Difference between Ethnicity and Race

Key difference: Race is a classification system that is used by sociologists to categorize humans into large and distinct populations or groups. This is done on the basis of hereditary physical appearances, geographic ancestry, culture, history, language, ethnicity, and social status. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is a method of classification based upon a common trait of the population, such as a common heritage, a common culture, a shared language or dialect.

The terms ethnicity and race used to be easier to discern. However, due to the immigration and globalization the terms have become overlapped, to the extent that most people don’t even know the meaning of the two terms. Not to mention that the term race has gotten a bad reputation due to its skewed connotation due to racism and terms such as white, black, etc. These terms do not refer to race.

Race is a classification system that is used by sociologists to categorize humans into large and distinct populations or groups. This is done on the basis of hereditary physical appearances, geographic ancestry, culture, history, language, ethnicity, and social status. The common populace uses race to classify people on the basis of hereditary physical appearances, such as skin color. This has given rise to the incorrect terms such as whites or blacks.

Ethnicity, on the other hand, is a method of classification based upon a common trait of the population, such as a common heritage, a common culture, a shared language or dialect. Ethnicity may also be based on common ancestry and religion. Some ethnic groups may be marked by little more than a common name. However, ethnic groups have a consciousness of their common cultural bond. They develop because of their unique historical and social experiences. This becomes the basis for the group’s ethnic identity.

The distinction between race and ethnicity is considered highly problematic. Essentially, the difference is that ethnicity is considered to be the cultural identity of a group, where as race is the biological constitution of a group of people. For example if you consider the Caucasian race, i.e. whites, it incorporates people from many countries, such as Americans, Europeans, etc. Whereas you can breakdown the Caucasian race in ethnic groups, such as British, Scottish, Irish, French, Spanish, German, Slavic, etc. Even Americans can be further categorized into groups, such as a Northerner, Southerner, Mid-Western, Canadian, etc.

Each ethnic group is different form the other. They have different cultural practices, different society norms, different mannerisms, behaviors. They may or may not have different languages, dialects or accents. Each ethnic group has a different culture, tradition and customs. That which may be accepted in one ethnicity, may be taboo or frowned upon in another.

Back in the day, it was easier to tell one’s ethnicity. However, due to global conglomeration, people have become more open and knowledgeable about other ethnicities. This has offered more choice and change for people, such as borrowing styles and ideas from other cultures or ethnicities. This overlap of ethnicities has made it impossible to identify ethnicity based solely on distinctive features.

Essentially, one can be the same race with a different ethnicity. It can even be said that race is nature, whereas ethnicity is nurture. One can change their ethnicity, by moving to another geographical location and adopting their social customs. The person then becomes a part of that ethnic group. However, race is inherited. One cannot change their race, as it is the ancestry and heritage that the person belongs to.

Still, one should note that no matter what race or ethnicity, humans are 99.9% genetically similar. They are the same with just some minor differences. They may look different, have different cultures and customs, or they may follow different religions. However, the biggest difference that can exist between two human beings genetically is their gender.

Despite this fact, people have been treated differently throughout history due to their race and even ethnicity to some extent. A race is often labeled as inferior due to their biological or cultural characteristics. This often singles out people of that race for unfair treatment. An example of this is the enslavement of the Africans at the hands of the Caucasians. Hence, racial groups are often defined not because of science or fact but because of opinion and social experience; because of how one group of people view the other. Hence, one can also claim that race is a socially constructed category, defined by how groups have been treated historically and socially.

Image Courtesy: veryfunnypics.com, personal.psu.edu

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