Why do we have racial and ethnic categories? Are these categories there to divide or protect us? What’s the difference between “race” and “ethnicity” anyway? When does someone become just plain “American?”
Most people think that “race” is a biological category – something in our genes, and that ethnicity has to do with unusual foods or customs. But, “race” is a social, not a biological, category.
Beginning with the first Census Report in 1790, and every 10 years after, the U.S. government has asked us to identify ourselves. But the categories of “race” and ethnicity we’ve had to select from have been ever shifting! Since 1900 alone, over 26 different racial terms have been used to categorize the U.S. population. People once thought to be of separate “races”, for example, the Irish, Italians, and Jews, are now all considered Caucasian.