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The United States is a racially diverse country. There is an extensive history of race-based slavery, the abolishment of it, and its economic impact. Modern issues of race, as well as its impact in the political and economic development of the nation have been examined by multiple historians and researchers. There are issues and controversies with the self-identification and classification of race within the country, and several trends have emerged in the demographic movements of ethnic groups as discovered by self-reports and genetic testing.



The immigrants to the New World came largely from widely separated regions of the Old World—western and northern Europe, western Africa, and, later, eastern Asia and southern Europe. In the Americas, the immigrant populations began to mix among themselves and with the indigenous inhabitants of the continent. In the United States, for example, most people who self-identify as African American have some European ancestors—in one analysis of genetic markers that have differing frequencies between continents, European ancestry ranged from an estimated 7% for a sample of Jamaicans to ∼23% for a sample of African Americans from New Orleans (Parra et al. 1998). Similarly, many people who identify as European American have some African or Native American ancestors, either through openly interracial marriages or through the gradual inclusion of people with mixed ancestry into the majority population. In a survey of college students who self-identified as white in a northeastern U.S. university, ∼30% were estimated to have less than 90% European ancestry.[1]

In the United States since its early history, Native Americans, African-Americans and European-Americans were classified as belonging to different races. For nearly three centuries, the criteria for membership in these groups were similar, comprising a person’s appearance, his fraction of known non-White ancestry, and his social circle.2 But the criteria for membership in these races diverged in the late 19th century. During Reconstruction, increasing numbers of Americans began to consider anyone with "one drop" of "Black blood" to be Black.3 By the early 20th century, this notion of invisible blackness was made statutory in many states and widely adopted nationwide.4 In contrast, Amerindians continue to be defined by a certain percentage of "Indian blood" (called blood quantum) due in large part to American slavery ethics. Finally, for the past century or so, to be White, one had to have "pure" White ancestry. (Utterly, European-looking Americans of Hispanic or Arab ancestry are exceptions in being seen as White by most Americans despite of their physical characteristics and traces of known African ancestry.) Similar questions were raised about east Asian Americans (i.e. of Chinese American and Japanese American ancestries) who could pass as "white" or were portrayed as more "assimilated" than other racial minorities, regardless of the fact their racial origins are non-Caucasian or outside of Europe.

Efforts to sort the increasingly mixed population of the United States into discrete categories generated many difficulties (Spickard 1992). By the standards used in past censuses, many millions of children born in the United States have belonged to a different race than have one of their biological parents. Efforts to track mixing between groups led to a proliferation of categories (such as "mulatto" and "octoroon") and "blood quantum" distinctions that became increasingly untethered from self-reported ancestry. A person's racial identity can change over time, and self-ascribed race can differ from assigned race (Kressin et al. 2003). Until the 2000 census, Latinos were required to identify with a single race despite the long history of mixing in Latin America; partly as a result of the confusion generated by the distinction, 32.9% (U.S. census records) of Latino respondents in the 2000 census ignored the specified racial categories and checked "some other race". (Mays et al. 2003 claim a figure of 42%)

Racial demographics

The United States is a diverse country racially. In 2006, the United States became the third nation in world history to reach 300 million people, behind China and India, each of which has over a billion people.[2][3]

The spectacular growth of the Hispanic population through immigration and high birth rates are noted as a partial factor for the US’ population gains in the last quarter-century. The 2000 census also found Native Americans at their highest population ever, 4.5 million, since the U.S was founded in 1776.[4]

Multiracial Americans and admixture

Admixture in European-American population (Schriver et al. 2003, sample size n=187)
 % European Admixture Frequency
90-100 68%
80-89.9 22%
70-79.9 8%
60-69.9 < 1%
50-59.9 < 1%
40-49.9 < 1%
0-39.9 0

"In a survey of college students who self-identified as 'white' in a northeastern U.S. university, around 30% were estimated to have less than 90% European ancestry. The study found an average of 0.7% African genetic admixture with a standard error of 0.9% and 3.2% Native American Admixture with a standard error of 1.6%, in a sample of white Americans in State College, Pennsylvania. However most of the non-white admixture was concentrated in 30% of the sample with African admixture ranging from 2-20% with an average of 2.3%. [5][6]

In 1958 Robert Stuckert produced a statistical analysis using historical census data and immigration statistics. He concluded that the growth in the White population could not be attributed to births in the white population and immigration from Europe alone, but also from a significant contribution from the American black population as well. He concluded that at the time 21 percent of white Americans had some recent African ancestors. He also concluded that the majority of Americans of African descent were actually white and not black[7].

