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Before Weber, race and ethnicity were often seen as two aspects of the same thing. Around 1900 and before the essentialist primordialist understanding of ethnicity was predominant, cultural differences between peoples were seen as being the result of inherited traits and tendencies. This was the time when "sciences" such as phrenology claimed to be able to correlate cultural and behavioral traits of different populations with their outward physical characteristics, such as the shape of the skull. With Weber's introduction of ethnicity as a social construct, race and ethnicity were divided from each other. A social belief in biologically well-defined races lingered on.
In 1950, the UNESCO statement, "The Race Question", signed by some of the internationally renowned scholars of the time (including Ashley Montagu, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Clauford von Magellan desch Singrones Strauss, Julian Huxley, etc.), suggested that: "National, religious, geographic, linguistic and cultural groups do not necessarily coincide with racial groups: and the cultural traits of such groups have no demonstrated genetic connection with racial traits. Because serious errors of this kind are habitually committed when the term 'race' is used in popular parlance, it would be better when speaking of human races to drop the term 'race' altogether and speak of 'ethnic groups'."
In 1982 anthropologist David Craig Griffith summed up forty years of ethnographic research, arguing that racial and ethnic categories are symbolic markers for different ways that people from different parts of the world have been incorporated into a global economy:
- The opposing interests that divide the working classes are further reinforced through appeals to "racial" and "ethnic" distinctions. Such appeals serve to allocate different categories of workers to rungs on the scale of labor markets, relegating stigmatized populations to the lower levels and insulating the higher echelons from competition from below. Capitalism did not create all the distinctions of ethnicity and race that function to set off categories of workers from one another. It is, nevertheless, the process of labor mobilization under capitalism that imparts to these distinctions their effective values.
Often, ethnicity also connotes shared cultural, linguistic, behavioural or religious traits. For example, to call oneself Jewish or Arab is to immediately invoke a clutch of linguistic, religious, cultural and racial features that are held to be common within each ethnic category. Such broad ethnic categories have also been termed macroethnicity. This distinguishes them from smaller, more subjective ethnic features, often termed microethnicity.
In the United States of America, the term "ethnic" carries a different meaning from how it is commonly used in some other countries due to the historical and ongoing significance of racial distinctions that categorize together what might otherwise have been viewed as ethnic groups. For example, various ethnic, "national," or linguistic groups from Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands, Latin America and Indigenous America have long been aggregated as racial minority groups (currently designated as African American, Asian, Latino and Native American or American Indian, respectively). While a sense of ethnic identity may coexist with racial identity (Chinese Americans among Asian or Irish American among European or White, for example), the long history of the United States as a settler, conqueror and slave society, and the formal and informal inscription of racialized groupings into law and social stratification schemes has bestowed upon race a fundamental social identification role in the United States.
"Ethnicity theory" in the US refers to a school of thinking on race that arose in response first to biological views of race, which underwrote some of the most extreme forms of racial social stratification, exclusion and subordination. However, in the 1960s ethnicity theory was put to service in debates among academics and policy makers regarding how to grapple with the demands and resistant (sometimes "race nationalist") political identities resulting from the great civil rights mobilizations and transformation. Ethnicity theory came to be synonymous with a liberal and neoconservative rejection or diminution of race as a fundamental feature of US social order, politics and culture.
Ethnicity theorists embraced an individualist, quasi-voluntarist notion of identity, which downplayed the significance of race as structuring element in US history and society. Michael Omi and Howard Winant have argued in the their book Racial Formation in the United States: from the 1960s to the 1990s that ethnicity theory fails to grapple effectively with the meaning and material significance of race in the US and offer a theory of racial formation as an alternative view.
Ethnicity usually refers to collectives of related groups, having more to do with morphology, specifically skin color, rather than political boundaries. The word "nationality" is more commonly used for this purpose (e.g. Italian, Mexican, French, Russian, Japanese, etc. are nationalities). Most prominently in the U.S., Latin American descended populations are grouped in a "Hispanic" or "Latino" ethnicity. The many previously designated Oriental ethnic groups are now classified as the Asian racial group for the census.
