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 characteristics, such as bone structure and skin, hair, or eye color. Ethnicity, however, refers to cultural factors, including nationality, regional culture, ancestry, and language. An example of race is brown, white, or black skin (all from various parts of the world), while an example of ethnicity is German or Spanish ancestry (regardless of race).

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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.

Relationship Between Race and Ethnicity

Take the Caucasian (a.k.a., Caucasoid) race. The physical characteristics of Caucasians were described by M. A. MacConaill, an Irish anatomy professor, as including "light skin and eyes, narrow noses, and thin lips. Their hair is usually straight or wavy." Caucasians are said to have the lowest degree of projection in their alveolar bones that 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.

Caucasians are found in many countries around the world. So while a Caucasian person in the United States may share certain racial characteristics with a Caucasian person from France, the two people have different ethnic backgrounds — one American, the other French. They will likely speak different languages most of the time, have different traditions, and may even have different beliefs that have been heavily influenced by their local cultures.

It is worth noting that "race" and "ethnicity" can be highly subjective, with lines between the two concepts frequently blurred. The video below discusses how terms for racial and ethnic identities have changed over the years and how a racial or ethnic term may not accurately describe a person's identity, as the person may have multiple racial and ethnic backgrounds.

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; they often faced ethnic discrimination.


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, as 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

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

February 1, 2010, 7:18pm

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

— 71.✗.✗.202

June 13, 2013, 3:09pm

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

— 66.✗.✗.5

May 23, 2013, 2:01am

Theres only one race the human race. You are a racist if you see skin color anyways

— 98.✗.✗.17

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

June 12, 2011, 5:13am

A black skin person can be caucasian also.

— 97.✗.✗.46

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

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

January 12, 2010, 6:21pm

Im Mexican(:


— 216.✗.✗.190

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

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

September 26, 2013, 4:22pm

To the poster that said. " even Spain is considered white,because they are Europeans"

Lmfao! First of all there are European Blacks.
Spain people are not Latin people. They are Spanish.

Race White
Ethnicity Spanish
Nationality European get it?

Race White
Ethnicity Jewish
Nationality Israeli

Race Black
Ethnicity Jewish
Nationality Israeli

Race White
Ethnicity Slavic
Nationality Russian

Race Black
Ethnicity Carib/Carribbean
Nationality British,French or German.

Race White
Ethnicity Puerto Rican
Nationality American

Race Black
Ethnicity Puerto Rican
Nationality American

Race White
Ethnicity Irish
Nationality British

Race Black
Ethnicity Irish
Nationality British

Race Black
Ethnicity Arab
Nationality British or Saudi.

Race White
Ethnicity Asian
Nationality Chinese

Race Native American
Ethnicity Blackfoot
Nationality American.

See what happens,when people inter mix their races,and ethnicities ?
They breed ,and produce a lot of very confused people . That grow up not being able to differentiate between these three simple things. Race,Ethnicity,and Nationality. Multiculturlism is a failed experiment.What a travesty !

Do you get it? Of course you don't.

— 98.✗.✗.110

April 3, 2012, 10:36am

What a nice discussion;-) Off course that race and ethnicity are two different terms (however it is not obvious for some US federal bureaus and administrative institutions e.g. U.S. Office of Management and Budget and Census administration not to mention “everyday people”).
Race as we’re taught and trained to perceive by our scientists is biological phenomena. OK – some people and other animals differ morphologically and the “types” and phenotypes are observable. However it is a HUMAN who describes, classifies and creates categories, taxonomies and so on using different measures, scales and methods, focusing on different factors, features and arguing against the opponents. From this perspective race is the social construct.
Early travelers, missionaries and colonialists used to consider race differently than people in more present times. Look at different “scientific” definitions of race – if it’s “scientific”, “methodological”, “objective” so why it is so differentiated? Because these definitions and classifications have been made by various people with different education and history, methodological training and approach, as well as personality and biographies.
Take a look at the most popular name of the “white” in USA race terminology: “Caucasian”. You are so accommodated to this that you don’t even consider it’s idiocy;-) Have you ever see a man from Caucasus? It is such differently looking guy than his “Caucasian” pal from Ireland or Sweden that I guess it doesn’t need further comments.
What’s more – some smart-asses in your country ask people to ethnically self-identify, but the answer you can mark is limited to set of types: “Caucasian”, “Native Indian or Alascan…” or “Hispanic/Latino” and so on, while their ethnicity is Catalonian, Russian, Greek, Jamaican, Samoan, Nigerian, Mexican, Peruvian or, as you used to say “American”. One can have “Black identity” but this is much more complex talk.
I would recommend, just to cause more disorder the well-known text by James Clifford “Mashpee Identity” from his “Predicament with Culture”
And sorry for my purely poor English – I’m not “Caucasian” nor even “American” and I don’t use Facebook. I’m from European small country (one of around 30) which have own language, history, dominant majority and minorities, but although we are predominantly “White”, we have also people of different phenotype who identify with our ethnicity (but we’re not smarter than people in US – in my country we also have people who cannot see farther their “categorical” noses, who feel strange forced to take a look out from their caves and who prefer to watch the shadows on the wall) ;-))

— 85.✗.✗.104


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