Essential Knowledge 14

Enslavers adopted and spread false beliefs about racial inferiority, including many that still impact us today. 


What Else Should My Students Know?

14.A At first, enslavers justified slavery by saying that Africans and Indigenous people were inferior to Europeans because of religious and cultural differences. 

14.B Colonists believed that Europeans were a superior civilization and that Christianity was a superior religion.

14.C Ideas about race and skin color developed over time to justify the system of slavery.

14.D False stories about white supremacy that were developed to justify colonialism and enslavement continue to impact people throughout what is now the United States.


How Can I Teach This?

  • Investigate the stereotypes and beliefs Europeans held that justified slavery, including the idea that skin color, religious beliefs, climate and different styles of dress were evidence that Indigenous people and Africans were less civilized. 
  • Students can learn about the ways that Europeans came to justify slavery and manipulate enslaved people with new tactics over time, including the use of religion‚ even censoring the Bibles distributed to convert enslaved people and arguing that blackness was a curse from God.
  • Get beyond “black” and “white” when talking about race and move toward discussions about its social construction. Examine some of the many important figures in early United States history who were multiracial and were very aware of their own diverse backgrounds. Revolutionary-era figures Crispus Attucks and Paul Cuffee both had African and Indigenous ancestry and identified with both parts of their ancestry. 
  • Starting with an examination of the basic principles of the modern scientific method, students should learn about fake scientific theories that invented “races” based on superficial differences such as the size of heads and ears and shades of skin color. These discussions should include more contemporary examples of fake science.
  • Students should learn about modern science showing the unified nature of human heritage and our common descent from Africans. After considering this, students should ask why people continue to believe in the idea of race and examine how race and racism continue to shape society.


Return to the Teaching Hard History K-5 Framework

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