This article addresses the question of how the United States' policies of antidiscrimination drew on official racial categories that were traditionally used explicitly for discriminatory purposes. After briefly recounting the history of official racial classification practices in the United States and their relation to racist laws and practices, we describe the development of legal prohibitions on racial discrimination, culminating in the civil rights movement of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. This leads to an examination of how statistical data on race are used to implement civil rights law, before outlining contemporary official racial categories. Finally, we assess the debates that have arisen concerning the collection of racial statistics for the purposes of antidiscrimination enforcement. In conclusion, we argue that, more than any autonomous political challenge to the principle of government race classification, what has emerged powerfully in recent years is an awareness of tensions between the needs of the civil rights enforcement machinery and the emerging claim of Americans' "right" to self-define racially as they see fit - in short, between the politics of distribution and the politics of recognition.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Sciences(all)