Social scientists often classify and study individuals and groups based upon shared characteristics. A racial group is comprised of individuals who share similar physical characteristics including skin color. The U.S. Census uses the following racial categories: American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Black or African American; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; White and Some Other Race. There are also two minimum categories for ethnicity: Hispanic or Latino and Not Hispanic or Latino. Hispanics and Latinos may be of any race. The labels as well as the definition for the aforementioned racial groups have changed over time. For decades, individuals could only identify with one racial group. A historic change took place with Census 2000 that permitted individuals to identify with more than one race. This change to the enumeration questionnaire is indicative of how definitions about race can change over time and that these changes are often politically contested. Collectively, individuals identifying themselves as multiracial, Asian, black, Native American, or “other” are referred to by sociologists as “nonwhites.” This typology has its strengths and weaknesses, particularly for conducting research.
Research has shown that nonwhites have relatively less access to wealth, status, and power and thus fewer life chances, relative to whites that in American society are considered the dominant racial group. It is for that reason that sociologists as well as other social scientists, in conducting research, study these populations and changes over time jointly. Yet the categorical grouping together by social scientists of all minority groups often fails to recognize the diversity within and between racial groups.
For example, while blacks, Native Americans, Asians and “others” are relatively disadvantaged when compared with their white counterparts, all nonwhites are not equally disadvantaged. On selected social and demographic indicators some Asian ethnic groups, for instance, fare better than individuals who the U.S. Census would consider white. Still other nonwhites such as blacks and Native Americans have been shown to be relatively disadvantaged when compared with their white counterparts. These findings have been observed consistently on selected social and demographic variables including on educational attainment, homeownership, housing values, income, and occupational prestige.
Various Asian ethnic groups, for example, are not equally advantaged relative to whites nor are blacks or Native Americans equally disadvantaged relative to whites. While Asians with Indian ancestry may have relatively high levels of education, Asians of Vietnamese descent may have relatively low levels of education. Similarly, blacks with recent ancestry in Africa or in the Caribbean may have higher incomes relative to native-born blacks. Consolidating individuals who do not possess physical characteristics that are similar to those of the dominant group also means that certain ethnic groups within the larger racial classifications are understudied due to their relatively small population size.
The term nonwhite can also be used to describe a group of people whose skin color is distinctive from the dominant racial group in America, despite the contention by scholars that there are no pure races. Social sciences tend to view racial categories not as purely biological rather as socially constructed. Nonwhites, therefore, share distinguishing physical characteristics that are the basis for the unequal treatment they may experience.
The term nonwhite highlights the relative disadvantages experienced by individuals with less power over their lives than the dominant group. At the same time, the term nonwhite ignores both subpopulations and within group differences on various social outcomes.
SEE ALSO Assimilation; Minorities; Negro
Dodoo, F. Nii-Amoo. 1997. Assimilation Differences among Africans in America. Social Forces 76 (2): 527–546.
Grieco, Elizabeth, and Rachel Cassidy. 2001. Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: Census 2000 Brief. Washington, DC: United States Census Bureau.
Grodsky, Eric, and Devah Pager. 2001. The Structure of Disadvantage: Individual and Occupational Determinants of the Black-White Wage Gap. American Sociological Review 166 (4): 542–567.
Oliver, Melvin, and Thomas Shapiro. 1995. Black Wealth/White Wealth. New York: Routledge.
Lori Latrice Sykes
"Nonwhites." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/nonwhites
"Nonwhites." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/nonwhites
non·white / ˌnänˈ(h)wīt/ • adj. denoting or relating to a person whose origin is not predominantly European. • n. a person whose origin is not predominantly European.
"nonwhite." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/nonwhite
"nonwhite." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/nonwhite