Unpacking Race • Part 1:
An Introduction to Race and Racism

Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3  Part 4 • Part 5

On February 4th, 2013 we kicked off our 5-week series on Unpacking Race.  Goals of the first workshop session were to build trust, establish a positive learning environment, and explore definitions of race and ethnicity.  Using written words and spoken stories—along with images and movement created by the body—our group got began its shared understanding of systemic racism and how it affects each of us.

Definitions and Activity:

To begin talking about race and ethnicity, we started with some definitions borrowed from the Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice curriculum.  While people in our group took issue with the exact wording of these definitions, we used them as a base for talking about race:  
  • Race: A social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history, ethnic classification, which serve social, economic,and political needs of a society at a given time.
  • Ethnicity: A social construct which divides people into smaller social groups based on characteristics such as shared sense group membership, values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history and ancestral geographical base and can be self-selected and imposed or both at the same time.
After sharing the above definitions of race and ethnicity, each person in the group stated what their race and ethnicity was.  We then divided into smaller groups to discuss our experiences.  As a baseline for these discussions, we worked with the following four agreements from Courageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools:
  1. Stay Engaged
  2. Experience Discomfort
  3. Speak Your Own Truth
  4. Expect and Accept Non-closure
For more on these agreements and other definitions for discussing race and racism, see the readings below.

Readings and Videos:

Throughout this series we are assigning things to be read and watched before coming to each workshop.  These materials deepen our understanding of the racial construct by giving us a chance to see its historical development, an essential part of understanding how it persists today.  Whether you're enrolled in the workshop or not, you can click on the titles to link to the following essays:
  • All workshop attendees, please read Drawing the Color Line,” from A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.  
  • For tools in talking about race and racism, we recommend reading Four Agreements of Courageous Conversation,” from Courageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools by Glenn Singleton, Cyndie Hays and Curtin Linton.
  • For a shared set of terms to use in talking about race and racism, look at “Definitions on General Concepts: Racism,” from Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, Adams, Bell and Griffin.
  • Below is a 6-minute excerpt from Race the Power of an Illusion: The Difference Between Us.  You can see the full hour-long episode at by clicking here.