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Understanding Race

Let’s explore race as a concept. Before sharing this definition, we ask that you reflect on your personal understanding of race by answering the following questions:

  • What is race to you?
  • How does your race impact you on a day-to-day basis?
  • Are there any unique events that have occurred exclusively because of your race?

As defined by the 21 Day Equity Challenge, race is “a socially constructed way of grouping people based on skin color and other apparent physical differences, which has no genetic or scientific basis. The ideology of race has become embedded in our identities, institutions, and culture and is used as a basis for discrimination and domination.”

  1. Race is a made-up social construct, and not an actual biological fact.
  2. Race designations have changed over time. Some groups that are considered “white” in the United States today were considered “non-white” in previous eras, in U.S. Census data and in mass media and popular culture (for example, Irish, Italian, and Jewish people).

Drake graduate, Kennedy Mitchum wrote to the editors of Merriam-Webster to update the definition of racism. She stated that racism is “prejudice combined with social and institutional power. It is a system of advantage based on skin color.” Click here for the segment.

After thinking on the questions and the definition of race above, let’s utilize the resources below to explore racial identity and the role that it can play in the lives of not only yourself but your peers and coworkers as well.

This is not a list of resources but a guide for how to approach and use those resources to further your own education, understanding, and action.

Build your knowledge on this term. - become more educated/informed about a social issue, community of people, the historical roots of systemic inequality, how systems and institutions reflect and maintain racial and socio-economic hierarchies, theory, data, and storytelling about an issue


Take a few minutes to review the definitions found in the Racial Equity Tools Glossary.


Read the article Race and Racial Identity Are Social Constructs by Angela Onwuachi-Willig on how race is not a proven concept, but instead a social construct.

Read “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh.


Watch the TEDx Talk Unpacking My Baggage: Re-framing Racial Identity by Abbi Van Hook to see an alternative way of looking at racial identity based on varying cultures. (2:47)

Watch Growing Pains from TEDxYouth@Davenport — A collaboration of three lifelong friends, they recount their very different experiences growing up in very similar situations. Nia, Lily, and Nina express their unique and similar struggles, using their voice in this story-based speaking performance. (5:05)


Increase proximity or engagement - have more personal experiences with the social issue or community you are learning about which, for those of us with race-based privilege, means going outside of our own segregated communities where these issues have not been visible.

Support BIPOC owned businesses in the Des Moines Area. The list can be found here.

Increase your awareness and engagement of the culturally based organizations located in the Greater Des Moines area. Here. (This is a working document. We highly encourage new information, resources, and suggestions for edits and/or updates.)

Increase your understanding and support of the Drake initiatives below.

  • #PaintItBlack: In the fall of 2018, students, faculty, and staff broke a campus street painting tradition by painting the street black, as a symbol of solidarity with students of color on Drake’s campus. The goal of the movement was to reinforce equity and inclusion initiatives. There is a plaque that stands as a reminder of their efforts and to acknowledge a continued effort to participate in meaningful action against racism. Click here for more information.

  • Multicultural Houses: Drake’s multicultural houses are designed to be the space where students, staff, and faculty members purposefully take part in the dialogue, which will affirm the rich histories of marginalized communities of color, diverse ethnic backgrounds, religions, gender, and sexual orientation. Click here for more information.

  • Affinity Groups: The Office of Equity and Inclusion sponsors faculty and staff affinity groups. These groups provide opportunities for faculty and staff from underrepresented identities to get to know each other, socialize, and provide support for one another. Click here for more information.

  • Unity Roundtable: UNITY Roundtable is a group of multicultural student organizations at Drake University working towards inclusion & educational opportunities. Click here for more information.

Engage in critical and continuous reflection - creating meaning from the knowledge and proximity through critical thinking that explores one's personal experience of and role in systemic inequality as well as one's understanding of what change could look like and how to do it as an individual and in community with others.

On-going learning (especially in groups) can be a form of ongoing action. How can you learn more about the thing you are interested in? For instance, if you learned about police brutality, can you find some history of that issue in the United States or wherever you are?

  • Can you take a free online class or attend a public event about that issue?
  • Can you find another book, movie, podcast, etc. to consume to increase your understanding?
  • Can you find people working on this and join their movement? Can you volunteer?

Want to lead a discussion on this topic? Find the Facilitator's Guide here!


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