Course Objectives

Students will:

  • Learn how and why race is primarily a social construct with legislative, political, economic, and material implications that translate into biological consequences.
  • Learn to identify and evaluate how and why diverse racialized groups construct different narratives about race and racism.
  • Learn how to engage in well-informed, and honest yet respectful discussions and other forms of communication about race and racism. 
  • Practice working towards developing actionable steps to disrupt the reliable reproduction of racialized social inequalities.

Lecture Schedule

Note that this is a draft outline and that the lecturers and their order may be subject to change.

August 30th

Introduction and Overview + What is Race?: A Conversation with Joseph Graves

This session provides an overview of historical and contemporary understandings of human biological variation and its connections to race. Drawing on fields such as evolutionary biology and population genetics, it utilizes a comparative and global approach to examine the concept of ‘race’ in humans and other organisms. The session explores both the emergence of and retreat from ideologies about the existence of biological race and racial hierarchies in humans.  

Charmaine DM Royal, Ph.D. 
Professor of African & African American Studies, Biology, Global Health, Family Medicine & Community Health, and Director of the Center on Genomics, Race, Identity, Difference and the Center for Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation 

Jay Pearson, Ph.D.
Associate Research Professor of Global Health, Faculty Research Scholar of DuPRI’s Population Research Center, Associate of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society

Joseph Graves, PhD.
Professor of Biological Science at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Fellow of the Council of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

September 6th

Freedom, Liberty, and Just Us: Anthropology and the Science of the “Civilized”

This session focuses on race as a social construct and how that construct has changed, morphed, and adapted to perpetuate white supremacy. The discipline of anthropology played a crucial role in constructing racial hierarchies and “defining” who was savage, barbarian, or civilized. This hierarchy justified blatant discrimination and institutionalized racism such as Indian removal, slavery, and Chinese exclusion within a nation founded on the pillars of democracy – freedom, justice, equality, and liberty.  The session will cover the critiques of biological notions of race and help explain the persistence and power of race as a worldview.

Lee Baker, Ph.D. 
Mrs. A. Hehmeyer Professor of Cultural Anthropology, African & African-American Studies, and Sociology, Duke University 

September 13

What Makes Racism “Systemic” and the Convenient Myth of Colorblindness 

After the murder of George Floyd, the term “systemic racism” gained visibility and seemingly acceptance. Even President Biden and Kamala Harris have used the term. However, most liberals who use the term. Including the President and the Vice-President, do not seem to know what it means and the implications of the term. In truth, most still subscribe to the “Bad apples” view of racism (i.e., racism as a matter of a few prejudiced individuals in the nation).  In this lecture, we will discuss 1) the limitations of the prejudice view on racism, 2) address what makes racism systemic, 3) examine in some detail “color-blind racism” or the dominant racial ideology of the Post-Civil Rights era, and 4) ponder what kind of policies and politics are needed to undo racism in the nation. If the lecture succeeds, students will leave the classroom with a new, more robust conceptual map of what racism is all about and an understanding of why the simplistic view that colorblindness is the solution to America’s racial problems is problematic. 

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, PhD.
James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of Sociology

September 20

Immigration Policy and Race

In “Immigrant Whiteness” Professor Gunther Peck provides an overview of the rich and contradictory ways that U.S. immigration law has both structured and been transformed by perceived hierarchies of race and political power across U.S. history.  Beginning with a brief analysis of the 1790 naturalization law, the lecture examines the dilemmas that “new” immigrants to the United States have navigated in securing rights and accommodating white racial hierarchy.  Peck demonstrates how and why immigrant whiteness has never been authored by skin color but instead by political “facts,” such as anti-black racism, insecure voting rights for citizens, and a need for selective inclusion into the exclusive spaces of elite economic and political authority in the United States. As such, immigrant whiteness provides a rich window into how white supremacy, so-called, has historically worked and been challenged and resisted.

Gunther Peck, Ph.D. 
Associate Professor of History, Director of the Hart Leadership Program, and Associate Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University 

September 27

Global and Comparative Perspectives on Race 

Race and racism manifest differently across areas and regions of the world and through historical periods. This module explores select cases of variable forms of race and racism around the globe, and asks questions such as the differences and similarities between race, caste, ethnicity as conceived in variable contexts.

