In this Zócalo video, sociologist Jennifer Lee discusses the social construction of race and the history of the U.S. census with NALEO’s Arturo Vargas and the L.A. Times‘ Steve Padilla:
For more on the social construction of race, see our post on race and ethnicity in censuses around the world.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
The History Enthusiast — October 16, 2010
This is a useful video, but as a historian she gets some of the facts wrong. First, during the Constitutional debates, Northerners did NOT want enslaved men and women to count as "people" because that would give Southerners a clear advantage in terms of representatives in the House. Southerners DID want them to count as "people" for the same reason; it would boost their numbers.
Furthermore, the three fifths clause does not state that an individual slave would count as three-fifths of an individual free person; three fifths of the total slave population would be counted toward determining the allocation of tax money, representation, etc. So some enslaved individuals wouldn't "count" at all, while others would "count" entirely.
That said, I think it is useful to have a concise description of the social construction of race, with the caveat that we correct a few of those errors before showing it in class.
Allison — October 16, 2010
Same critique as above. The South wanted blacks to be counted as full people. A better question to ask regarding the census is why the census thinks it's important to know the races of people as opposed to employment status or socioeconomic status. What makes race so important?
Woody — October 17, 2010
"What makes race so important?"
Sixty years of "Identity politics," maybe?
Race was important when it was used as a criterion for exclusion; it's now equally relevant as a criterion for inclusion.
Allison — October 17, 2010
I am not saying that race does not play a role in society. What I'm saying is that having the question on the census indicates that race is an integral part of identity and it is intrinsic to people. In reality, race is largely constructed. I would prefer the race question to not be on the census. Race is not as easy as black and white, hence why there are many problems with the race questions on the census.
hannah carter — November 9, 2010
Dave McKinnon — September 17, 2018