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  • Writer's picturePavan Khoobchandani

What's The Difference Between "Color" And "Race" In A List Of Protected Categories?

In the United States, there are many laws and regulations that protect people from discrimination in the workplace and beyond. Some of these regulations are based on specific characteristics, such as race and color. But what is the difference between these two protected categories?

The category of “race” refers to a person’s biological background. This includes one’s geography, ancestry, genetics, or physical appearance—all of which may contribute to a person being perceived as a certain race. Discrimination on the basis of an immutable characteristic associated with race, such as skin color, hair texture, or certain facial features also violates federal law, even though not all members of the race share the same characteristic.

Race is often associated with skin color, although not all races have the same shade of skin.

On the other hand, “color” is used when talking about an individual's skin tone—regardless of their racial background or identity. Color discrimination occurs when a person is discriminated against based on the lightness, darkness, or other color characteristic of the person. Color can be used to identify broad groups that include various different ethnicities, ancestral origins or cultures within those broad groupings. For example, someone might self-identify as "Black," but they could still fall into various shades of brown when talking about color instead of race. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision, color discrimination can occur between persons of different races or ethnicities, or between persons of the same race or ethnicity.

Understandably, this distinction can be difficult to understand due to the fact that color has been historically linked with race in order to classify people in society. However, it is important to recognize that while both terms are affiliated with skin tone in many cases, “race” focuses on one’s heritage and “color” is more associated with identifying a person by their particular skin tone.

Overall, understanding the difference between these two protected categories—race and color—is crucial for everyone involved in any aspect of employment law and interpersonal relations between colleagues or employers and employees alike. Understanding this distinction helps us treat each other with respect and, hopefully, reduces any potential for discrimination based on either factor.


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