Why It Matters: Race and Ethnicity

Why compare the relative experiences of ethnic groups in the United States and demonstrate an understanding of race, ethnicity, majority and minority groups, stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination, and racism?

Concerns about racisms and discrimination are at the forefront of American media, particularly in the light of unfair and unjust police brutality against many unarmed black men and boys. Following the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin, people took to social media with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Black Lives Matter became nationally recognized for its street demonstrations following the 2014 deaths of two African Americans: Michael Brown, resulting in protests and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City. Since the Ferguson protests, participants in the movement have demonstrated against the deaths of numerous other African Americans by police actions or while in police custody, including those of Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Jonathan Ferrell, Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile. In the summer of 2015, Black Lives Matter began to publicly challenge politicians—including politicians in the 2016 United States presidential election—to state their positions on BLM issues.

The Black Lives Matter movement combined with other media reports about things like the June 2015 controversy over the head of the Spokane Washington NAACP chapter, Rachel Dolezal, who resigned after her biological parents revealed in 2015 that her ancestry was predominantly white with some Native American ancestry, is just the latest chapter in a long, tangled history of racial identity in America — encompassing issues that go well beyond black and white. For example, research has found that after the 9/11 attacks there was a substantial decrease in the probability that Arab and Muslim Americans would self-identify as white. Even among sub-groups, such as Cuban-Americans, there are long-running, intra-community debates over ethnicity and race.

Racial and ethnic issues as well as heated political debates surrounding immigration make the information in this module about racial identity and the experiences of ethnic groups within the United States even more pertinent. Consider the example of Jose Antonio Vargas, who was born in the Philippines and moved the the United States at age 12, became a successful journalist, but later discovered that was an undocumented immigrant.


  • Define and differentiate between race, ethnicity, majority groups/minority groups, stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination
  • Summarize the key ideas behind the three theoretical perspectives on racial inequality
  • Compare and contrast the experiences of ethnic groups in the United States