Ethnicity vs. Race

The traditional definition of race and ethnicity is related to biological and sociological factors respectively. Race refers to a person's physical appearance, such as skin color, eye color, hair color, bone/jaw structure etc. Ethnicity, on the other hand, relates to cultural factors such as nationality, culture, ancestry, language and beliefs.

For example, take the Caucasian race. The physical characteristics of Caucasians were described by M. A. MacConaill, as being "light skin and eyes, narrow noses, and thin lips. Their hair is usually straight or wavy". Caucasoids are said to have the lowest degree of projection of the alveolar bones which contain the teeth, a notable size prominence of the cranium and forehead region, and a projection of the midfacial region. A person whose appearance matches these characteristics is said to be a Caucasian. However, there are many ethnicities within the Caucasian race e.g. Irish, Welsh, German, French, Spanish (as in the true meaning from Spain) Slovak etc. What differentiates these ethnic groups from each other is their country of origin, language they speak, cultural heritage and traditions, beliefs and rituals.


Comparison chart



Definition An ethnic group or ethnicity is a population of human beings whose members identify with each other, on the basis of a real or a presumed common genealogy or ancestry. The term race refers to the concept of dividing people into populations or groups on the basis of various sets of physical characteristics (which usually result from genetic ancestry).
Significance Ethnicity connotes shared cultural traits and a shared group history. Some ethnic groups also share linguistic or religious traits, while others share a common group history but not a common language or religion. Race presumes shared biological or genetic traits, whether actual or asserted. In the early 19th century, racial differences were ascribed significance in areas of intelligence, health, and personality. There is no evidence validating these ideas.
Genealogy Ethnicity is defined in terms of shared genealogy, whether actual or presumed. Typically, if people believe they descend from a particular group, and they want to be associated with that group, then they are in fact members of that group. Racial categories result from a shared genealogy due to geographical isolation. In the modern world this isolation has been broken down and racial groups have mixed.
Distinguishing Factors Ethnic groups distinguish themselves differently from one time period to another. They typically seek to define themselves but also are defined by the stereotypes of dominant groups. Races are assumed to be distinguished by skin color, facial type, etc. However, the scientific basis of racial distinctions is very weak. Scientific studies show that racial genetic differences are weak except in skin color.
Nationalism In 19th century, there was development of the political ideology of ethnic nationalism -- creating nations based on a presumed shared ethnic origins (e.g. Germany, Italy, Sweden...) In 19th century, the concept of nationalism was often used to justify the domination of one race over another within a specific nation.
Legal System In the last decades of the 20th century, in the U.S. and in most nations, the legal system as well as the official ideology prohibited ethnic-based discrimination. In the last decades of the 20th century, the legal system as well as the official ideology emphasized racial equality.
Conflicts Often brutal conflicts between ethnic groups have existed throughout history and across the world. But most ethnic groups in fact get along peacefully within one another in most nations most of the time. Racial prejudice remains a continuing problem throughout the world. However, there are fewer race-based conflicts in the 21st century than in the past.
Examples of conflict Conflict between Tamil and Sinhalese populations in Sri Lanka. Conflict between white and African-American people in the U.S., especially during the civil rights movement.

Race relations

"Race relations" is one of the dominant themes in American politics from time to time, and refers to relationships between the major race groups - white, black, native American, Hispanic/Latino, "Asian" and others of mixed races.

America has also had a sometimes troubled history with ethnic strife e.g. during the waves of Irish and Italian immigration to the U.S. These immigrants were Caucasian but had a different ethnicity compared to the Anglo Saxons who preceded them, and were forced to face ethnic discrimination.

Books about race relations (


The word "Asian" used in a racial context in the United States refers to people of Southeast Asian origin, including a vast variety of ethnicities such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.

This colloquial usage is incorrect because "Asian" is not technically a race because it means someone from Asia", including people from India, Saudi Arabia, Israel and parts of Russia.

Share this comparison:

If you read this far, you should follow us on:

"Ethnicity vs Race." Diffen LLC, n.d. Web. 22 Oct 2014. < >

Stay informed Related Comparisons
Follow Diffen
Make Diffen Smarter.

Log in to edit comparisons or create new comparisons in your area of expertise!

Sign up »
Top 5 Comparisons Recently Compared

Comments: Ethnicity vs Race

Comments via Facebook

Anonymous comments (15)

November 26, 2013, 11:12pm

Interesting article, yet the author while appearing in trying to be fair and PC was unaware of their own racial bias as they referred to African Americans with that much more respectful and accurate term. Thus implying that using the color "Black" is not appropriate. Yet that same person gave no such respect and courtesy to European Americans by referring to them as just a color "White", thus implying that one group is more deserving of that respect than another when they wrote: Conflict between white and African-American people in the U.S., especially during the civil rights movement.
If you correct the bigoted speech of the author, it should be: Conflict between European-American and African-American people in the U.S., especially during the civil rights movement. On a personal note, I have found that racism appears in the strangest places.

— 166.✗.✗.206

December 11, 2013, 12:19am

If Latin America is Latin, Why do we call the people who come here from Latin America Latinos and not Latin Americans. Do we call our French population Frencho Americans or Italians, Italiano Americans, what about Africano Americans or Irisho Americans. Nah we cannot call them Latin or Hispanic Americans that would make them sound American and we want them sounding very foreign. After all, we have to misname the people who come from parts of North, Central and South America because most are of either Latin European descent (who came to the Americas before the English) or of Native American descent. We need to keep up the facade that the Anglos were here first. We need to de-legitimize them and confuse the public about who they are. And if they come to this smallest part of the Americas, we'll teach their children that they are new to history in the Americas and that they sort of appeared out of thin air. Gosh the wicked witch of the west.

