Race and ethnicity in the United States is a complex topic because the United States of America has a racially and ethnically diverse population. At the federal level, race and ethnicity have been categorized separately.
The most recent United States Census officially recognized five racial categories (White American, Black or African American, Native American and Alaska Native, Asian American, and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander) as well as people of two or more races. The Census Bureau also classified respondents as "Hispanic or Latino" or "Not Hispanic or Latino", identifying Hispanic and Latino as an ethnicity (not a race), which comprises the largest minority group in the nation. The United States Supreme Court unanimously held that "race" is not limited to Census designations on the "race question" but extends to all ethnicities, and thus can include Jewish, Arab, Hungarian, Laotian, Zulu, etc. The Census also asked an "Ancestry Question," which covers the broader notion of ethnicity, in the 2000 Census long form and the ; the question will return in the 2020 Census.
As of July 2016 The White, non-Hispanic or Latino population make up 61.3% of the nation's total, with the total White population (including White Hispanics and Latinos) being 76.9%.
, White Americans are the racial majority. African Americans are the largest racial minority, comprising an estimated 12.7% of the population. Hispanic and Latino Americans are the largest ethnic minority, comprising an estimated 17.8% of the population.
White Americans are the majority in every census-defined region (Northeast, Midwest, South, West) and in every state except Hawaii, but contribute the highest proportion of the population in the Midwestern United States, at 85% per the Population Estimates Program (PEP) or 83% per the (ACS). Non-Hispanic Whites make up 79% of the Midwest's population, the highest ratio of any region. However, 35% of White Americans (whether all White Americans or non-Hispanic/Latino only) live in the South, the most of any region.
Currently, 55% of the African American population lives in the South. A plurality or majority of the other official groups reside in the West. The latter region is home to 42% of Hispanic and Latino Americans, 46% of Asian Americans, 48% of American Indians and Alaska Natives, 68% of Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders, 37% of the "two or more races" population (Multiracial Americans), and 46% of those self-designated as "some other race".
Racial and ethnic categories
The first United States Census in 1790 classed residents as "free white" people (divided by age and sex), "all other free persons" (reported by sex and color), and "slaves". The 2000 Census officially recognized six racial categories including people of two or more races; a category called "some other race" was also used in the census and other surveys, but is not official. In the 2000 Census and subsequent Census Bureau surveys, Americans self-described as belonging to these racial groups:
- White American, European American, or Middle Eastern American: those having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. Following consultations with Middle East and North Africa (MENA) organizations, the Census Bureau announced in 2014 that it would establish a new MENA ethnic category for populations from the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab world.
- Black or African American: those having origins in any of the native peoples of Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Native American or Alaska Native: those having origins in any of the original peoples of North, Central and South America, irrespective of whether they maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment.
- Asian American: those having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, North Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: those having origins in any of the original peoples of Polynesia, Melanesia, or Micronesia.
- Other: respondents wrote how they identified themselves if different from the preceding categories (e.g. Roma or Aboriginal/Indigenous Australian). However, 95% of the people who report in this category are Hispanic Mestizos. This is not a standard OMB race category. Responses have included mixed-race terms such as Métis, Creole, and Mulatto, which are generally considered to be categories of multi-racial ancestry (see below), but, write-in entries reported in the 2000 census also included nationalities (as opposed to ethnicities), such as South African, Belizean, or Puerto Rican, as well as other terms for mixed-race groups like Wesort, Melungeon, mixed, interracial, and others.
- Two or more races, widely known as multiracial: those who check off and/or write in more than one race. There is no option labelled "two or more races" or "multiracial" on census and other forms; people who report more than one of the foregoing six options are classified as people of "two or more races" in subsequent processing. Any respondent may identify with any number (including all six) of the racial categories.
Each person has two identifying attributes, racial identity and whether or not they are of Hispanic ethnicity. These categories are sociopolitical constructs and should not be interpreted as being scientific or anthropological in nature. They have been changed from one census to another, and the racial categories include both "racial" and national-origin groups.
In 2007, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of the US Department of Labor finalized the update of its EEO-1 report format and guidelines concerning the definitions of racial/ethnic categories.
Census Designated Ethnicities: Hispanic or Latino origin
The question on Hispanic or Latino origin is separate from the question on race. Hispanic and Latino Americans have ethnic origins in the countries of Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula. Latin American countries are, like the United States, racially diverse. Consequently, no separate racial category exists for Hispanic and Latino Americans, as they do not constitute a race, nor a national group. When responding to the race question on the census form, each person is asked to choose from among the same racial categories as all Americans, and are included in the numbers reported for those races.
Each racial category may contain Non-Hispanic or Latino and Hispanic or Latino Americans. For example: the White or European-American race category contains Non-Hispanic Whites and Hispanic Whites (see White Hispanic and Latino Americans); the Black or African-American category contains Non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanic Blacks (see Black Hispanic and Latino Americans); the Asian-American category contains Non-Hispanic Asians and Hispanic Asians (see Asian Hispanic and Latino Americans); and likewise for all the other categories. See the section on Hispanic and Latino Americans in this article.
Self-identifying as both Hispanic or Latino and not Hispanic or Latino is neither explicitly allowed nor explicitly prohibited.
Ethnicity, national origin, and cultural groups (generally not mentioned is census data)