What's Race Got to Do with It?



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Affirmative Action

In recent years, especially following the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court case of Grutter v. Bollinger (University of Michigan), affirmative action has been seen as a way to ensure racial and/or gender diversity within educational and other environments. However, its original definition was “a policy or a program that seeks to redress past discrimination through active measures to ensure equal opportunity, as in education and employment.” Much of the debate over affirmative action has centered on the competing “rights” of individuals – pitting those who are aided by such programs against those who are not – but its fundamental aim is not to reward or punish individuals but to change institutions and break “the chain of self-producing societal discrimination.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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Colorblindness (as applied to racism) is the idea that explicitly acknowledging race is divisive or discriminatory. This ideology, which co-opts language from the Civil Rights Movement, has helped fuel a backlash against race-conscious programs such as affirmative action. The term, however, is a misnomer. As legal scholar Neil Gotanda points out, true colorblindness is an inability to distinguish differences but “colorblind” racism is a refusal or denial of differences. In real terms, “colorblind” ideology allows us to ignore, rather than address, existing race-based disparities.

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Intergroup Dialogue

As defined by David Schoem and Sylvia Hurtado, “intergroup dialogue is a form of democratic practice, engagement, problem-solving, and education involving face-to-face, focused, facilitated and confidential discussions occurring over time between two or more groups of people defined by their different social identities.” These types of dialogues are becoming increasingly common, not only on college campuses but also among youth organizations and neighborhood groups. They typically include a combination of focused readings, reflective writing, experiential activities and open discussion. Some are designed to reduce prejudice and eliminate bias, others are focused on remedying a specific conflict or raising awareness of social disparities.

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(also click here to see a list of Intergroup Dialogue Programs)


Racial Equity

Racial equity means that all people have full participation and access to the benefits and institutions of society – including quality health care and education, safe and affordable neighborhoods, viable employment, the right to vote – and are free from discrimination, hate and harassment. Given the existence of structural racism, achieving racial equity requires a proactive policy agenda that addresses racialized institutional outcomes.

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Racial Profiling

Racial profiling is any police or private security practice in which a person is treated as a suspect because of characteristics such as his or her race, ethnicity, nationality or religion rather than evidence of criminal behavior. The common practice of stopping and searching of people of color for traffic violations is known as "DWB" or "driving while black or brown." Racial profiling and "DWB" have also become shorthand phrases for police stops of Asians, Native Americans, and, increasingly after 9/11, Arabs, Muslims and South Asians.

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Stereotype Threat

Stereotype threat is a term coined by Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson to describe how stereotypes affect individual performance. People’s anxiety about conforming to a negative stereotype becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that actually causes them to underperform. In their research, Steele and his colleagues demonstrated that Black students, when told that a test evaluated their ability, scored significantly lower than comparably qualified white students. But when told the same test was a lab exercise rather than a test, the Black and white students scored equally well. Subsequent studies showed the same phenomenon with other groups - for example, women (re mathematics), lower socioeconomic groups and even white men (natural athletic ability).

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Structural Racism

Traditionally, attempts to combat racism have focused on individual acts of discrimination and overt prejudice. Yet institutions, public policies and social practices can produce profound effects based on race, even when those effects are not intentional. Structural racism refers to the power relationships inherent in our institutions and social structures – e.g., jobs, housing, education, health care – that reproduce racial inequity and limit opportunities for people of color. Because institutions are not race-neutral, as many of us might assume, dismantling structural racism requires us to be race-conscious in our solutions, not colorblind.

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Typically, indicators of socioeconomic status measure income rather than wealth. Income measures the money that people earn, while wealth includes everything they own: assets, stocks, savings and the like. Wealth is not just about luxury or material possessions, it also provides economic security: a safety net when things go bad, access to better schools and safer neighborhoods, collateral for an investment in the future.

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