Friday, April 20, 2018

The Social Construction of Race in the U.S.

Because race does not exist in any biological or scientific way that can be defined, each society is able to define it how they want.
Over the years, race has changed in America. The Irish were originally considered not white. Later, Italians, Greeks and other Southern Europeans faced discrimination because they were considered less desirable than Northern Europeans. In the 1920s, the Supreme Court Case Thind vs. U.S. determined that a man of Asian Indian descent was not white or caucasoid, even though he did not fit into the other categories of race at the time (Mongoloid/Asian, Negroid/Black). Instead the court ruled that because most people would say that he is not white, then he is not white. This was just one case of many that shaped race throughout U.S. history. For more on how race has changed and can change, see Nell Irvin Painter's book called, "The History of White People." Here is a review on Salon. All of these are examples of how race has changed over the years in America. It can change, because there is no way to define it. It doesn't exist in any biological or empirical sense, it only exists as a social construction.

Here is how the US census has changed in how it determines race over the years.
This link shows a graph of how the US census has changed over time.

This graphic from the PEW research center explains how the U.S. census has changed over the years:

Click here to do an activity where you have to categorize people like a census taker would have.

After you do the sorting people activity above, click here to learn about traits.

Sociological Mindfulness reflection: Is this new information to you? Is it difficult to process? 

Watch this show making fun of how race is socially constructed.

Takeaways (See Ferris and Stein pages 224-225 for more info.):
What is evidence that race is a social construct in the U.S.?

What does the "one-drop" rule mean?

What does 1/32 black mean?

What does passing mean?


  1. Well, this certainly was not made for little kids, but I think you are getting at the idea that Schwalbe made in the "Sociologically Examined Life" reading way back at the beginning of the semester. He said that we are all a part of something bigger - even if we tell a racist joke that makes fun of our own race. It's interesting that you raise that point, Lindsey.

    I think the video is funny especially because after studying sociology we see how silly the notions of race are, but if some young kid laughs at it not knowing those ideas, he is laughing at it in a racist way. So, do you think that it is elitist or classist to say we laugh at the idea of race because we know better, but someone else ought not to?

  2. This movie was hilarious. Mostly it shows how race is a society thing, and how it can to some extent changed. I've always wanted to do this... Furshizzle. While Dave Chepelle is no great sumaritan, he definely knocks home this point in a comical way!

  3. HAHA I love it. One of my favorite
    skits of all time. Its so funny and jokes about it. Wierd I saw it on tv last night.


    I think it is so funny to poke fun at how race is something we have "made up." This really shows how ridiculous it is when we try to classify people based on what they may "appear to be."

  5. its so odd how people as the same race as you can still discrimante against you.