What is the difference between race and ethnicity? The term race refers to the division of living things according to a series of shared physical and biological attributes. In the case of a human race, this is a social construction in which human populations are divided, under the assumption that a group of people has physical attributes that unite them.
As for ethnicity, this refers to a group of people who maintain a social bond as a result of a shared culture, language, religion or origin.
The Difference Between Race And Ethnicity
An example of the difference between race and ethnicity is to examine people who share the same ethnicity. Two people can identify their ethnicity as American, but their races can be black and white.
In addition, a person born of Asian descent who grew up in Germany can identify racially as Asian and ethnically as German. People who share the same race can also have different ethnicities. For example, people who identify themselves as white may be German, Irish or British.
|Definition||It is a categorization of human populations based on physical and biological attributes.||It is a human group in which its members share a culture, religion, language, geographical origin and / or origin.|
|Determining elements||Physical characteristics and genetic inheritance.||Common origin (geographic or by descent) and shared cultural practices.|
|Main attributes||Skin color, hair type, face shape, region of origin.||Geographical origin, religion, dress code, language, dialects, common history.|
What is race?
To speak of a race is to refer to a social division that is made of different human groups according to physical characteristics.
The term race is a social construction. This has been used since the Middle Ages and means ‘people who share a common descent’. As early as the 18th century, the race began to include the grouping and division of people according to their phenotypic (observable) characteristics.
At present, both in the social and natural sciences, the use of the word “race” is controversial. Its function as a way of establishing a division of human populations has no scientific value. This is because the attributes that separate one breed from another, at the genetic level, are not well defined, and their selection is usually arbitrary.
Even if there are phenotypic variations between individuals, genetic diversity (and its causes) is a complex issue. The races as scientific concepts are not capable of containing the complexity of these genetic phenomena.
When a group of people is categorized as a “race,” it is generally done to differentiate between human populations and in the treatment of individuals belonging to a race.
- It is mainly based on observable physical differences in people (phenotypic attributes).
- These differences are the result of and are transferred by genetic inheritance.
- It is common to be confused with the idea of ethnicity.
- Skin color, hair type and face shape are some of the most used attributes in its categorization.
- It is assumed that the attributes of a race as a whole tend not to change over time.
Race as a social construction
The idea of race is largely a social construction. It is a product of the categorization that is made between human groups, established mainly through phenotypic differences (physical and observable).
It is also common to designate as a race, or racial group, a population or group of people who share an ethnic group (culture, nationality, religion) or who have the same geographical origin.
Thus, the definition of a race changes according to the social context, as well as throughout different historical moments.
Why divide human groups into races?
One of the main reasons for dividing humans into races has been to establish discriminatory policies and segregation, in order to legitimize the dominance of one human group over another.
In any case, race as a scientific category of analysis in the human context has lost value. This does not mean that it is impractical to establish divisions between human groups.
For example, studying different ethnic groups for social/anthropological analysis, or studying populations that share genetic attributes for medical reasons, are valid scientific reasons for categorizing human populations.
Historical factors that influenced racial classification
- The European maritime and commercial expansion of the 15th and 16th centuries led to the meeting of large human groups on different continents.
- Migration, both forced and voluntary, resulted in the differentiation between ethnic groups and individuals with different physical characteristics.
- Colonialism and ethnocentrism led to the creation of hierarchies between people of different origins.
- The slavery that accompanied the colonization of America was markedly racial.
Race and racism
Racism is the belief that members of a race possess certain characteristics or qualities that make them superior to another.
The division of human groups into races was and has been influenced by positions that are not limited to the scientific field. The different races have been categorized according to a social and cultural value, as inferior or superior.
This has resulted in inequity, segregation and slavery, in addition to founding extremist positions and promoting racism.
What is ethnicity?
An ethnic group is a human group in which its members share a common origin and a socio-cultural bond.
The members of an ethnic group generally share a common language, culture, religious practices and / or habits. It is also possible that they share physical characteristics, thanks to their genealogical ancestry (common ancestors).
