of geography, history, and evolutionary factors on human genetic variation and whether race makes a good proxy for ancestry when describing human groups. 

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Race is Not Genetic: Characterizing Variation

Explore whether genetics or genes can be a good tool to distinguish one “race” group from another. Learn that there is more variation within, than between, conventional race groups.


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Health Inequities

Is race really a risk factor for certain diseases? Explore what it means when one group of people is at higher risk than others. 

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Student Education Campaigns

Reflect on the lessons and apply those to an education campaign to promote deeper understandings about race and take action for justice. 


Unit Closing and Final Assessment

Reflect on and close out the lessons by applying student learning to a fictional or real-world example of a race-based misconception and responding to it. Includes a new decision tree tool for crafting your own response and a post-unit survey. 

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