How has race and intersectionality impacted your life?
"Race is what raises a child of color living in the United States."
I am an African American woman, and race has always played a role in my life. I’ve always tried to steer away from the stereotypes. I don't want to seem angry. I don't want to seem frustrated. I don't want to seem aggressive. I don't want to over-sexualize myself. I shouldn’t have to think about all this, but I still very much do. I'm always motivating myself to feel that I can be in spaces where I've grown up feeling like I can't be. I always tell myself that I am worthy, or, yes, I do have the education for this specific position, or to be in this room, or with that company, whatever it may be. I keep telling myself that I’m smart. You know, race is what raises a child of color living in the United States. It’s shaped my entire mindset.
Why is talking about race in the subject(s) you teach necessary?
Is it just that African Americans are more prone to getting a disease, or does it have something to do with a person’s geographic location, social class, their history?
Biology is the study of life. When you talk about heredity, communities, populations, genes, characteristics, ecosystems, race does play a big role there. You can intertwine race into that conversation. Because it's life.
For example, science says that African Americans are more likely to have diabetes, or are more likely to be obese, but, by bringing in race to the conversation, you can challenge what we find in science and to ask yourself, is it just that African Americans are more prone to getting a disease, or does it have something to do with a person’s geographic location, social class, their history?
What was it like teaching this lesson or unit plan?
I have a student who has sickle cell. I always make accommodations around him. Sometimes he goes into pain attacks or is extremely tired from the meds or can’t focus or has vision problems. At some point, I sat with him and asked if he was comfortable sharing his story with me. He did, and he shared. When our sickle cell lesson came up in class, for our genetics unit, I asked him if I could open up the conversation with his story. And he agreed, so I did. After that lesson, after he shared his story, a lot of students came out about how they have a cousin, or relative of some sort, who has sickle cell. So we talked about it, made it less scary, talked about how African Americans are more prone to get it not because of racial inferiority, but because of location, thinking about malaria, Africa, codominance in genes, and all of that. It was such a rich conversation. I loved this lesson.
What would you like to tell any educator looking at your work right now?
Use personal stories. We used stories from Tell Me Who You Are, and it caught my students’ attention. With my sickle cell lesson, after we shared stories, they were like, I am sitting right next to someone with sickle cell, let me pay attention and learn this because it is actually important.
But, it’s important to note: if my student was unwilling to share his story, which is totally reasonable—you know, teachers, we have a responsibility to be confidential with information like that—then we have to look at other options. We need other things that will draw the students in, make it more relevant. A solution is, I think, to find those stories, find those resources, find those current events, and bring them into the classroom.
Ashley Ingram's Lesson plan:
TYPE: Lesson (full class) TITLE: Race, Codominance, and Sickle Cell Anemia CONTENT AREA: Biology
GRADE LEVEL(S): 9th to 10th Grade
DESCRIPTION: Offspring inherit DNA from their parents. The genes contained in the DNA (genotype) determine the traits expressed in the offspring’s phenotype. Alleles of a gene may demonstrate various patterns of inheritance. These patterns of inheritance may follow multiple generations within families.
Click below to download a PDF of Ashley Ingram's full lesson plan.