This unit on the social construction of race in the US will be built upon the foundational concepts of power and hegemony, which have relevance for the entire course, but which are particularly suited for understanding racial politics in the United States. Power dynamics and hegemonic discourse play a central role in both the history of racism and race, as well as in conversations about the subject. Therefore, activities exploring power and hegemony will serve as the basis for this unit on race, while also providing a theoretical scaffolding for our broader study of identity and justice.
The unit on race will span several weeks and at least five distinct lessons, covering a variety of topics and themes. We will begin this unit by asking the complex questions of what is race, and what determines race in the eyes of individuals and states? Students will access their prior knowledge and draw on their own experiences to collaboratively brainstorm and discuss their ideas on this complex opening question. From here we will move into acknowledging the myth that race has a biological basis, debunking this theory and introducing students to the concept of race as a social construction. Next we will continue with an inquiry-based approach, questioning the origins, history, and purposes of the construction of race. This will lead us to a critical history of colonial America, a historical era perhaps familiar to students, though previously taught and learned quite differently than it will be in this unit.
We will examine ideas of citizenship and concepts of whiteness through laws and legal documents, US Census categories, and excerpts of literature. These diverse sources aim to demonstrate to students how racial discourses are malleable, and how their changes are dependent upon the social, economic, and political conditions of a society at a given period of time. Furthermore, we will look at the ways in which these constructions and histories of race have—since their origin—had racist implications. We will consider the ways in which race continues to both divide and unite people, and we will conclude the unit by asking: How can race and ethnicity—concepts whose biological bases are myths, and whose social realities point to stark inequities—still exist as a source of identity and for many even a source of pride?