Understand the real differences between race and ethnicity
The race is generally considered biological, referring to a person’s physical characteristics, while ethnicity is considered a social science construct that describes a person’s cultural identity. Ethnicity can be displayed or hidden, depending on individual preference, while racial identities are always displayed, to a greater or lesser degree.
What is Race?
Racial characteristics are physical and can range from skin, eye, and hair color to facial structure. Members of different races generally have relatively minor differences in such morphology – a branch of biology dealing with the shape and structure of animals and plants – and genetics.
All humans belong to the same species ( mo sapiens)) ) and subspecies ( and subspecies (and small genetic variations trigger varying physical appearances. Although humans are often subdivided into races, actual morphological variations do not indicate major differences in DNA. The DNA of two randomly selected humans usually varies by less than 0.1%. Because racial genetic differences are not strong, some scientists describe all humans as belonging to one race: the human race.
What is ethnicity?
Ethnicity is the term used to refer to the culture of people from a given geographic region or people who are descended from natives of that region. This includes their language, nationality, heritage, religion, dress, and customs. A Native American woman can display her ethnicity by wearing a sari, Bindi, and henna hand art, or she can hide it by wearing western clothing.
Being a member of an ethnic group involves following some or all of these cultural practices. Members of an ethnic group tend to identify with each other based on these common traits.
Examples of ethnicity include being labeled as Irish, Jewish, or Cambodian, regardless of race. Ethnicity is considered an anthropological term because it is based on learned behaviors and not biological factors. Many people have mixed cultural backgrounds and may share several ethnicities.
Race vs. Ethnicity
Race and ethnicity can overlap. For example, a Japanese American woman would likely consider herself a member of the Japanese or Asian race, but, if she does not engage in any practices or customs of her ancestry, she may not identify with ethnicity, and sees herself more as an American.
Another way to see the difference is to consider people who share the same ethnicity. Two people can identify their ethnicity as American, but one is a black person and the other is white. A person of Asian descent growing up in Britain may identify racially Asian and ethnically as British.
When Italian, Irish, and Eastern European immigrants began arriving in the United States, they were not considered part of the white race.
Around the turn of the 20th century, people from various regions were considered to belong to subcategories of the white race, such as the “Alpine” and “Mediterranean” races. These categories disappeared and people from these groups began to be accepted into the larger “white” race, although some retained their distinction as to ethnic groups.
The idea of an ethnic group can also be expanded or reduced. While Italian Americans are considered an ethnic group in the United States, some Italians identify more with their regional origins than their national origins. Rather than considering themselves Italians, they consider themselves Sicilians. Nigerians who have recently moved to the United States might identify more with their specific group in Nigeria – Igbo, Yoruba, or Fulani, for example – than with their nationality. They may have completely different customs than African Americans who are descended from former slaves and whose families have been in the United States for generations.
Some scholars believe that the concepts of race and ethnicity have been socially constructed because their definitions change over time, depending on public opinion. The belief that race is due to genetic differences and biological morphologies has given way to racism, the idea of superiority and inferiority based on race, they charge. However, persecution based on ethnicity is also common.
Race trumps ethnicity
Dalton Conley, professor of sociology at New York University, spoke to PBS about the difference between race and ethnicity for the program “Race: The Power of an Illusion”:
Conley, like other sociologists, argues that ethnicity is more fluid and transcends racial lines:
Key points to remember
Differences between race and ethnicity:
- The race is biological, while ethnicity is cultural.
- Ethnicity can be shown or hidden, while race generally cannot.
- Ethnicity can be adopted, ignored, or expanded, unlike racial characteristics.
- Ethnicity has subcategories, while races no longer do.
- Both were used to subjugate or persecute people.
- Some sociologists believe that racial divisions are based more on sociological concepts than on biological principles.