What is the Difference and Correlation between Ethnicity and Race


What is the Difference and Correlation between Ethnicity and Race?

Jennifer was born in Asia, who spent her entire life and grew up in Canada. Given the difference in the two aspects of her identity, she may be racially identified as an Asian and ethnically as a Canadian. Ethnicity encompasses the notion of a conglomeration of certain shared benchmarks of one’s identity such as language, ancestry, religion, cultural practices and rituals and so on. It is essentially a socio-cultural construct vis-à-vis a common cultural lineage and heritage. Thus, ethnicity can be seen as an inherited rather than an ascribed status, something which one learns and socialized into rather than merely acquire by birth. In contrast to this, race refers to a biological construct, referring to a group of individuals who exhibit certain shared physical characteristics such as skin color, eye color, facial structure and others. Race is essentially a physiological entity and pertains to distinctive and discreet groups within the overarching species of the Homo sapiens. Racial attributes are considered to be biologically inherited and are accorded significance by the society. Even then, race is not held to be a palpable entity as it is extremely difficult to trace precise physical and genetic features which can truly demarcate a particular group from another. On the contrary, there are generally fluid and overlapping features which can be associated with more than one group.

The social aspect of ethnicity is evident through the presence of porous boundaries between different groups and the possibility of co-optation and adoption through processes of religious conversion, acculturation and others. In case of race too, most sociologists believe that genetic differences cannot be a full proof viable ground for racial categorizations. This can be traced to the phenomenon of presence of assorted genetic and physical variations across human groups.

The correlation between the idea of race andethnicity lies in terms of the fact that most sociologists believe that both are mutable concepts, to the extent that it is difficult to regard them essentially as ‘givens’. While in case of ethnicity, the idea of a constructed meaning is quite clear, in case of race, while it is difficult to trace clear cut racial groups due to genetic mixing, it is equally true that due to policy change and terminological transitions, many racial groups are no longer regarded as being so and have been relegated to the sphere of being ethnic cliques.

Additionally, the relation may be quite complex, but it would be important to take note of the fact that the notion of social pertinence being accorded to certain racial groups based on such physical attributes results in sentiments of inclusivity and exclusivity, generating xenophobic and other prejudicial sentiments towards the ‘other’. This may result in cornering off of certain ethnic groups, who fail to subscribe to the dominant standards.


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