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The Difference Between Race and Ethnicity

The Difference Between Race and Ethnicity

The Difference Between Race and Ethnicity

Sections of the population are categorised based on race and ethnicity. Race is the categorization of humans into groups, frequently on the basis of physical traits. With regard to customs, history, language, and religion, ethnicity is the cultural expression and identification of individuals from various geographic regions.

In simple words, race relates to physical characteristics and ethnicity to cultural affiliation. It is also possible to say that ethnicity is something you learn, whereas race is something you inherit.

This page describes the distinctions between race and ethnicity, how the terms overlap, and how the U.S. Census Bureau classifies diverse groups.


The term “race” refers to biological characteristics that you inherit from your parents. Your ethnicity, which you either picked or learned from your culture and family, defines your cultural identity.

Race vs. Ethnicity

The term “race” refers to biological characteristics that you inherit from your parents. Your ethnicity, which you either picked or learned from your culture and family, defines your cultural identity.


  • Narrow
  • Based on shared biological and physical characteristics


  • Broad
  • Based on origin and cultural expression


“A category of people that shares certain distinctive physical qualities,” according to Merriam-Webster, is what is meant by race.

Race is typically linked to biological factors and to physical traits like hair and skin tone. It includes a limited number of choices. However, individuals with comparable skin tones or hair textures might be classified as belonging to distinct races, and over time, the definitions in the U.S. have evolved.

While some people may be deemed to be of a particular race (such as Blacks), others may identify more with a particular ethnicity. Any individual of any race could use this.

You may be required to indicate that you fall under one or more of the following categories on forms that ask about your race:

  • White
  • African American or Black
  • Asian
  • Native Alaskan or American Indian
  • Hawaiian or Pacific Islander native

You could occasionally be required to choose just one category. Other times, you could be asked to select every box that applies.


Race is a more narrow concept than ethnicity. The phrase distinguishes between social groups based on cultural expression and affiliation.

An individual’s ethnicity can be characterised by factors like race, national origin, tribal background, religion, language, and culture.

While someone may claim to be “Black,” they may actually be Italian in ethnicity. Similar to this, someone may claim to be “White” and to be Irish.

The US Census Bureau, Race, and Ethnicity

When filling out the census, medical documents, and job applications, you might question why questions on race and ethnicity are asked.

Race Data

The funding of government initiatives that offer services to particular groups is impacted by racial statistics.

The Bureau gathers statistics on race in order to make sure that all racial groups’ needs are met by policy. Additionally, they want to keep an eye on how anti-discrimination laws and rules are being followed.

Rather than “an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically, or genetically,” the data on race is based on self-identification. To indicate their racial mixture, census respondents can mark more than one race on the form.

Over the course of the past 200 years or so, the categories mentioned under “Race” have changed. Some of the phrases that were once used are now derogatory and have been eliminated. The questions themselves have changed, as well. People were once questioned about their “race”.

The U.S. Census Bureau now employs the following guidelines to assist people in selecting the category that most accurately reflects them:


All people who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups with roots in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa are included in the category “White.”

German, Italian, Lebanese, Cajun, Chaldean, Slavic, Iranian, French, Polish, Egyptian, Irish, and English are a few examples of these ethnic groups.

Black or African American

All people who identify with one or more countries or ethnic groups descended from any of the Black racial groups of Africa are included in the category “Black or African American,” according to the dictionary.

These groups include, for example, African Americans, Jamaicans, Haitians, Nigerians, Ethiopians, and Somalis.

This group includes people who identify as being from Ghana, South Africa, Barbados, Kenya, Liberia, and the Bahamas.

American Indian or Alaska Native

All people who maintain tribal membership or community attachment and who identify with one of the indigenous peoples of North or South America (including Central America) fall under the definition of “American Indian or Alaska Native.”

This category includes the following organisations:

  • Navajo People
  • Whitefeet Tribe
  • Mayan
  • Aztec
  • Barrow Inupiat Traditional Village Government
  • Eskimo Community of Nome


“All individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups descended from the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent are included in the category of Asian.”

If you identify as any of the following, there are specific Asian checkboxes for you:

  • Indian Chinese
  • Filipino
  • Asian
  • Vietnamese
  • Japanese
  • Korean Other Asian (e.g., Pakistani, Cambodian, and Hmong)

Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander

All people who identify with one or more countries or ethnic groups descended from Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands are included in the category “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.”

People who identify as one or more of the following can check the appropriate box to indicate that they are a Pacific Islander:

  • Native
  • Pacific Islander
  • Hawaiian
  • Samoan
  • Chamorro (e.g., Tongan, Fijian, and Marshallese)

Some Other Race

Choose “Some Other Race” and enter how you identify if you do not belong to any of the aforementioned categories.

Ethnicity Data

Whether you are of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish descent is a question asked by the U.S. Census Bureau. They understand that people who identify with this group may be of any racial background.

The terms “Hispanic,” “Latino,” or “Spanish” refer to people who identify with any of the following ethnic groups:

  • Mexico
  • Virgin Islands
  • Cuba
  • Spain’s other cultures (e.g., Salvadoran, Dominican, Spaniard, Colombian, Guatemalan,
  • Ecuadorian, Peruvian, Venezuelan, Honduran, etc.)

You should choose “Not of Hispanic, Spanish, or Latino origin” if you do not identify with any of these groups.

Problems With Categorization

Some academics contend that race is cultural and that it reflects particular attitudes and ideas that communities were forced to adopt as a result of Western European conquests in the 15th century.

The concept of race has historically been used to categorise people into different social groups, and it is frequently based on outward physical characteristics.

According to research, persons who share identical physical characteristics are not necessarily related genetically as some people may believe. Researchers have discovered that alterations in skin tone result from environmental adaptations. For instance, sun exposure led to the evolution of dark skin tones. Putting people in groups based on their skin tone merely reveals that their ancestors had comparable quantities of sunlight, and it’s possible that they don’t have anything in common genetically.

People Don’t Always Fit Into Categories

Despite the fact that some businesses may seek to compile statistics on race and ethnicity, people rarely fall into neat groups.


Numerous people identify with multiple racial and ethnic groups. Their parents may have come from completely different social groups and reared them. They may also not wish to declare their membership in a certain organisation.

We Are More Alike Than We Are Different

Our DNA is 99.9% same, and less than 1% of DNA is responsible for individual variances, according to the human genome project. In other words, while remembering that we are all members of the same human family, we should celebrate and value the diversity among us.

A Word From WinAspire

There are times when it is difficult to distinguish between race and ethnicity. Because of this, forms and our conceptions of racial and ethnic identity are continually changing.

Our understanding of genetic makeup will evolve throughout time, as will the names we employ, the classifications we provide, and our opinions. Although not everyone will agree with the questions or the possible answers, for the time being it is probable that government forms will continue to inquire about both race and ethnicity.