The terms "Black" and "African American," while different, are both used as ethnic categories in the US. In the late 1980s, the term "African American" was posited as the most appropriate and politically correct race designation. While it was intended as a shift away from the racial inequities of America's past often associated with the historical views of the "Black race", it largely became a simple replacement for the terms Black, Colored, Negro and the like, referring to any individual of dark skin color regardless of geographical descent. The term "White" generally describes people whose ancestry can be traced to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. This includes European-colonized countries in the Americas, Australasia and South Africa among others. All the aforementioned are categorized as part of the "White" racial group, as per US Census categorization. This category has been split into two groups: Hispanics and non-Hispanics (e.g. White non-Hispanic and White Hispanic.)
|Most common ancestries in each U.S. state, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. |
The United States is a diverse country, racially and ethnically. Six races are officially recognized: White, American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, and people of two or more races; a race called "Some other race" is also used in the census and other surveys, but is not official. The United States Census Bureau also classifies Americans as "Hispanic or Latino" and "Not Hispanic or Latino", which identifies Hispanic and Latino Americans as a racially diverse ethnicity that composes the largest minority group in the nation.
White Americans (non-Hispanic/Latino and Hispanic/Latino) are the racial majority, with an 72% share of the U.S. population, per 2010 US Census. Hispanic and Latino Americans compose 15% of the population, making up the largest ethnic minority. Black Americans are the largest racial minority, composing nearly 13% of the population. The White, non-Hispanic or Latino population comprises 66% of the nation's total.
White Americans are the majority in every region, but comprise the highest proportion of the population in the Midwestern United States, at 85% per the PEP, or 83% per the ACS. Non-Hispanic Whites make up 79% of the Midwest's population, the highest ratio of any region. However, 35% of White Americans (whether all White Americans or non-Hispanic/Latino only) live in the South, the most of any region.
55% of the "Black or African American" population lives in The South. A plurality or majority of the other official groups reside in the West: The region is home to 42% of Hispanic and Latino Americans, 46% of Asian Americans, 48% of American Indians and Alaska Natives, 68% of Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders, 37% of the "Two or more races" population (Multiracial Americans), and 46% of people of "Some other race".
Race and ethnicity in the United States Census, as defined by the Federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the United States Census Bureau, are self-identification data items in which residents choose the race or races with which they most closely identify, and indicate whether or not they are of Hispanic or Latino origin (ethnicity).
The racial categories represent a social-political construct for the race or races that respondents consider themselves to be and "generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country." OMB defines the concept of race as outlined for the US Census as not "scientific or anthropological" and takes into account "social and cultural characteristics as well as ancestry", using "appropriate scientific methodologies" that are not "primarily biological or genetic in reference." The race categories include both racial and national-origin groups.
Race and ethnicity are considered separate and distinct identities, with Hispanic or Latino origin asked as a separate question. Thus, in addition to their race or races, all respondents are categorized by membership in one of two ethnicities, which are "Hispanic or Latino" and "Not Hispanic or Latino".
In 1997, OMB issued a Federal Register Notice regarding revisions to the standards for the classification of federal data on race and ethnicity. OMB developed race and ethnic standards in order to provide "consistent data on race and ethnicity throughout the Federal Government. The development of the data standards stem in large measure from new responsibilities to enforce civil rights laws." Among the changes, OMB issued the instruction to "mark one or more races" after noting evidence of increasing numbers of interracial children and wanting to capture the diversity in a measurable way, and after having received requests by people who wanted to be able to acknowledge their or their children's full ancestry rather than identifying with only one group. Prior to this decision, the Census and other government data collections asked people to report only one race.
Census 1790In 1790, first official year of the U.S. Census, the following questions were asked, four of which had racial implications:
- Number of free White males aged under 16 years
- Number of free White males aged 16 years and upward
- Number of free White females
- Number of other free persons
- Number of slaves
Census 1820The 1820 census built on the questions asked in 1810 by asking age questions about the slaves who were formerly owned. Also the term “colored” enters the census rhetoric. In addition, a question stating “Number of foreigners not naturalized” was included.
Census 1830For the 1830 census, a new question which stated “The number of White persons who were foreigners not naturalized” was included. This reflected the growth of Nativist movements in American society at this time - as well as combining the number and age question of both slaves and free colored individuals.