Jessica Namakkal, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of the Practice in the International Comparative Studies Program and History, Duke University 

October 4

Indigenous Peoples: American Indians in the U.S.

American Indians are a political status, but are often positioned as a race in the United States. The ways in which they have been racialized are distinct from the racialization of other US groups and serve many purposes for settler-colonial society from resource theft to political termination. This session introduces who American Indians are and how they have both co-opted and subverted attempts by non-Native US society at their racialized erasure and assimilation. 

Courtney Lewis, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University

October 18

Higher Education Policy and Racial Equity

What role have higher education policies played in shaping racial equity in the United States? This session considers the feedback effects that landmark higher education programs have had on Black Americans’ access to college degrees and, more broadly, democratic citizenship.

Deondra Rose, Ph.D.
Kevin D. Gorter Associate Professor of Public Policy, Director of Polis: Center for Politics, Co-director of the North Carolina Strategy Network

October 25

Race and the Law: Critical Race Theory

This module provides an overview of the influence of race and ethnicity on substantive law and legal processes in the U.S. It critically examines the ways in which racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism are inextricably interwoven into laws and legal processes. 

Trina Jones, J.D.
Jerome M. Culp Distinguished Professor of Law

November 1

Weathering Racism: Entrenching Health Inequity 

Every day in America, a broad swath of people see their chances for a long active life diminished in the crucible of racialized social identity. In members of groups who must struggle for validation or success against strong headwinds, a set of physiological pathways are chronically activated that can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancers, accelerated aging, weakened immune systems, and other life-threatening vulnerabilities. The triggers of these physiological processes are social and dynamic, even though they occur in individual bodies. This biopsychosocial process is called “weathering.”  This module explores how weathering afflicts human bodies—all the way down to the cellular level—when they grow, develop, and age in a racist, classist society. 

 Arline Geronimus, Sc.D.
Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan, Associate Director & Research Professor, Population Studies Center, Institute for Social Research

November 8

Race and American Foreign Policy

A defining feature of US based racial construction, racial hierarchy and racial bias is that the constructs have been effectively packaged and marketed for international distribution in ways such that these phenomena play out around the world.  In this session, students will be introduced to how racism informs, influences and is in turn influenced by US Foreign Policy decision making and international relationships.

Bruce Jentleson, Ph.D.
William Preston Few Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Political Science at Duke University, Distinguished Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

November 15

Planning Racial Inequality: Evidence from Litigation

African American and Latino communities are more likely to be excluded from towns and cities, more likely to be denied local political representation and basic services municipalities provide, and more likely to be the targets of government actions aimed to displace non-white residents.  I focus show how governments use zoning, annexation, and other land-use powers to perpetuate racial segregation, to attempt to block affordable housing, to deny equal public services to African American and Latino communities, and to use zoning and other administrative powers to change the racial composition of towns.  Most of the evidence presented is from fair housing and other civil rights litigation over the past fifteen years.

Allan McMillan Parnell, Ph.D.
Cedar Grove Institute for Sustainable Communities

November 22

Race, Racism, and Health Equity

The sociological model of research that prioritizes the control for membership in various groups has made “controlling for” race in health related research ubiquitous. However, there is often little to no thought put into what scholars are seeking to measure when they include race as a variable in health and medical research. Is it a proxy for Racism? Cultural beliefs? Different preferences? Structural barriers? Biological differences? This session will use the differential mortality from COVID 19 by race to explore these issues.

Tyson Brown, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center on Health and Society, Duke University

November 29

Race and Popular Culture
Major recent social trends such as #Oscarsowhite and #Metoo have revealed the persistence of homogeneity and racial and gender power dynamics in film and other cultural industries. This persistence has long existed in the stories and characters we have come to accept as the “norm” from content to behind the scenes—of who is valued and given the platform as our storytellers, icons, and content producers. This module explores variable arenas of cultural industries both nationally and internationally, and asks faculty, creatives, critics, industry insiders, why race (and other disparities) still matter. Together, we reflect on past histories as well as current trends, including an unprecedented recent expansion of diversity in some content and platforms, to consider where we are heading. 

Esther Kim Lee, Ph.D.
Professor of Theater Studies and the International Comparative Studies Program, Duke University