Throughout history, the term race has been used to describe a person or group based on superficial physical differences. As a result, racial divisions have been used to justify the subjugation or oppression of some people by others. For example, Irish, Italian and Eastern European Jews who left their homes to seek better lives in America were often viewed as another, inferior race (if not called white) because of their dark skin.
Despite its controversial nature, race continues to be an important issue because it can still be used as an excuse to discriminate against certain groups of people. This racial categorization has shaped the world in ways that have created disparities in educational, health and economic opportunities. In addition, it is the root of many social problems including disproportionate incarceration and police violence against minority groups.
As the focus of this report is on measuring racial discrimination, it is necessary to understand what race actually means. Defining race is a complex task and there are many different definitions. Some scientists use the term to describe subdivisions of a human species that are presumed to be biologically distinct, while others use it to categorize people on arbitrary or illogical criteria. For example, enslaved Black activists in the 19th century fought against White North American definitions of blackness that considered them animalistic savages.
In the 1970s, anthropologists and geneticists began to come to the conclusion that most differences between humans are not attributed to distinct races. These differences are often cultural and may be caused by environmental influences such as diet and lifestyle. Scientists also analyzed the distribution of the human genome and found that a large portion of the variation in the genes between people is actually within the same population, indicating that there is no such thing as a “discrete” human race.
Today, there is widespread acceptance that racial categories do not have any scientific validity and are instead a social construct. A common view is that a person’s race is what society decides it is, and this determination is usually made on the basis of a combination of outward appearance and shared history.
For example, in the United States, someone who has one white parent and one black parent is often referred to as black. Similarly, President Obama is black even though his parents are both white.
The Census Bureau collects information about race because it is an important part of the nation’s identity and can influence the way policies are developed and implemented. It is important to note, however, that the Bureau does not attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically or genetically and that respondents can select more than one race on their questionnaire.
The Seton Hall University Libraries has numerous resources on the subject of Race available through our catalogs, databases and other research tools. A quick start list can be found by following this link to the homepage and selecting the “Race” topic. A more in-depth search can be conducted through the homepage using various keywords related to this specific subject theme.