Race and ethnicity: Conflict between the two terms

The world is a huge carnival of races and its like a festival for social scientists and Anthropologists. The origin of humans traces back to millions of years. Since they have started understanding themselves, they started division according to their needs, division of food, division of clothes and then they started dividing themselves, some on the basis of color, some on the basis of work etc. The system of division carried on and today humans describe themselves in the context of race and ethnicity.

The word race, when comes to mind gives the visualisation of skin color, someone being black, someone white and someone brown. We humans know ourselves globally by our skin color, for example, if someone is black that means he is African, if someone is white that means he may be British or American and if someone is brown he may be Asian. This is how we distinguish ourselves and if you think it stops here then the answer is a big No, this misconception goes further more and we discriminate people of being superior and inferior on the basis of skin color. For centuries white skinned people thought that they were superior. And this thought process gave world the chaos of slavery and everything that humanity doesn’t want to remember. Racial discrimination has been a pain for humanity for centuries.

But, is this exactly what race means? Can skin color tell your ethnicity?

And what do the terms race and ethnicity really mean? Let’s have an overview on the terms race and ethnicity through this article.


Normally race is referred to the people who are culturally homogeneous. But the anthropological view of race is different. In anthropology, race is totally a biological phenomenon. And anthropologists believe that it should be explained in the terms of biology, as we know universally that humans belong to genus Homo and species sapiens. The human population is divided into different groups, these groups differ in certain physical features or differ in certain traits, they have similarities too.

Different anthropologists gave different views on the definition of race. Anthropologist E.A. Hooton said, “Race is a great division of mankind, the member of which, though individually varying are categorized as a group by certain combination of morphological and metrical features, principally, non-adaptive, which have been derived from their common descent”.
M.F. Ashley-Montagu, in 1960, stated, “A population which differs in the frequency of some gene or genes, which is actually exchanging or capable of exchanging genes across whatever boundaries separate it from other population of the species”.
Therefore, the concept of race is biological in the terms of Anthropology. Races should have a distinctive combination of physical traits and are distinguished from each other by the relative difference of certain inherited characters, both phenotypically and genetically. Race is said to be dynamic because racial traits change by mutation. Thus, today, we see same races at different places or different races at same places.
So, race is something that is inherited throughout generations, it can be said as it is inherent in our biology. Race determines physical features such as the color of our eyes, color of hair, difference in the facial features and body structures. All human beings belong to the single species, possess many common characteristics. But there are differences too. These differences came by the need of survival. There are many factors which show that Homo sapiens differentiated to form different races. These are gene mutation, natural selection, genetic drift etc. These factors affected the genetic configuration of humans and divided them into different races.


As discussed above race is a biological phenomenon, but ethnicity is something which we acquire. Ethnicity can be chosen by the individual. Ethnicity refers to cultural factors, nationality, religion, ancestry, language. For example, Indian, German, British, American. It can be said that it is an inherited character based on culture and society. Language, religion, tradition etc., are the things that can determine our ethnic background. People may belong to different races but the same people can have same ethnicity. And people can be different in ethnicity but can belong to same race.

Ethnicity can be said to be a fact of belonging to a particular ethnic group. People who share a common thought, may be a common language, common culture can be considered as their ethnic group. Like being Indian is ethnicity but not race. Similarly, African is ethnicity not race and so on………
There are several theories and approaches given by social scientists and Anthropologists in order to understand ethnicity. But the gist of all the theories have made one thing clear that Ethnicity refers to cultural factors, such as dialect, ancestry, nation, religion etc. So it is not biological.

There is a major conflict between people, in understanding the difference between race and ethnicity. People still think ethnicity as a synonym for race. But these two are wholly different concept as explained above. In the course of time, the narcissist philosophy behind color dicrimination in this world gave rise to this conflict and racism was born out of nowhere.

We have to see the world beyond our manipulative imagination which we made up ourselves to satisfy the false ego inside us, of being superior with other by taking the side of racism. There is no point in thinking of one’s superiority or inferiority if we already know that we all belong to the same ancestry and we all have the same gene. We can differ in culture, we can differ in color but that doesn’t mean we are different. The only thing which can help to overcome this nonsense is awareness towards these factors and realisation of us, that we are humans in the first place.

So, this was an overview about race and ethnicity and hope this article managed to clarify the difference between the two terms and made things familiar.

Article by:- Utkarsh Srivastava

© Copyright reserved Alysane Society

© Copyright reserved Utkarsh Srivastava.

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