What is "Street Race"?

Street Race Explained For Identifying And Eliminating Inequality

By Nancy López PhD 

What’s your street race?

If you were walking down the street, what race do you think strangers would assume you are based on what you look like?

The beauty of this question is that it challenges the myth or race as biology, genetic ancestry or culture and instead focuses on race as social relationship of power that is not just about your personal identity.

Our research shows that when you use the street race measure in studies about inequality you can make visible inequities that would otherwise remain hidden if we only ask about how you identify (López 2014; López et al., 2018; Vargas et al., 2019).

It’s always important to include at least two questions when asking about race:

  1. How do you identify
  2. How do you think others see your race?

Equally important is making sure that you mark one box when asked about your street race.

Think about why President Obama marked one box in the 2010 Census and the Civil Rights use of that data to detect housing, health care access and employment discrimination.

If President Obama were walking down the street looking for an apartment or if he showed up in an emergency room with symptoms of appendicitis would anyone think he’s white?

Another challenge is the ways in which race and ethnicity are confused. In 2018 I wrote an essay entitled “The Census Bureau Keeps confusing race and ethnicity". There I talk about street race as the social meanings assigned to the conglomeration of your skin color, hair texture, facial features and how those of us interested in understanding everyday racism should not just ask about ethnicity or cultural background. We also need to ask about street race.

For example, if we ask about someone’s race or ethnic origin in one question and the person says, Cuban, Puerto Rican or Mexican, and stop there, we may miss an opportunity to find out if Puerto Ricans who are light-skinned and probably not seen as Black or Brown are treated differently from those who are their siblings but may be seen as Black or Brown when walking down the street. 

Only when we critically assess our own street race can we begin the journey of shifting to understand the experiences of others who may be members of the same family but assigned different street races in their everyday interactions.

Hopefully through everyday critical reflection about street race, we create bridges of understanding, empathy, unity and solidarity.

I hope that the street race measure becomes a gold standard for all data collection that helps us map injustice and create a more just world anchored in human rights, not only for ourselves but also for our children, families and communities for generations to come.

Street Race Publications

Vargas, E. D., Juarez, M., Stone, L. C., & Lopez, N. (2019). Critical ‘street race’ praxis: advancing the measurement of racial discrimination among diverse Latinx communities in the US. Critical Public Health, 1-11.

López, Nancy, Edward Vargas, Melina Juarez, Lisa Cacari-Stone and Sonia Bettez. 2017. What’s Your “Street Race”? Leveraging Multidimensional Measures of Race and Intersectionality for Examining Physical and Mental Health Status among Latinxs Sociology of Race and Ethnicity. doi:10.1177/2332649217708798.

Innovative Multidimensional Measure of Race/Racialization as Analytically Distinct from Ethnicity or National Origin: “Street race” has been measured empirically in the following surveys:

  • 2015 Latino National Health and Immigration Survey (N=1,473) RWJF Center for Health Policy; 2016 Collaborative Multiracial Post-Election Survey (N=10,145)
  • 2016 The New Landscapes of a Majority-Minority State: Politics, Economy, Health, and Well-Being in New Mexico (NLMMS) RWJF Center for Health Policy (N= 1,505)
  • 2017-2018 Visibilizing AfroLatin@s: Measuring Race Among Latin@s, AfroLatino Forum Survey, New York (in progress).
  • See also, Reyna, Chandra. 2018. “’Street Race’ and Health,” In Brief, Contexts 17(2): 4-7.

López, Nancy. 2018. The US Census Bureau keeps confusing race and ethnicity, The Conversation, February 28,
Republished in Salon, Associated Press, Newsela for teachers in K-12 Instructional Online Platform (Over 64K readers)

López, Nancy. 2017. Why the 2020 Census Should Keep Longstanding Separate Questions About Hispanic Origin and Race. Scholars Strategy Network.

López, Nancy. 2014. “What’s Your “Street Race-Gender”? Why We Need Separate Questions on Hispanic Origin and Race for the 2020 Census. RWJF Human Capital Blog. November 26, RWJF Blog

Street Race and Street Gender Questions used in 2016 The New Landscapes of a Majority-Minority State: Politics, Economy, Health, and Well-Being in New Mexico (NLMMS) RWJF Center for Health Policy (N= 1,505). 

López, Nancy. 2013. An Inconvenient Truth: ‘Hispanic’ is an Ethnic Origin, not a ‘Race.’ Guest Commentary, August 24. National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP).

López, Nancy, Christopher Erwin, Melissa Binder and Mario Chavez. 2017. “Making the Invisible Visible: Advancing Quantitative Methods Through Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality for Revealing Complex Race-Gender-Class Inequalities in Higher Education, 1980- 2015.” Special Issue: QuantCrit: Critical Race Theory and Quantitative Research Methods, Race, Ethnicity and Education

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