A few years ago, the Science Museum of Virginia hosted an exhibit titled “RACE: Are We So Different?” The Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities was pleased to train Science Museum employees and work with student groups and educators who visited the exhibit. One of the biggest take-aways for visitors was that racial categories have no scientific basis. New analysis of U.S. Census categories and changing responses from different social groups further reinforces that point.
A recent report from the Pew Research Center notes that “millions of Americans counted in the 2000 census changed their race or Hispanic-origin categories when they filled out their 2010 census forms…” While there is no single explanation for why these changes, possibilities include changing self-identification, evolving social understandings of racial groups, or confusion with the questions on the census form.
At the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, we see youth and adults alike grapple with the increasingly complicated and fluid nature of racial categories. This struggle has likely existed throughout our 79-year history. For as Gene Denby noted in a recent NPR article, “We tend to think of a race as a static thing, but it’s always been much more slippery. American history has seen lots of immigrant groups that were the targets of suspicion and even racial violence — Jews, the Irish, Germans, Italians — gradually subsumed into the big, amorphous category of whiteness.”
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: How have you seen racial categories change in your lifetime?