This exercise shows how we can be divided into different biological groups depending on the criteria we use.
NOTE: This exercise is not meant to demonstrate that we are all the same or that races don’t matter. The point is that racial differences are not biologically based.
Allow 20-30 minutes for the activity and discussion.
Give the following instructions to the students:
“I will be reading off a list of inherited, biological traits. Stand up and sort yourselves into groups based on these traits. I will read off several traits and you will re sort into groups after I read each physical trait. After I have read all of the traits, will discuss this activity as a group.”
Read the first trait. Once the students are in the groups, allow them a moment to look around and see how the group sorted itself. Then, read the next trait.
“Sort yourselves into groups based on _____”
Whether or not your tongue curls
Natural hair color
Left-handedness or right-handedness
Skin color (compare the inside of your upper arm)
Do the people in the groups stay the same from one characteristic to the next?
Is there a clear dividing line between racial groups or is the boundary more gradual or blurred?
We might tend to think that people from a different racial or ethnic background are also somehow biologically different than we are. Were you in groups along with people from other races or ethnicities?
All of these traits are biological characteristics. What does this activity tell us about whether or not the idea of race is a biological fact? Can you divide people into distinct racial groups based on biological factors?
At the end of the activity, read the following to the students:
"Humans come in all shapes, sizes and skin colors. As we have seen in this activity, there are many different, equally valid ways one can sort people into groups. Racial classification is not scientific. There isn't a single gene, trait, or characteristic that distinguishes all the members of one "race" from all the members of another. This is because racial categories are socially constructed, meaning they are an idea that was invented by human beings, not created in nature. However, just because there is no scientific basis for race, this does not mean race is not important. Race is a powerful idea that was invented by people and still affects our life experiences.”
Visit www.pbs.org/race for more activities and games on misconceptions about biology and race.
Modified from a California Newsreel activity found on www.whatsrace.org