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Day 1: What is Race?

Thank you for taking this challenge! If this is your first day of joining us for the 14-Day Equity Challenge, welcome. If you are returning after previous engagement with the challenge, nice work! We are glad you are here.

This challenge is designed to push you out of your comfort zone, think critically about difficult topics, and grow in your understanding of the ways people and systems perpetuate (and have the power to eliminate) racism. We’re excited to invite you to this opportunity to dive deeper into racial equity and social justice.

View other challenges: Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9Day 10Day 11Day 12Day 13Day 14

Day 1: What is Race?

What do we mean when we say that race is “socially constructed?” A social construct is a concept of reality that is created by humans. It is not natural or universal but invented when we give meaning to the world and pass that meaning on through shared understanding. Social constructions are not “real.”
But how can something that we can see and categorize, like race, not be real? The answer is found in socialization. When we “see” race, what we are really seeing is a system of categories we have been taught, both implicitly and explicitly, to notice and interpret. Say, for example, that instead of categorizing people by the color of their skin, we were taught to categorize them by the shape of their feet! Like race, there would be more variation within these groups than across them, and their meanings would change across history, location, and culture.
So, if race isn’t real, does it still matter? The simple answer is yes. Even if race has no real biological foundation, the social meanings we have assigned to race are in fact very real—and consequential.

Systems of racial privilege and oppression give race the power to determine much of our lives, from where we live to the income we earn and the schools our kids go to. While it’s important to realize that race itself isn’t real, it’s just as important to recognize its very real consequences on our lives.
Today, you’ll be challenged to look at race from a social standpoint and learn more about how an un-scientific concept shapes how see the world today.

If you have…

Watch this video
on what makes race a social construct

Read this article
about the new findings in genetics that are breaking down old ideas about race

Teja Arboleda explain how racial categories are unnatural using his personal experience

Curious to learn more about the creation of race? Schedule a visit to the RACE Exhibit at the YWCA Cass Clay Administrative Offices to see our displays on the history of race and changing racial categories in the U.S. Census.


Once you have completed today’s challenge, we encourage you to take a moment to reflect.

  • How did the challenge make you feel?
  • What is something you learned?
  • Did you notice anything about yourself after taking the challenge?
  • Consider sharing this new awareness with a friend or group to help deepen your understanding of the information.

Share your thoughts on the challenge online using #YWCAEquityChallenge