cant meaning. Indeed, for the purpose of measuring racial discrimination, a social–cognitive concept of race is integral to meaningful analysis. The reason is that racial discrimination historically has been and continues today to be a phenomenon of social attitudes and behaviors, stemming from people’s perceptions (see Chapters 3 and 4). There is no scientifically objective information that people use or can use as a basis for creating unambiguous, consistent racial classifications that have social meaning and effects.

In the United States, ways in which different populations think about their own and others’ racial status have been affected over time by changing patterns of immigration, social and economic change, and changes in societal norms and government policies. The subjectivity of race and the heterogeneity within population groups add further ambiguity to classifying different populations by race. Overall, federal racial categories provide only a partial picture of the heterogeneity and growing diversity of the U.S. population and of the complexity of racial classification. Moreover, factors related to survey and administrative records design and implementation—such as changes in racial categories, methods of reporting data (self-reports or observer reports), and allocation rules for single races and multiple-race combinations—have implications for the collection, use, and interpretation of data on race (especially when attempting to compare data for racial categories in different data sets). Yet most people continue to identify with a single race, and consistency of reporting is high for some major racial groups.

Conclusion: For the purpose of understanding and measuring racial discrimination, race should be viewed as a social construct that evolves over time. Despite measurement problems, data on race and ethnicity are important to collect (the reasons why are discussed more thoroughly in Chapters 3 and 4).



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