Making sense of race and racial classification

Making sense of race and racial classification

Race and Society
Volume 4, Issue 2, (2001)
Pages 235-247
DOI: 10.1016/S1090-9524(03)00012-3

Angela D. James, Associate Professor of African American Studies
Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles

As social scientists, race scholars, and demographers, how do we begin to make sense of recent changes in the Census Bureau’s system of racial classification, as well as of the popular response to those changes? This paper explores the lacuna between popular and scientific understandings of race. It reviews the theoretical understanding of race as a social construct, providing a brief history of racial classification in the United States. In addition, it examines the concepts of race mixing and racial ambiguity as a function of the peculiar and distinctive construction of race in the United States. Finally, the essay critically assesses how race is currently used in social research and how race might be more accurately represented and effectively employed in that research.

Article Outline

1. Changing notions of race
2. Race as social construction
2.1. The origin of race
2.2. The nature of race
3. The U.S. Census and its use of race for classification
3.1. Race versus ethnicity in the Census
4. From ethnicity to race: contemporary racial construction and Hispanics
4.1. Mixed-race and racial stratification
4.2. The strange history of race in social science research
5. Conclusions

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