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Briefcase: Legal Definition of Race

Guest, Dean Leonard Baynes


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When we fill out forms, we select our race by checking a box. But how does the law define "race?" Dean Leonard Baynes with the University of Houston Law Center asks "What if we select a race other than the one we were born into?"

"Rachel Dolezal, a white woman identified herself as African-American, and altered her skin and hair to give that impression," Dean Baynes said. "She became the President of the Spokane NAACP. When her white parents revealed that she had been born white, but presented herself as black, she was forced to resign."

"Legally speaking, race isn't so simple," Dean Baynes claims. "Clear-cut categories do not exist. Physical traits characterizing races do not have biological significance. The U.S. Supreme Court has observed that many scientists have concluded that racial classifications are mostly social and political. And one of the factors to determine a person's race is how they hold themselves out to the world."