The Social Construction of Race and Ethnicity in the United States (2nd Edition)

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9780130283238: The Social Construction of Race and Ethnicity in the United States (2nd Edition)
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This groundbreaking collection of classic and cutting edge sociological research gives special attention to the social construction of race and ethnicity in the United States. It offers an in-depth and eye-opening analysis of (a) the power of racial classification to shape our understanding of race and race relations, (b) the way in which the system came into being and remains, and (c) the real consequences this system has on life chances. The readings deal with five major themes: the personal experience of classification schemes; classifying people by race; ethnic classification; the persistence, functions, and consequences of social classification; and a new paradigm: transcending categories. For individuals who want to gain a fuller understanding of the impact the ideas of race has on a society that is consumed by it.

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PREFACE

The Social Construction of Race and Ethnicity in the United Statesis a five-part book that gives special attention to the social construction of race and ethnicity in the United States. It offers an in-depth and eye-opening analysis of (a) the power of the U.S. system of racial classification to shape our understanding of race and race relations, (b) the way in which this system came into being and has been preserved/perpetuated, and (c) the real consequences this system has on life chances.

The Social Construction of Race and Ethnicity in the United States is not just a book of readings. Each of the five parts leads off with an in-depth essay or overview that grounds the set of readings in sociological theory. Readings were selected for their potential to stimulate critical thinking and self-examination. In addition, each reading begins with one or more study questions to help readers clarify/identify key concepts and issues.

The idea for this book grew out of our frustration with the misleading way in which the idea of "race" is treated in most textbooks that address this concept. Many authors, for example, accurately point out that race is not a meaningful biological concept, but then they proceed to define race in a way that highlights biological traits and to show photographs suggesting that race is a definitive, clear-cut attribute.

This book also developed out of a shared commitment to improve the quality of our teaching and to gain a fuller understanding of the impact that the idea of race has on a society that is consumed by it. The logic, organization, articles, and ideas evolved out of conversations with other teachers and from students responses to class material. As one example of how student input helped to shape this book, we asked students to respond in writing to the idea that "race" is a myth and is based on the false assumption that people can be divided into distinct racial categories. While there are always a few students not surprised by this idea, the majority cannot see how this is possible—as these sample comments show:

  • I don't understand how this is possible but 1 am open-minded about it.
  • If there is no such thing as race, why can I look around at the people in the class and know their race?
  • If race is a myth, why is race such a big deal in this country?

Such responses motivated us to ask and answer several difficult questions that are central to this book: (1) How is it that racial categories are treated as mutually exclusive when we can identify many cases in which people have complex biological histories? (2) If classification schemes in fact are based on a false assumption, why do they seem so clear-cut? (3) Why have government officials spent so much physical and mental energy devising rules for classifying people according to race? (4) "Why do we so easily recognize races when walking down the street if race is a myth?" (Haney Lopez 1994:19). (5) If race is a myth, should we dismantle classification schemes?

In writing and selecting the readings, we struggled with how to refer to "race." Should we always put the word race in quotation marks? Should we always qualify references to a person's race with the words people classified as black, white, and so on? In the end, we concluded that the idea of race is real if only because its consequences are real. However, we believe that people must shift their understanding of the meaning of race away from a term referring to clear biological divisions of humanity, to a term referring to "a way in which one group designates itself as `insider' and other groups as `outsiders' to reinforce or enforce its wishes and/or ideas in social, economic, and political realms" (Rorhl 1996:96). The Social Construction of Race and Ethnicity in the United States was created with the goal of helping readers make this conceptual transition.

Changes to the Edition

This new edition reorganizes the material of the first edition to fit with a major and historical change in the way the United States determines race. On October 30, 1997 the U.S. Office of Management and Budget OMB declared that for the first time in history of the United States, people could identify themselves on the census and other official forms as belonging to more than one racial category. The OMB has yet to decide how it will count people who identify with more than one race. One thing is clear: It will not use the term multiracial. The number of racial categories could change from the official categories of the 1990 census to as many as 63, de pending on how people respond to the race question. This change in policy leads us to ask several questions, including the following: Why did this change occur? And how did the U.S. government account for people who identified with more than one race before October 30, 1997?

We have included approximately 20 new readings in the second edition. We have selected readings that speak to the constructed nature of race and the real consequences this social construction has had on people's life chances and on race relations in the United States. The longstanding belief that people fit neatly into clear-cut racial categories has supported a corresponding belief that the American experience is a series of separate and parallel stories of racial and ethnic groups. The new readings open our eyes to the idea that the American experience is a story of interracial intimacies, shared histories, and interconnected experiences. The system of racial classification, and the ways this system has been formally and informally enforced, has forced disconnections and separations among the "races" and has otherwise worked to keep these intersecting histories a "secret."

In addition to adding readings that show the consequences of racial classification, we have also selected readings that strengthen the discussion surrounding ethnic classification. The reading "What's in a Name?" offers insights into the origins of the term "Hispanic." "Theories of Ethnicity" adds a theoretical dimension. "Are Italian Americans Just White Folk?" uses the case of Italian-Americans to explore the ethnic experience and the many factors that affect that experience. The reading "Americans United by Myths" addresses two important questions: What's the common identity Americans share and how did this identity emerge?

We also added readings that specifically speak to the meaning of "whiteness. They are "Litigating Whiteness," "The Rules of Passing," "White Privilege Shapes the U.S.", and "More Thoughts on Why the System of White Privilege is Wrong."

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