Differences between Race and Ethnicity: An Essay


Race and Ethnicity What is the difference between these two social constructs? Why do they matter, or what is their significance for our country? Past, present and future.

Race and Ethnicity

Although classifying people based on culture and derivation is customary in various fields, such as scientific and diagnosis research, the meanings of these terms are often unknown or even confused in the academic environment. In this regard, sociologists tend to view race as socially privileged and designated phenotypical qualities (facial and skin colour features) that have been used to preserve and build social hierarchies. Similarly, they understand ethnicity to be various cultural traits, including one’s religion and language) that a group shares (Murji & Solomos, 2015). Thus, it is necessary to assess the difference between these social constructs and determine their significance in the USA based on the country’s past, present, and future.



The term ‘race’ refers to the inherited physical traits delineating one group from another. Consequently, it is understood to be a set of social associations that enable individuals to be assigned various competencies and attributes based on biologically grounded features. The differentiating characteristics involve various shapes, colours, and complexions. According to Santos et al. (2010), race encompasses phenotypical aspects, such as skin colour, eye, and height. Some other qualities are reflected in a person’s behavioural and mental qualities. Therefore, the construct is used for one’s self-identification in the following groups: Native Hawaiian, American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, and White. Based on these classifications, it can be argued that the paradigm is a large population of people with a considerable portion of their DNA segment in common. Their shared gene pool can be used to distinguish them from others.


While the concept of race applies to something biological and fixed, ‘ethnicity’ is a purely social element. In this respect, it refers to a specific community’s outlook and cultural practices that differentiate them from others. The members of an ethnic class regard themselves as culturally unique in society, and the other groups see them as such in return. The various traits that are applied to distinguish such individuals from one another include the following ones: adornment or style of dress, religion, ancestry, history, and language. The mentioned dynamics are wholly learned, which implies that there is nothing innate about the construct; it is a societal phenomenon that is purely reproduced and produced over time. Consequently, young individuals assimilate their locality’s beliefs, norms, and lifestyles through socialization.

Furthermore, ethnic characteristics are acquired forms of behaviour. Therefore, the most important quality of the construct is that it can be transformable and flexible, unrelated to biology. For this reason, people everywhere can enhance or change their culture by assimilating into or learning other beliefs. A good illustration, in this regard, is the American society comprising groups of individuals from hundreds of different ethos. Consequently, they have developed some characteristics of the country’s values and adopted a tribal identity with other citizens (Takezawa et al., 2017).

Race and Ethnicity Significance for the Country: Past, Present, and Future

The USA is a very diverse multi-ethnic, and multi-racial nation. The reason therein is that, for several hundred years, people from around the globe have been immigrating to the country. Although the population from Western Europe was the first wave of settlers, most of those entering the state were from Northern Europe. Subsequently, they were followed by individuals from Eastern Europe, then Asians and Latin Americans. The mentioned groups were afterwards followed by enslaved Africans, who were forcefully taken to the region. Due to these movements, the Native Americans experienced displacements because they were the land’s original inhabitants. Since the country’s early history, European, African, and Native Americans have been regarded as different races. However, the distinction attributed to each group has little to do with biology. Mainly, it has been used to designate the European Americans as the ones who are superior; the process was a means to concentrate privilege, land, wealth, and power in their hands (“Race and Ethnicity in the U.S,” n.d.).

Furthermore, the ideology of “Whiteness”, which aims at social domination over other races, has continued to the present day. For this reason, although the USA is still experiencing a considerable influx of immigrants, ethnicity and race relations remain problematic; it is manifested by the ongoing struggle for equality and power, violence, persecution, and discrimination. For example, in the past, the Native Americans and the European colonists had a brutal confrontation that led to the decimation of the former. Nonetheless, even after the government was established, discrimination against them was formalized and codified in various laws aimed at subjugating and keeping them from obtaining power. This group still suffers the effects of degradation that transpired centuries ago. Arguably, the population is falling to the bottom of the spectrum due to long-term high unemployment rates, cultural dislocation, inadequate education, and poverty (“Race and Ethnicity in the U.S,” n.d.).

The African Americans arrived in the region under duress as slaves, where they were stripped of all their privileges and rights. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was implemented to tackle the vice. The legislation is still followed because it bans discrimination based on ethnicity and race. However, it can be argued that racism persists, mainly since the mentioned community still performs poorly in education, health, and economics, as well as regarding incarceration, insurance coverage, and employment (“Race and Ethnicity in the U.S,” n.d.).

Another group is the Asian Americans comprising the Vietnamese, Japanese, and Chinese, who have also been subjected to the issue in question. For example, the White workers motivated the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, where they blamed this community for taking their jobs. The step therein led to the segregation of those already in the state and an abrupt ending to their immigration. Despite all these aspects, they have earned a positive stereotype of the model minority because although they did not challenge the existing establishment, the population management reached a considerable socioeconomic, professional, and educational level. On the other hand, Hispanic Americans experience relatively low rates of civil and economic assimilation, which is, to a considerable extent, cemented by the fact that most of them came to the country illegally (“Race and Ethnicity in the U.S,” n.d.). All in all, neither racism nor ethnicity is permanent, and in the future, the state will be able to achieve equality based on the two constructs.


In summary, ethnicity and race are terms used to classify people based on shared traits. The former is applied when differentiating populations by considering the following cultural characteristics: history, dietary preference, religious traditions, ancestry, and language. The latter is used to distinguish societies regarding observable features and universal biological qualities, such as the colour of one’s skin. The idea of the constructs is significant in the USA due to self-identification because the nation has a diverse population. The two expressions continue to animate intergroup relations in the country; thus, they remain socially crucial and significant ways of distinguishing the population.


Murji, K., & Solomos, J. (2015). Theories of race and ethnicity: Contemporary debates and perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Race and Ethnicity in the U.S. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-sociology/chapter/race-and-ethnicity-in-the-u-s/.

Santos, D. J. D. S., Palomares, N. B., Normando, D., & Quintão, C. C. A. (2010). Race versus ethnicity: Differing for better application. Dental Press Journal of Orthodontics, 15(3), 121-124.

Takezawa, Y. I., Smedley, A., & Wade, P. (2017, October 04). Race. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/race-human.

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