The Illusion of Race

The Illusion of Race


In this lesson, you will investigate both genetic and societal consequences of the often-artificial and evolving classifications of humans into different groups. You will examine the long-term repercussions of these classifications that have resulted in racism, wars, and genocide.


Now, go to and read Human Diversity—Go Deeper on the Race—The Power of an Illusion site. Look for answers to these questions as you read the resource. You can write your answers on The Illusion of Race student sheet:

  • What do we each think of when we say the word “race”?
  • What race/races do we identify with?
  • What if you were told that you were actually a different race or had racial characteristics that matched another group than your own?
  • What identifies us scientifically as being of a specific race?
  • Why can’t we map one gene trait or characteristic that tells us how to recognize one member of a race from another?
  • Why have other animal species been able to accumulate more genetic variations than human beings?
  • How long do you think it takes to accumulate gene variants?
  • Why do we talk in terms of ancestry instead of race when we discuss genetic differences in humans?
  • Can you name any possible biological consequences of the social reality of race?

Go to and read Human Diversity: How Different Are We? You should read the material in the Explore Diversity section. Think about these questions as you read the resource and write your answers on the student sheet:

  • Scientists have found through the study of population genetics that human populations are different from one another in very small ways determined by the amounts or proportions of alleles, or genetic components in their DNA, not the overall kinds. This means that we are really only slightly different from one another, but in what ways? Why do we think these differences are so important?
  • Are we more alike or different? What other kinds of findings are there as we study genetics and DNA?
  • What are the markers for skin color, hair color and type, and eye color? Can this change through generations?
  • Can you have a lot of genetic markers in common with the person sitting next to you even though you may be unrelated in any way? What is your genetic family history?

Finally, go to and read Race is an illusion, say researchers, a science article about research that scientists conducted in Brazil. Read through the site and answer these questions on your student sheet:

  • What did the researchers in Brazil use to do their research?
  • What were the researchers trying to establish or find out in their study?
  • Why did the researcher, Dr. Peen, and his colleagues choose to study the population in Brazil?
  • What did they hope to find out about race?
  • What did they find out about the concept of race—classifying humans into groups based on their physical characteristics and genetic ancestry?
  • If you were heading up a research team, what would you investigate about race and what people would you study?

Knowledge Check

Your teacher will assign you and your group a question from Ask the Experts on the Race–Power of an Illusion site. Work with your group to summarize the response from the expert and present it to the class. As part of your presentation, develop a few questions that the audience needs to answer from the presentation.

This esheet is a part of the The Illusion of Race lesson.

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