Racial Categories By KENNETH PREWITT AUGUST 21, 2013 STARTING in 1790, and every 10 years since, the census has sorted the American population into distinct racial groups. Remarkably, a discredited relic of 18th-century science, the “five races of mankind,” lives on in the 21st century. Today, the census calls these five races white; black; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. The nation’s founders put a hierarchical racial classification to political use: its premise of white supremacy justified, among other things, enslaving Africans, violent removal of Native Americans from their land, the colonization of Caribbean and Pacific islands, Jim Crow subjugation and the importation of cheap labor from China and Mexico. Of course, officially sanctioned discrimination was finally outlawed by civil rights legislation in 1964. The underlying demographic categories, however, were kept. Securing civil rights required statistics. Thus resulted an uneasy marriage of preposterous 18th-century racial classifications to legitimate 20th-century policy goals like fair electoral representation, anti-discrimination programs, school desegregation, bilingual education and affirmative action. But the demographic revolution since the immigration overhaul of 1965 has pushed the outdated (and politically constructed) notion of race to the breaking point. In June the Supreme Court struck down a core provision of the Voting Rights Act, taking note of changing demographics. I disagree with the court’s ruling, but agree that society is changing. And our statistics must reflect those changes.