This volume explores the relationship between education and race and ethnicity with particular emphasis on black Americans. In this chapter I present some basic data about educational attainment and performance and introduce some factors that shape the processes and outcomes of the relationship. The relationship, however, does not occur in a vacuum. It is first necessary to discuss the meanings of race and ethnicity: their establishment, maintenance, alteration and consequences. These meanings and consequences must also be grounded in the historical, structural, and cultural context of American society.