People of the same race can have entirely different ethnicities and people of the same ethnicity can be two different races. So what does Race vs Ethnicity really mean??
Start with some definitions
Many people associate race with appearance: skin, hair, facial structure. Race is more than the color of one’s skin. Race is a socially constructed category. It is used to categorize people who share biological traits that society deems important.
Ethnicities are socially constructed categories based on cultural traits that society finds important. An ethnic group is a group that has a shared cultural heritage (language, traditions, religion).
Applying them to Latin American ethnicity terms
Many times the words Latinx, Hispanic and Latin American are used interchangeably which can cause some confusion. The US census defines Hispanic as “those whose heritage originated in a Spanish-speaking country”. Most people from Spanish-speaking countries were referred to by the country of their heritage, i.e. Mexican-American, Cuban-American.
Latinx refers to someone whose heritage originates from nations in the Americas that are south of the US, including Mexico, South America and the Caribbean. So, not all hispanics are Latino. Being from Spain makes you Hispanic, not Latino. And neither of these ethnic terms are based on physical appearances.
Add racial groupings into the mix
The US Census uses 6 races to collect data on the demographics of those living in the US. The first option is defined as white, defined as anyone who reports their origins as Europe, Middle East or Africa. Many Hispanic Americans are also counted as white, as Hispanic is counted as an ethnicity not a race in the Census. Black or African American are the second largest groups and are defined as those with African heritage, including those of Afro-Caribbean descent. The third group is American Indian or Alaska Native, anyone whose origins are indigenous to the contiguous US. The fourth is Asian, anyone whose origins are Southeast Asia, Eastern Asian or the Indian subcontinent. The fifth is Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. (Hawaii is the only state where a national minority is the population majority there.) The 6th is defined as some other race.
What does Race vs Ethnicity really mean?
As you can see, it isn’t always clear-cut how racial and ethnic groups are delineated, and in fact overlap significantly. Race and ethnicity play a role in how people are perceived and the opportunities granted to them in the United States, so understanding the differences is important for everyone. Gaining knowledge is an important first step in addressing racial inequalities and supporting racial justice.
Questions about race and ethnicity to discuss on Ohlelo:
- How have you learned about the differences between race and ethnicity? Were you ever taught about this subject?
- Race and ethnicity are both socially constructed ideas and remain pervasive in today’s society. Why is that society still categorizes people based on their skin tone and their customs?
- What actions can people take to help address racial inequalities in America?