The word ethnic comes from the Greek ethnos and means ‘people who live together, tribe or nation’, and from the suffix –ia which means ‘action or quality’. That is, according to the origin of the word, an ethnic group represents the shared identity of a group of people who live together or form a tribe or nation.
Ethnicity as a concept is a social construct (a product of the human being) and involves a great variety of aspects. The members of an ethnic group share a bond and organize around it. Thus, the existing similarities promote union within an ethnic group.
This dynamic is also manifested in the case of differences, on which ethnic groups separate from each other. It is worth mentioning that these differences have a subjective element and depend largely on who observes them.
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As cultural habits and elements constantly change, the traits that define and separate one ethnic group from another are also changing.
Characteristics of an ethnic group
- It is based on the common origin of a group of people.
- It is expressed in behavior, habits, traditions, religion, culture, etc.
- It involves the idea of a shared bond, which forms an ethnic identity.
- It is dynamic, the characteristics of an ethnic group are adaptable.
The ethnic identity is the feeling of belonging to an ethnic group or ethnic group that an individual possesses. It is a key aspect in terms of socializing a person and feeling part of a group.
The existence of different ethnic groups implies the formation of ethnic identity. When different ethnic groups interact, they recognize the differences that exist with other groups. In the same way, its members recognize the similarities that unite them to their own ethnic group.
In a society, ethnic identity can be promoted voluntarily or involuntarily. The education or establishment of a community, the construction of national symbols or myths about a people, are voluntary ways of promoting ethnic identity.
If a population establishes a stronger bond of union and identity over its ethnic group as a result of a process of discrimination or segregation, caused by another group, this is a way to strengthen the ethnic identity in an involuntary way .
Ethnic and ethnicity
While an ethnic group represents a group or human population, ethnicity refers to the characteristics that each of these groups possesses and by means of which they are classified.
The word ethnic group began to be used in the academic sphere in the second half of the 20th century, with the development of the study of ethnicity and the formation of various social identities. Some of the most important approaches that attempt to explain the phenomenon of ethnicity are the primordial, instrumental, and constructivist approaches.
According to this approach, members of a cultural group are united thanks to a primordial essence and the existence of a type of ethnic loyalty.
Ethnicity is seen as a result of biological inheritance (kinship), where people with whom a bond is shared tend to support each other. This is due to a kind of basic or primordial evolutionary adaptation that allows members of the same ethnic group to recognize each other.
The primordial approach also considers that geographic proximity and having a shared culture and habits promote cooperation between the members that make up an ethnic group.
Regarding the instrumental approach, ethnicity is a product built for a particular purpose.
Different interest groups within an ethnic group create their ethnic identity through symbols such as historical myths, traditions, shared values, etc.
These symbols function as instruments and references for people to feel part of an ethnic group. Thanks to this, it is possible to appeal to a past that was shared by the ancestors of the current members of the group.
To a large extent, ethnicity has a utility value and is used to create identities, many times, in the likeness of certain elites or power groups.
In the constructivist approach, ethnicity is a consequence of human interaction between groups and also with context.
Diverse characteristics are emphasized in order to establish differences with groups with which one interacts. In the same way, the similarities that the group members themselves share are pointed out.
The existence of relationships between different ethnic groups is what allows them to be built. As in this approach, ethnicity finds meaning in the interaction between different ethnic groups, it is in constant construction, so the elements that make up an ethnic group are dynamic and change over time.
Ethnicity and ethnocentrism
Ethnocentrism occurs when the members of an ethnic group maintain the belief that their ethnicity, culture or traditions, and other social elements, have a higher value than other ethnic groups.
Ethnocentrism is not always an explicit way of discriminating or belittling another ethnic group. It can happen without a negative intention. A key aspect is that an individual or group observes reality from their point of view, without regard to the point of view of another group.
Most people at some point commit ethnocentric acts since it is sometimes difficult to understand the reality of other human groups.
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