STEP 4: Have the students “deconstruct” how race is organized. Of course, physical differences exist, but the relationship between these differences do not match up. Skin, hair, eye color are mixed up. Depending on what biological characteristics we focus on, we’ll end up with different categories.
Skin tone varies from very light to very dark. How do we draw lines? People from the Mediterranean often share a skin tone similar to those from Northern Africa, but they are often put into different categories of “white” and “black.” In addition, the categories themselves are not stable. In the U.S. we have a “dual-race” system that
some people call the “one drop rule.” At one point, if you were of 1/32nd African heritage, you were considered “black.” In Brazil, the Caribbean, (and New Orleans for a long time), there was a category on census records called “mulatto.” In Latin America, there is a category that acknowledges mixture between Europeans and Native people—mestizo. It’s possible for people to “change race” when they move from one place to another. Often times, people from the Caribbean, Latin America, or India will say, “I never thought of myself as black, but in the U.S. that’s how I’m defined.” Here are some other examples:
• Jews were not considered white and were often put in their own racial category.
• Through most of the 1800s, Irish and Southern European immigrants were also excluded from the white category.
• In addition, many European immigrants did not identify as white when they first moved to the United States. We have records of immigrants referring to “white” people and meant European-Americans that had been in the U.S. for generations.
For more resources on teaching on the social construction of race see:
• Luke Eric Lassiter’s Invitation to Anthropology. Published by Rowman & Littlefield (2014).
• The American Anthropological Association’s “Statement on Race”: http://www.americananthro.org/ConnectWithAAA/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=2583
• Race: Are We So Different has three interactive portal, history, human variation, and lived experience, to share with students: http://www.understandingrace.org