— 24.✗.✗.185

June 13, 2013, 3:09pm

When the Moors (of North Africa) invaded Spain, they dramatically altered Spain's White/European heritage.

— 66.✗.✗.5

February 19, 2010, 1:36am

I would agree,but I have serious doubt how the Environment in the far in the far east make Asians look the way they do.
I doubt that can be explained with substance.

— 72.✗.✗.135

May 28, 2014, 9:30pm

"However, there are many ethnicities within the Caucasian race e.g. Irish, Welsh, German, French, Spanish (as in the true meaning from Spain) Slovak etc." I think the author has fallen prey to the common error of using Caucasian to mean white. Caucasian and white are not interchangeable--Caucasian refers to the groups who originated from the Caucasus regions (I believe this makes Caucasian an ethnicity? Not too clear on this). Caucasian people are not white.

— 206.✗.✗.2

November 27, 2013, 12:43am

To: 166.✗.✗.206,

Your argument only makes sense if you believe (which you do) that "African-American" is more respectful than "black". They are interchangeable so the fact that the author (or authors, because this is a wiki) used one or the other doesn't matter. And the fact that you believe one is more respectful than the other probably indicates that you have some latent biases.

— 24.✗.✗.48

February 1, 2010, 7:18pm

There is only one human race. We learned that in kindergarten.

— 71.✗.✗.202

May 13, 2012, 5:50am

I can't believe this moron put Latino as a race when Latino denotes a culture originating from southern Europe! What this moron should have put is Native American as one of the 4 racial groups!

— 174.✗.✗.177

April 30, 2012, 1:36am

Hi, I already commented on here and I want to say to all. In my family we come in all kinds of skin colors, eye colors, hair types and in my heart and honestly to God I do not believe it is a such thing as a race. To me when I look in the mirror I do not identify myself by race or ethnicity. I identify myself as a human being as an individual person. I hate that we have to sign a "race" on everything and to me it is pitiful. To me I think they do it to compare people and or communities and try to see who's "better" than another and once again separate us all from just being humans. I believe in judging people from what they do not what they look like. I am a 21 year old gothic girl and people say im a satanist because I dress in allot of dark colors but I am actually a Christian. To me it is a separation that makes me so sad. I love all people but all people don't love me because of what I might believe or the way I dress. When I was a little girl all the way up to 16 I didn't know what "race" meant when on the tests at school you had to sign a "race" because I was not raised that way. So I Iooked dumb because I didn't know what that meant. My teacher explained to me. And I thought and still do think it is so dumb, pitiful and ignorant. We are Americans why can't we just put down American??? My great gram gram was native american who married an African american and also it's like that on my other side as well so we have different things in our blood like but to me it is just blood and all blood is red or blue before oxygen hit it. But if you look at me not all native american features come off on me. If you got my blood line you will see it there instead of in my features. Also my old friend was Jewish and Black mixed and everyone thinks she is Caucasian so really what I am trying to say is what is the difference between us all besides skin color, hair, and features? If we all looked the same then how can we identify our selves? How could we identify me if I was murdered and they found my blood but couldn't identify me because what if we all had the same DNA? We need our blood, finger prints and such to be identified individually. I wish people were like me and just forget skin color or where people come from and all love each other because the world will be so much better and easier to live in :( Because I am of color and my old boy friend was Italian he had very dark tan skin by the way but we were judged and we later broke up. We loved each other but couldn't take the hate and being picked on in school. :( It was the "blacks" in our school who I bet was raised to be that way which is sick! :( And everyone is "mixed" whether they like it or not. If you take your blood you will not come back 100% anything... But what the heck people are going to still stay in there hateful ways.. I was raised to love all and I wish some day we can all come together like Mr. Martin Luther King wanted...

— 76.✗.✗.132

December 18, 2011, 10:38pm

There is no doubt that individual human beings are different. Our perspectives confirm this day in, day out.

— 67.✗.✗.33

April 10, 2014, 7:25am

Nowdays we couldn't focus on ethnicity in burundi ,normally we should love each other

— 141.✗.✗.90

March 25, 2013, 4:01am

You do realize that you are the stupid one for making that comment? Yes there are Latinos in Southern Europe. Just because they are of European ethnicity does not mean they are white? I find you very arrogant. Native Americans are ethnically Native American but if you study up you will find out that Native Americans are not "Native" at all. They came and took over the lands long ago just as for example "early Romans" came and defeated the Latin tribes of Italy.

— 207.✗.✗.203

March 28, 2012, 4:16am

There is really no such thing as race. It's a human construct based on a historical legacy of ignorance, which is very much still perpetuated. You're more closely related to an unrelated person with different skin color but the same blood type than you are to an unrelated person with the same skin color but a different blood type.

— 71.✗.✗.250

March 21, 2012, 1:37am

Race is not a social construct. It is utterly biological. Race=Sub-species. You can't have species without race/sub-species. The only real fight is whether or not if if there are enough differences in the Human species to warrant the classification of race. I think the fact that other species with less morphological differences are classed in sub-species just shows that Humans don't want to divide one another into broad categories. It is essentially feel good nonsense. The Asian Lion only has a few differences in fur color and size yet it is classed as a different sub-species. There are two sub-species of gorilla with only very small distinctions yet humans who have large differences in appearance are the 'same race"? Politically correct nonsense.

— 71.✗.✗.138

February 14, 2012, 6:14pm

I appreciate the author's attempts to define and/or simplify the terms "ethnicity" and "race." And like others have already commented, the author's definition of race is fundamentally incorrect; race is neither biological or genetic. Race is a construct of people -- of particular people, constructed at a particular time and place, for particular purposes.

— 97.✗.✗.226


Up next

Hispanic vs. Latino