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Here’s the Difference Between Race and Ethnicity

ProStockStudio/Shutterstock: People from all over the world

Humans are diverse with all kinds of backgrounds and stories. The idea of race and ethnicity is so intertwined that we often end up using the terms interchangeably. However, they are not the same. Here’s how you can differentiate between the two.

According to Nina Jablonski, a palaeobiologist and anthropologist at the Penn State University, race is a mix of physical, cultural, and behavioral features. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is about language and a shared culture.

In simpler words, one’s race is part of their biology—it’s what they’ve inherited from their ancestors. Ethnicity is what we acquire based on where we live and the culture we share with others. But it’s not that simple to separate the two because there’s so much overlap.

The Idea of ‘Race’

oneinchpunch/Shutterstock: Races in the world

This concept can be traced back to the 1700s when Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a German anthropologist, attempted to classify humans based on how they looked and where they were from. He used geography, skin color, and the size and shape of skulls to make these differentiations.

Blumenbach even went on to call Caucasians ‘beautiful’ which later fueled the belief that some races were superior to others. This has historically led to colonization, apartheid, slavery, and genocide, and continues to create social and political problems even now.

Most modern-day scientists now agree that the DNA of human beings is 99.9% alike. This means that the genetic differences in humans are so little that we all essentially belong to just one race.

This means that ‘race’ is a ‘social construct’ and not based on science. It is a human creation used to group together people of similar skin color, hair, facial shapes, etc.

What Is ‘Ethnicity?’

Jacob Lund/Shutterstock: A mix of all cultures and languages

As mentioned earlier, ethnicity is about a person’s language, family, culture, religion, and place of origin. For example, if someone is born to Indian parents in Chicago, they may consider themselves racially Asian, but ethnically Indian, American, or American-Indian.

Both ethnicity and race are socially defined and not biologically valid. The most significant difference between the two is that race is usually a term assigned by other groups to a person.

Also, racial identity is inherent. It’s something you’re born into. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is a choice, and you can change it.

Despite being abstract concepts, both race and ethnicity have a great deal of influence in the real world. This may leave us wondering whether it’s best to shun these terms or feel indifferent. The truth is they can either be used to understand human diversity or to divide us. It’s up to each one of us to choose what we do with it.

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