What Is the Difference Between Race and Ethnicity.



Race is a perceived popular belief that is said to refer to physical characteristics of a person like eye colour, skin, physical body structure etc.  It is something that binds together a set group of people with similar biological features.  Race is a significant social reality and constitutes an important component of personal identity, whereas ethnicity refers to the shared cultural values and norms such as common nationality, regional culture, language, food habits, customs, rituals, literature and ancestry of a group of population.  It uniquely reflects the sociocultural life of a population.  Widely recognised ethnic groups that one can find in a country like America are African Americans, European American Indians, Latinos, etc.  In some instances, a loose group of people having no common cultural traditions can also be said to represent an ethnic group – case in example are many Irish and German Americans.  Thus, an ethnicity is a nothing but a group of population with the above-mentioned shared attributes.  A race is borne out of a genetic ancestry based on the various physical characteristics as described above.

We find many ethnic groups in the world, the largest being Han Chinese (East Asian ethnic group) which accounts for 18% of total population of the world.

Difference between race and ethnicity:

There exists some confusion in differentiating race and ethnicity and this leads some people to think that ethnicity is a politically correct term for race, but it must be noted that ethnicity has more to do with common shared culture while race purely has biological connotation and it is based only on biological attributes.

Race and ethnicity can sometime obviously overlap, but they are distinct. For example, a Chinese-American might perhaps consider himself a member of the Japanese or East Asian race, but, if he does not follow any of the customs or practices of his ancestors, he might not identify with the ethnicity, but might instead consider himself to be American.

An example of race is colour – white, brown, black skin that one finds throughout the world.  For example, Americans belong to white race while African American and Asian belong to black.  A person’s race is said to be known by his physical look whereas his ethnicity is determined by the social group and culture he belongs to.  One can have multiple ethnicities but one race even if it is mixed race.

The basic difference is that race is a result of socially constructed hierarchy.  One can have no control over what he belongs to but rather it depends on what he is perceived by others.  For example, a person born in China to Chinese parents, but as an infant, he was adopted by a French family in France.  Ethnically, he feels French, he speaks French and takes French food, he knows French history and culture whereas he knows nothing about Chinese history and culture.  But when he comes to the United States, he is treated racially as Asian.