Many African Americans have European admixture in their DNA. Proportions of European admixture in African American DNA have been found in studies to be 17 %[8] and between 10.6% and 22.5%.[9] Another recent study found the average to be 21.2%, with a standard error of 1.2%.[10]

The Race, Ethnicity, and Genetics Working Group of the National Human Genome Research Institute notes that "although genetic analyses of large numbers of loci can produce estimates of the percentage of a person’s ancestors coming from various continental populations, these estimates may assume a false distinctiveness of the parental populations, since human groups have exchanged mates from local to continental scales throughout history.[11]Image:Race America.png

Social definitions of race

In the United States since its early history, Native Americans, African-Americans and European-Americans were classified as belonging to different races. For nearly three centuries, the criteria for membership in these groups were similar, comprising a person’s appearance, his fraction of known non-White ancestry, and his social circle.

But the difference between how Native American and Black identities are defined today (blood quantum versus one-drop) has demanded explanation. According to anthropologists such as Gerald Sider, the goal of such racial designations was to concentrate power, wealth, privilege and land in the hands of Whites in a society of White hegemony and privilege (Sider 1996; see also Fields 1990). The differences have little to do with biology and far more to do with the history of racism and specific forms of White supremacy (the social, geopolitical and economic agendas of dominant Whites vis-à-vis subordinate Blacks and Native Americans) especially the different roles Blacks and Amerindians occupied in White-dominated 19th century America. The theory suggests that the blood quantum definition of Native American identity enabled Whites to acquire Amerindian lands, while the one-drop rule of Black identity enabled Whites to preserve their agricultural labor force. The contrast presumably emerged because as peoples transported far from their land and kinship ties on another continent, Black labor was relatively easy to control, thus reducing Blacks to valuable commodities as agricultural laborers. In contrast, Amerindian labor was more difficult to control; moreover, Amerindians occupied large territories that became valuable as agricultural lands, especially with the invention of new technologies such as railroads; thus, the blood quantum definition enhanced White acquisition of Amerindian lands in a doctrine of Manifest Destiny that subjected them to marginalization and multiple episodic localized campaigns of extermination.

The political economy of race had different consequences for the descendants of aboriginal Americans and African slaves. The 19th century blood quantum rule meant that it was relatively easier for a person of mixed Euro-Amerindian ancestry to be accepted as White. The offspring of only a few generations of intermarriage between Amerindians and Whites likely would not have been considered Amerindian at all (at least not in a legal sense). Amerindians could have treaty rights to land, but because an individual with one Amerindian great-grandparent no longer was classified as Amerindian, they lost any legal claim to Amerindian land. According to the theory, this enabled Whites to acquire Amerindian lands. The irony is that the same individuals who could be denied legal standing because they were "too White" to claim property rights, might still be Amerindian enough to be considered as "breeds", stigmatized for their Native American ancestry.

The 20th century one-drop rule, on the other hand, made it relatively difficult for anyone of known Black ancestry to be accepted as White. The child of an African-American sharecropper and a White person was considered Black. And, significant in terms of the economics of sharecropping, such a person also would likely be a sharecropper as well, thus adding to the employer's labor force.

In short, this theory suggests that in a 20th century economy that benefited from sharecropping, it was useful to have as many Blacks as possible. Conversely, in a 19th century nation bent on westward expansion, it was advantageous to diminish the numbers of those who could claim title to Amerindian lands by simply defining them out of existence.

It must be mentioned, however, that although some scholars of the Jim Crow period agree that the 20th century notion of invisible Blackness shifted the color line in the direction of paleness, thereby swelling the labor force in response to Southern Blacks' great migration northwards, others (Joel Williamson, C. Vann Woodward, George M. Fredrickson, Stetson Kennedy) see the one-drop rule as a simple consequence of the need to define Whiteness as being pure, thus justifying White-on-Black oppression. In any event, over the centuries when Whites wielded power over both Blacks and Amerindians and widely believed in their inherent superiority over people of color, it is no coincidence that the hardest racial group in which to prove membership was the White one.

