Today at TMSE we discussed race and human variation. The lecture covered the intricacies of how we perceive race in America by addressing what anthropologists view it as. It is important to know that race is a social construct, rather than based in biology, which means that while it appears natural and factual it is actually largely reliant on the interpretation of the individual. In addition to having no biological, scientific basis, anthropologists do not use race as a definable category because our perceptions can so easily differentiate.
Instead, we recognize that what is perceived as race (i.e., skin color), is due to our ancestor’s adaptations to different environments. For example, lighter skin developed further away from equator to facilitate the absorption of vitamin D, while darker skin developed along the equator to protect from the sun’s harsh UV rays. Further, rather than classifying or categorizing people based on race, we tend to examine ethnicity instead.
We told the students about how our views on race might differentiate from what they have grown up believing. This lesson is incredibly important to teach at this age because it teaches students that while we may have different genetic makeup, race is not a reliable way to classify people and should not be used to make further assumptions. To demonstrate this for our activity we gave each clan a group of pictures featuring portraits of different people across the country. The students were then asked to classify each face into a certain racial category (white, black, asian, or hispanic) that they felt best described each picture. Some of these caused disagreement and confusion which led the students to question what exactly race must signify. Once they finished, we read the results of each picture out loud to the class and after each one at least one of the groups seemed to be shocked! They seemed to realize that race was not as black and white as they had assumed.
We used the remainder of our class period to color pictures of people from all over the world with different backgrounds and discussed why we should not categorize people in terms of the color of their skin. All in all, the class was successful and we have been so proud of our third graders these past seven weeks!