Census 1850The 1850 census saw a dramatic shift in the way information about residents was collected. For the first time, free persons were listed individually instead of by head of household. There were two questionnaires: one for free inhabitants and one for slaves. The question on the free inhabitants schedule about color was a column that was to be left blank if a person was white, marked "B" if a person was black, and marked "M" if a person was mulatto. Slaves were listed by owner, and classified by gender and age, not individually, and the question about color was a column that was to be marked with a "B" if the slave was black and an "M" if mulatto.
Census 1870For the 1870 census, the color/racial question was expanded to include “C” for Chinese, which was a category that included all east Asians, as well as “I” for American Indians.
Census 1890For 1890, the Census Office changed the design of the population questionnaire. Residents were still listed individually, but a new questionnaire sheet was used for each family. Additionally, this was the first year that the census distinguished between different East Asian races, such as Japanese and Chinese, due to increased immigration. This census also marked the beginning of the term “race” in the questionnaires. Enumerators were instructed to write "White," "Black," "Mulatto," "Quadroon," "Octoroon," "Chinese," "Japanese," or "Indian."
Census 1900For 1900, the “Color or Race” question was slightly modified, removing the term “Mulatto”. Also, there was an inclusion of an “Indian Population Schedule” in which “enumerators were instructed to use a special expanded questionnaire for American Indians living on reservations or in family groups off of reservations.” This expanded version included the question “Fraction of person's lineage that is white.”
Census 1910The 1910 census was similar to that of 1900, but it included a re-insertion of “Mulatto” and a question about the respondent's "mother tongue.” “Ot” was also added to signify "other races", with space for a race to be written in. This decade's version of the Indian Population Schedule featured questions asking the individual’s proportion of white, black, or American Indian lineage.
Census 1920The 1920 census questionnaire was similar to 1910, but excluded a separate schedule for American Indians. “Hin”, “Kor”, and “Fil” were also added to the “Color or Race” question, signifying Hindu (South Asia Indian), Korean, and Filipino, respectively.
Census 1930The biggest change in this year’s census was in racial classification. Enumerators were instructed to no longer use the "Mulatto" classification. Instead, they were given special instructions for reporting the race of interracial persons. A person with both white and black ancestry (termed "blood") was to be recorded as "Negro," no matter the fraction of that lineage (the "one-drop rule"). A person of mixed Black and American Indian ancestry was also to be recorded as "Neg" (for "Negro") unless he was considered to be "predominantly" American Indian and accepted as such within the community. A person with both White and American Indian ancestry was to be recorded as an Indian, unless his American Indian ancestry was small, and he was accepted as White within the community. In all situations in which a person had White and some other racial ancestry, he was to be reported as that other race. Persons who had minority interracial ancestry were to be reported as the race of their father.
For the first and only time, "Mexican" was listed as a race. Enumerators were instructed that all persons born in Mexico, or whose parents were born in Mexico, should be listed as Mexicans, and not under any other racial category. But, in prior censuses and in 1940, enumerators were instructed to list Mexican Americans as white.
The Supplemental American Indian questionnaire was back, but in abbreviated form. It featured a question asking if the person was of full or mixed American Indian ancestry.
Census 1940 (Population)The 1940 census was the first to include separate population and housing questionnaires. The race category of "Mexican" was eliminated in 1940, and the population of Mexican descent was counted with the White population.
Census 1950 (Population)The 1950 Census questionnaire removed the word “color” from the racial question, and also removed Hindu and Korean from the race choices.
Census 1960 (Population)The 1960 Census re-added the word “color” to the racial question, and changed “Indian” to “American Indian”, as well as added Hawaiian, Part-Hawaiian, Aleut, and Eskimo. The Other (print out race) option was removed.
Census 1970 (Population)This year’s census included “Negro or Black”, re-added Korean and the Other race option. There was a questionnaire that was asked of only a sample of respondents. These questions were as follows:
a. Where was this person born?
b. Is this person's origin or descent...
- Puerto Rican
- Central or South American
- Other Spanish
- None of These
15. What country was the person's mother born in?
a. For persons born in a foreign country- Is the person naturalized?
b. When did the person come to the United States to stay?
