Race, ethnicity and nationality

Many people tend to use the terms ‘ethnicity’, ‘nationality’ and ‘race’
interchangeably, but technically, they’re defined as separate things.

The term “Race” is commonly used to describe a group of people with common ancestry, or shared physical or social features.

Racial classification is both self-defined and externally-imposed. Despite difficulties with the definition of the concept, the term race is widely used in legal and political contexts, for example, Caucasian (White), Black, Asian, etc,.

An ethnicity is a form of group identification. Individuals can choose the ethnic group(s) with which they most identify with for example, Hispanic, African, Celtic.

“‘Race’ and ‘ethnicity’ have been and continue to be used as ways to describe human diversity,” according to Nina Jablonski, an anthropologist and palaeobiologist at The Pennsylvania State University, who is known for her research into the evolution of human skin colour.

“Race is understood by most people as a mixture of physical, behavioural and cultural attributes. Ethnicity recognizes differences between people mostly on the basis of language and shared culture.”

Nationality is the status of belonging to, or affiliation with, a particular nation or political state. It has been linked to ethnicity and race as in some context it means ancestry while in other contexts it means citizenship of a particular country or state.

National identity and citizenship are not always the same thing in Great Britain or the UK. Most white people born in Great Britain, although British citizens, do not regard themselves as British and prefer to state their national identity as English, Scottish or Welsh.

Most people with ethnic minority backgrounds that are born in England tend to consider themselves as British (citizens) rather than English (nationality).

In England and Wales, there are 18 ethnic groups recommended for use by the government when they ask for someone’s ethnicity. There are differences in the ordering of the ethnic groups, as well as the groups themselves, in Scotland and Northern Ireland to reflect the demographics of the population.

In the past several decades, there has been an uptick in identifying with ethnic history, for example, pride in one’s country or culture of origin, instead of just being “white” or “black”.





Further reading

Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color Paperback