We adopt a broad definition of racial discrimination for use in social science research, which includes individual behaviors and institutional processes but not attitudes or beliefs as such. Our definition includes two components that are related to (but broader than) a large body of case law: differential treatment on the basis of race that disadvantages a racial group and treatment on the basis of inadequately justified factors other than race that disadvantages a racial group (differential effect). In defining discrimination for this report, we focus primarily on discrimination that has harmful consequences for disadvantaged racial minorities.

Our definition is not limited to those actions defined as discriminatory within a legal framework but also encompasses subtle behaviors and processes and cumulative discriminatory effects that may not be explicitly unlawful or easily measured. In the next chapter, we discuss in more detail the possible ways in which discrimination may manifest itself and return to a discussion of when these discriminatory behaviors may or may not be explicitly unlawful.

There is a history of racial exclusion in the United States and a persistence of large disparate outcomes for racial groups across many societal domains. Although such disparities may not in themselves signal the presence of discrimination in any particular domain or event, they are problematic and motivate our work to assess social science analytical methods for measuring the role of racial discrimination in American society today.

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