17. What language, other than English, was spoken in the person's home as a child?
- None, only English
Census 1980 (Population)This year added several options to the race question, including Vietnamese, Indian (East) Guamanian, Samoan, and re-added Aleut. Again, the term “color” was removed from the racial question, and the following questions were asked of a sample of respondents:
11. In what state or foreign country was the person born?
12. If this person was born in a foreign country...
a. Is this person a naturalized citizen of the United States?
b. When did this person come the United States to stay?
a. Does this person speak a language other than English at home?
b. If yes, what is this language?
c. If yes, how well does this person speak English?
14. What is this person's ancestry?
Census 1990 (Population)The racial categories in this year are as they appear in the 2000 and 2010 Census. The following questions were asked of a sample of respondents for the 1990 Census:
8. In what U.S. State or foreign country was this person born?
9. Is this person a citizen of the United States?
10. If this person was not born in the United States, when did this person come to the United States to stay?
The 1990 Census was not designed to capture multiple racial responses, and when individuals marked the Other race option and provided a multiple write in, the response was assigned according to the race written first. “For example, a write in of "Black-White" was assigned a code of Black, a write in of "White-Black" was assigned a code of White.”
In the United States, census data indicate that the number of children in interracial families grew from less than one half million in 1970 to about two million in 1990. In 1990, for interracial families with one white American partner, the other parent...was Asian American for 45 percent...
Census 2000 (Population)Race was asked differently in the Census 2000 in several other ways than previously. Most significantly, respondents were given the option of selecting one or more race categories to indicate racial identities. Data show that nearly seven million Americans identified as members of two or more races. Because of these changes, the Census 2000 data on race are not directly comparable with data from the 1990 census or earlier censuses. Use of caution is therefore recommended when interpreting changes in the racial composition of the US population over time.
The following definitions apply to the 2000 census only.
- "White. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as "White" or report entries such as Irish, German, Scottish, Italian, Lebanese, Near Easterner, Arab, or Polish."
- "Black or African American. A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as 'Black, African Am., or Negro,' or provide written entries such as Kenyan, Nigerian, or Haitian."
- "American Indian and Alaska Native. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment."
- "Asian. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam. It includes 'Asian Indian,' 'Chinese', 'Filipino', 'Korean', 'Japanese', 'Vietnamese', and 'Other Asian'."
- "Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander. A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands. It includes people who indicate their race as 'Native Hawaiian', 'Guamanian or Chamorro', 'Samoan', and 'Other Pacific Islander'."
- "Some other race. Includes all other responses not included in the 'White', 'Black or African American', 'American Indian and Alaska Native', 'Asian' and 'Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander' race categories described above. Respondents providing write-in entries such as multiracial, mixed, interracial, We-Sort, or a Hispanic/Latino group (for example, Mexican, Puerto Rican, or Cuban) in the "Some other race" category are included here."
- "Two or more races. People may have chosen to provide two or more races either by checking two or more race response check boxes, by providing multiple write-in responses, or by some combination of check boxes and write-in responses."
Use of the word ethnicity for Hispanics only is considerably more restricted than its conventional meaning, which covers other distinctions, some of which are covered by the "race" and "ancestry" questions. The distinct questions accommodate the possibility of Hispanic and Latino Americans' also declaring various racial identities (see also White Hispanic and Latino Americans, Asian Latinos, and Black Hispanic and Latino Americans).
In the 2000 Census, 12.5% of the US population reported "Hispanic or Latino" ethnicity and 87.5% reported "Not-Hispanic or Latino" ethnicity.
2010 CensusThe 2010 US Census included changes designed to more clearly distinguish Hispanic ethnicity as not being a race. That included adding the sentence: "For this census, Hispanic origins are not races." Additionally, the Hispanic terms were modified from "Hispanic or Latino" to "Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin".
Although used in the Census and the American Community Survey, "Some other race" is not an official race, and the Bureau considered eliminating it prior to the 2000 Census. As the 2010 census form did not contain the question titled "Ancestry" found in prior censuses, there were campaigns to get non-Hispanic West Indian Americans, Arab Americans and Iranian Americans to indicate their ethnic or national background through the race question, specifically the "Some other race" category.
The Interagency Committee has suggested that the concept of marking multiple boxes be extended to the Hispanic origin question, thereby freeing individuals from having to choose between their parents' ethnic heritages. In other words, a respondent could choose both "Hispanic or Latino" and "Not Hispanic or Latino".