The race is often a concept which is most associated with the field of sociology. It can be defined as a form of human categorization or grouping which is done on the basis of shared physical characteristics or social qualities. These racial categories are often viewed as being quite distinct by a large part of society. On the other hand, ethnicity is defined as a category of people who identify with one another. This is often done on the basis of common ancestry, genealogy, or other similarities like common history, language, society, dialect, nation, culture, or society. Both of these concepts might seem quite similar at first. However, these are quite distinct concepts which have a number of differences and similarities alike. There is also a rather strong relationship between the concepts of race and ethnicity which will be explored in the subtopics mentioned below.
An Introduction to the Concept of Race
As it was mentioned above, race can be defined as a type of human categorization which is done on the basis of common social or physical qualities. This is one of the oldest forms of social categorization which is known to mankind. These groups are often perceived to be quite distinct or different from one another. It is also quite interesting to note that earlier the term ‘race’ was used to refer to groups of individuals who share a common language. But now this term is used to denote national affiliations of a group of people. Further, in the 17th century, this term was used to refer to the different physical traits which many individuals shared at that time. There are many social scientists who also define race as a type of social construct or a type of identity which is assigned by society to individuals on the basis of certain established norms or rules.
It is important for people to remember that even though the categorization of a race might be on the basis of similar physical characteristics but that does not mean that the concept of race is an inherent biological or physical trait. According to different folk taxonomies, it has been observed that these groups of race can vary from time to time. There are also many social evils which have been born out of this concept of race. And the three biggest of those social evils are prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination. It is also important to note that since the start of the 20th century the entire usage of the word ‘race’ has become quite problematic. This is primarily due to the crimes which have been committed all across the globe due to the concept of race. This is why other terms are now used to refer to the concept of race. And some of those terms are communities, ethnic groups, population, or simply people.
What is Ethnicity?
The term ethnicity is also often used interchangeably with the word ‘ethnic groups’. And as it was mentioned above, ethnicity or ethnic groups can be defined as a group of who openly identify with one another on the basis of shared ancestry, genealogy, or other similarities in terms of a common language, dialect, history, society, nation, or culture. The term nation is also used interchangeably with ethnicity. It is important to remember that ethnicity is an inherent status which one gets on the basis of the society in which one is born or lives. Ethnic groups often share common symbolic systems of mythology, religion, cuisine, rituals, physical appearance, art, and dressing style. These groups further share a common gene pool and it is also possible for an individual to leave one ethnic group and move into another.
According to the current reports and statistics, Hans Chinese is the largest ethnic group which exists in the world. On the other hand, there are many groups of indigenous people all across the globe which are considered to be some of the smallest groups of ethnic groups in the world. One should also remember that ethnic groups can also be subdivided into different tribes or subgroups. This description clearly shows that the concept of ethnicity is still more fluid than the concept of race. In the next section, there will be a discussion on some of the key theories and concepts of ethnicity and race.
Key Theories and Concepts of Race and Ethnicity
There are many classical and modern theories on the concepts of race and ethnicity. These theories highlight the relationships which exist between both these concepts. And some of those theories related to race and ethnicity are:
- The Concept of Double-Consciousness
This particular concept was given by W. E. B. du Bois who was an early American sociologist. This concept has made a very lasting impression in the field of sociology. This concept was also mentioned in the book ‘The Souls of Black Folk’. In this concept, this American sociologist talks about how an individual perceives himself or herself in a predominantly white society and how one also perceives himself or herself as being the ‘other’ in such societies. He goes on to talk about how distressing and conflicting the experience of identity formation can become in such situations.
- The Racial Formation Theory
This theory was given by sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant. These sociologists depict race as being an unstable and ever-changing social construct which is intricately tied up with different political and historical events. Race is also a social construct which provides access to individuals to resources, rights, and power.
- The Theory of Systematic Racism
This theory was given by a sociologist named Joe Feagin. This theory is extremely popular and is also stated many times in other papers of race and ethnicity. This theory also rose to popularity after the entire Black Lives Matter movement. This theory basically works with the foundation that racism is built into the very foundation of a society which is why it ends up being reflected in all aspects of society. This theory tries to explain the process of how race origin, how it operates, and what steps one can take to fight it.
- The Concept of Intersectionality
This concept was given by a legal scholar named Kimberle Williams Crenshaw and plays a very important part in the theory given by Patricia Hill Collins who is a sociologist. In this concept, a lot of stress is placed on understanding different social categories and how race interacts with all experiences of an individual including ability, ethnicity, sexuality, culture, gender, economic class, and many others.
These are some of the key concepts or theories which try to explain the relationship which exists between the concepts of race and ethnicity. It is important for one to remember that there are many studies which are being carried out all across the globe to understand this relationship in a better light.
Race and ethnicity are related concepts which have many points to differentiate between them. Race is often defined as the social grouping which individuals are places in on the basis of social qualities or other physical characteristics. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is defined as a group of individuals who often identify with one another on the basis of many shared characteristics in terms of culture, history, genes, society, culture, or nation. Ethnicity is often considered to be a more fluid concept in comparison to race. There are also many theories and concepts which try to understand the relationship which exists between these concepts. Some of those theories and concepts are the racial formation theory and the concept of double-consciousness.