Race and Ethnicity

Background and Overview


The concepts of race and ethnicity are not concrete. They represent social-political constructs that evolve over time and are subject to the perceptions of self and others. View a timeline of changes in race and ethnicity in the US Census from 1790-2010.

As a result, there is no perfect standard for race and ethnicity. The standardization of race and ethnicity data represents a tension between (1) collecting race and ethnicity data to maximize opportunities to self-identify, self-describe, or place oneself within a group that feels welcoming and right, and (2) collecting data that decision makers and the public can use effectively to advance social justice and civil rights.

The changing nature of society’s understanding of race and ethnicity presents an ongoing challenge to how it is captured.

At this time, San Francisco does not have a standard, required method for collecting race and ethnicity data. As a result, methods vary not only by department but by program or data system. Methods in place may be an artifact of reporting expectations, system defaults or historic decisions.

The purpose of this section is to provide guidance as follows:

  • Define a recommended standard given the latest research and testing on race and ethnicity data collection methods and to promote consistent data collection over time
  • Provide information on other standards that are available and may be used as alternatives to the recommended standard

Overview of Standards

Below is an overview of the race and ethnicity data standards covered in this section.

Jurisdiction Title Who should use
City and County of San Francisco San Francisco Recommended Standard Departments should comply with this standard unless they face conflicting requirements. Note that external reporting fields are not requirements. Appendix E provides a rationale for these recommendations.
City and County of San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Ethnicity Guidelines All new data collection systems purchased or designed for or by the Department of Public Health.
State of California Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015 Regulations The Police Department is required by state law to use this in the context of collecting data on stops. This standard is not required for other types of data collection, including in the Police Department, and may not be appropriate as it was designed to capture perceived race/ethnicity.
Federal Government Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity (rev. 1997) This standard does not face City Departments. This is included for reference as this may flow down to City departments via federal reporting requirements.

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