In the United States, social and legal conventions developed over time that forced individuals of mixed ancestry into simplified racial categories (Gossett 1997). An example is the "one-drop rule" implemented in some state laws that treated anyone with a single known African American ancestor as black (Davis 2001). The decennial censuses conducted since 1790 in the United States also created an incentive to establish racial categories and fit people into those categories (Nobles 2000). In other countries in the Americas where mixing among groups was overtly more extensive, social categories have tended to be more numerous and fluid, with people moving into or out of categories on the basis of a combination of socioeconomic status, social class, ancestry, and appearance (Mörner 1967).

The term "Hispanic" as an ethnonym emerged in the 20th century with the rise of migration of laborers from American Spanish-speaking countries to the United States; it thus includes people who had been considered racially distinct (Black, White, Amerindian or other mixed groups) in their home countries. Today, the word "Latino" is often used as a synonym for "Hispanic". If these categories were, however, early on understood as racial categories, there seem to be presently a shift presenting them as ethno-linguistic categories (regardless of perceived race), something that can also been seen as a strategy by some of the categorized in order to be included in the white dominant group (as the emergence of White Hispanics points to), and at the same time as a rejection of a racial label that many see not only as disciminatory but also as not portraying properly their populational origins. In contrast to "Latino" or "Hispanic", "Anglo" is now used in a similar way to refer to non-Hispanic White Americans or non-Hispanic European Americans, most of whom speak the English language but are not necessarily of English descent.

Official race definitions in the United States

The United States government has provided definitions regarding race (see the main articles).[12] Racial classification in the U.S. 2000 census and in employment reports for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was based solely on self-identification by people according to the race or races with which they most closely identify and did not pre-suppose disjointedness. The category "Hispanic" is considered an ethnicity, rather than a race, by the U.S. Census.[13][4] These categories are sociopolitical constructs and should not be interpreted as being scientific or anthropological in nature.[12] They change from one census to another, and the racial categories include both racial and national-origin groups.[14][15]

In 2007 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of the US Department of Labor finalized its update of the EEO-1 report format and guidelines to come into an effect on September 30, 2007. In particular, this update concerns the definitions of racial/ethnic categories, see Race (EEO).


Racism in the United States has been a major issue in the country since before its founding. Historically dominated by a settler society of religiously and ethnically diverse whites, race in the United States as a concept became significant in relation to other groups. Traditionally, racist attitudes in the country have been most onerously applied to Native Americans, African Americans and some "foreign-seeming" immigrant groups and their descendants and/or ancestors and is not limited to one racial group's view towards another group.

See also


  1. ^ Shriver et al. 2003
  2. ^ U.S. Population Tops 300 Million
  3. ^ CIA - The World Factbook -- Rank Order - Population
  4. ^ a b Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2000
  5. ^ Mark D. Shriver et al. "Skin pigmentation, biogeographical ancestry and admixture mapping." Human Genetics (2003) 112: 387–399.
  6. ^ Race, Ethnicity, and Genetics Working Group, National Human Genome Research Institute, Bethesda, The Use of Racial, Ethnic, and Ancestral Categories in Human Genetics Research
  8. ^ Heather E. Collins-Schramm and others, "Markers that Discriminate Between European and African Ancestry Show Limited Variation Within Africa," Human Genetics 111 (2002): 566-69.
  9. ^ Esteban J. Parra, Amy Marcini, Joshua Akey, Jeremy Martinson, Mark A. Batzer, Richard Cooper, Terrence Forrester, David B. Allison, Ranjan Deka, Robert E. Ferrell, Mark D. Shriver, "[ Estimating African American Admixture Proportions by Use of Population- Specific Alleles]," American Journal of Human Genetics 63:1839–1851, 1998.
  10. ^ Mark D. Shriver et al. "Skin pigmentation, biogeographical ancestry and admixture mapping." Human Genetics (2003) 112: 387–399.
  11. ^ "Race, Ethnicity, and Genetics Working Group, National Human Genome Research Institute, Bethesda, The Use of Racial, Ethnic, and Ancestral Categories in Human Genetics Research (citations omitted).
  12. ^ a b Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity
  13. ^ "U.S. Census Bureau Guidance on the Presentation and Comparison of Race and Hispanic Origin Data". Retrieved 2007-04-05. "Race and Hispanic origin are two separate concepts in the federal statistical system. People who are Hispanic may be of any race. People in each race group may be either Hispanic or Not Hispanic. Each person has two attributes, their race (or races) and whether or not they are Hispanic."  
  14. ^ The American FactFinder
  15. ^ Introduction to Race and Ethnic (Hispanic Origin) Data for the Census 2000 Special EEO File

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