How Americans View Race 'A Huge Surprise' Study Asked about Skin Color, Identity

By Rockett, Darcel | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), September 22, 2018 | Go to article overview

How Americans View Race 'A Huge Surprise' Study Asked about Skin Color, Identity


Rockett, Darcel, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


Race isn't a black and white issue.

And it seems many Americans know that, according to a recent study by Northwestern University's Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy (CSDD). The survey, conducted in collaboration with DNA testing company 23andMe, looked at people's perceptions and attitudes regarding race and genetics.

It found 33.8 percent of Americans think biology totally determines racial identity; 18.8 percent think it somewhat determines race; 30.2 percent believe the two are related but not causal; 17.2 percent see no relation.

"I believed the numbers were going to be far worse," said Alvin Tillery Jr., director of CSDD. "I expected two-thirds of every population group would believe that science or biology determines your race. That was a huge surprise."

The CSDD data, gathered from 3,000 adults this year, found white people to be the most committed to the idea that biology determines race (37.2 percent), followed by Latinos (27.1 percent), Asian-Americans (26 percent) and African-Americans (24.5 percent).

"To some extent, we can't be too surprised by that," Tillery said of the last statistic. "Study after study in race relations research show black Americans are the most committed to democratic personal choice - it's this unwillingness to be defined by the system."

Biologically, humans are 99.9 percent genetically identical, according to the Human Genome Project, completed in April 2003. The CSDD study found that about half of Americans think skin color is the best way to identify a person's race; 35 percent think culture and history play a role; 18 percent believe race is a personal choice.

To be clear, CSDD defines race as a construct that human beings use to organize themselves and others into groups. This construct often, but not always, relies on phenotypical or gross characteristics, also known as outward appearance. …

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