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.


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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.

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Comments: Ethnicity vs Race

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Anonymous comments (15)

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

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

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

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

December 5, 2011, 7:09am

sorry i need to proof that again, i ment race is not biological

— 68.✗.✗.102

December 5, 2011, 7:08am

race is biological. it is a socially constructed concept that divides human beings. there is nothing genetically different between white people, black people, asians or latinos so on and so forth. some cultures have similar body structures, but then again the human kind has millions of genetic variations across all cultures, ethnicities and races that wont prove what your race is when you look at a gene sample.

— 68.✗.✗.102

October 24, 2011, 9:20pm

At the end of the day, we are all human. Who cares what the color of your skin is?! I'm much more interested in what lies beneath the surface. What is in your heart? Complexions change all the time. Winter months brings lighter complexions just as Summer months bring darker complexions. So why argue about something that is so flexible. You are who you are because of what's inside, not outside. I declare myself colorblind when it comes to distinguishing between "race".

That Red. Black. White. Yellow. Orange. Purple. Pink Chick.

— 155.✗.✗.28

October 11, 2011, 10:33pm

The comment that race is determined biologically is a complete myth. Race is socially constructed. There are no real facts or studies proving that race has to deal with a person's "appearance" we are all extremely similar genetically and studies have proven the complete opposite of your claim {race being determined by biology}. TYVM.

— 134.✗.✗.61

June 12, 2011, 5:13am

A black skin person can be caucasian also.

— 97.✗.✗.46

June 10, 2011, 11:40am

im hispanic and it really bothers me that lately every form i fill out has- race, (pls check one)....asian, black/african-american, native-american, pacific islander/hawaian, or white....... then it will say......Or choose ethnicity, hispanic/of latin origin, or not of latin origin nor hispanic. does it make sense? what if im non of the above?

— 98.✗.✗.146


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Hispanic vs. Latino