What Is The Difference Between Race And Ethnicity?

Race and ethnicity are terms used to group and categorise people.

While these two terms are often used interchangeably and have similar overlapping ideals, they have distinct meanings.

At some point in our lives, we might get asked, ‘Where are you from?’. Or ‘What is your ethnic background? What is your race?’

Endless faces of race and ethnicity | Weekly Photo Challenge: Elemental.

Endless faces of race and ethnicity | Weekly Photo Challenge: Elemental.

That’s when we might realise each word can be hard to define and understand.

Defining race

Race is often associated with physical traits, features and attributes. Someone’s race is usually defined based on unconscious first looks and impressions.

In other words, race relates to the way we look, associated with skin colour, eyes, hair, facial structure, height and clothes that we wear.

From a biological and anthropological perspective, archaeologist William Haviland argues race is ‘defined as a subspecies, or a population of a species differing geographically, morphologically, or genetically from other populations of the same species.’

Similarly, author Raj S. Bhopal mentioned race in the biological sciences is ‘one of the divisions of humankind based on physical characteristics’.

Commonly, race refers to a particular population or group of people who look a certain way. It is categorised in broad terms such as white, black, Asian, European, African, Hispanic, Indian and Middle Eastern.

Race and ethnicity seem similar.

Race and ethnicity seem similar.

From a young age, as a Chinese-Australian I realised people look different from each other. When I was five and in preschool in Australia, two of my Western classmates took turns picking teammates for their basketball team during PE class. White kid after white kid with fair hair were picked…until there was me with yellow skin, dark-brown-hair, shorter than everyone else, standing alone waiting to be picked.

Race has also been proposed as a social construct and there might be only one biological race. In a research article on human genetics published in 2013, four scientists hypothesised ‘there is not a single absolute genetic difference, meaning no single variant where all Africans have one variant and all Europeans another one.’

For a decade the Humane Genome Project mapped genes and sequenced human DNA collected across different continents and suggested there is actually significantly less genes than thought. Human beings are 99.9% similar in their genetic makeup and similar at molecular level. One the other hand, this argument has always been debatable with scientists uncovering that each of us have different copies of genes.

Race and ethnicity are more complex than they sound.

Race and ethnicity are more complex than they sound.

Defining ethnicity

Ethnicity is often defined as the common cultural traits and identities shared by a group of people. These traits include customs practiced, languages spoken, religions adopted and where our ancestors lived are some markers of ethnicity.

Author Donald L. Horowitz argues ethnicity is a concept that ‘embraces groups differentiated by color, language, and religion’. Anthropologist Steve Fenton proposes ethnicity is ‘a group which fundamentally shares cultural values…a membership which identifies itself and identifiable by others’.

We might identify with a certain ethnicity or feel part of an ethnic group when we relate to the values, mannerisms and cultural practices shared by others in the group. People of similar ethnicity may find they relate to where they’ve been, where they’re from and what they’ve experienced.

Examples of ethnic groups include being labelled Chinese, Jewish, Bengali, Cambodian, Muslim, Irish, Scottish and Japanese.

Different racial and ethnic groups create hierarchies.

Different racial and ethnic groups create hierarchies.

Race vs. ethnicity

We can think of race as something we can see while ethnicity as something we feel emotionally and spiritually.

Sociologists Stephen Cornell and Douglas Hartmann suggest racial identities typically encompass multiple ethnic identities. For instance, someone who is perceived as Asian could possess varying ethnic identities based on Chinese or Korean cultural attributes.

These days both race and ethnicity are seen beyond their traditional meanings – and like race, ethnicity is also seen as a social construct. Ethnic identities and categories can be time and context specific; changing factors can redefine ethnicity over time and different ethnic groups sit along different social hierarchies.

For example, practices of a cultural group, their languages spoken and dress sense can change over time. These changes can be attributed to assimilation or invention and adoption of new practices and tastes as ethnic groups go about their lives personally and professionally.

Philosopher Naomi Zack argues no single gene determines a person’s race in the context of biological sciences research and ‘a changing idea and system of behavior that human beings invent and reinvent about themselves and others’.

It has also been suggested in the US that racial categories ‘no longer exist…due to later policy changes, people from these groups began to be accepted into the wider “white” race’.

In other words, ‘race’ and ‘ethnic’ are constantly changing, fluid concepts. Racial and ethnic identities are also perceived differently by each individual.

Sometimes we feel like we don't belong to a certain racial or ethnic group.

Sometimes we feel like we don’t belong to a certain racial or ethnic group.

When I went to an international primary school in Malaysia, half of my classmates were Chinese, Malay and Indian Malaysians and the other half westerners from the US, Britain and Australia. Being part of a class of kids with different physical features and speech patterns was normal for us and most of us got along. Learning was our common goal.

Here I realised although some of us are from the same ethnic group, we might feel worlds apart. There were times when I got a taste of white privilege. During recess, my Malaysian classmates went, ‘I want to hang out with Mabel. Because she’s Australian. She has such white skin’.

Part of me felt amused (I didn’t see the sun a lot living in Melbourne before moving to Asia). Part of me felt flattered (popular!). But all of me felt too white to be Asian, too Asian to be white.

Consequently hierarchical tensions and racism manifest alongside different racial and ethnic groups. Some groups or individuals will be regarded as part of a minority in a given space. Accordingly, sociologist Louis Wirth defines a minority group as ‘any group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment’.

Where we belong, sometimes that's unknown.

Where we belong, sometimes that’s unknown.

Not everyone fits a stereotype

Certain racial and ethnic identities might be more common in a given place and time. This can be due to geographical movements in history and changing cultural practices over time.

Charles Darwin proposed the Theory of Evolution and suggested species develop through ‘natural selection of small, inherited variations to compete, survive and reproduce’. Thomas Huxley coined the term Darwinism in April 1860, a term frequently used to describe a natural kind of physical change.

Despite the heated debates against this theory, evolution of genes – and hence evolution of race and ethnicities – can happen in the most mysterious of ways. In recent years scientists discovered ‘orphan genes’ aren’t duplicated from existing genes and despite further gene sequencing experimentation, these orphans didn’t return to a particular gene family.

In Australia, the landscape of race and ethnicity has always been an evolving one. The British colonised Australia in the 1700s and 1800s and convicts from Europe were resettled here. The White Australia Policy and Immigration Restriction Act were adopted in the 1900s, restricting ‘non-white’ immigration. The policy was gradually abolished in 1973 and subsequently, migration increased. Today, Indigenous Australians are regarded as the First Peoples of Australia.

According to the 2016 Census, 26% of Australians are born overseas with England, New Zealand, China and Philippines topping the overseas-born countries. 33.5% Australians identified their ancestry as ‘Australian’ and 36.1% ‘English’.

What it means to be Australian has changed over the years. ‘Australian’ is a nationality but also encompasses myriad races and ethnicities.

In this culturally diverse world, one might feel caught in between different racial and ethnic groups.

For instance, one might not have the stereotypical features of a certain racial group yet are born into a family of that particular ‘race’ – think someone who has parents of two different ancestries. One might not fit stereotypical ethnic traits and don’t feel like they belong to a particular ethnic group.

Quite often I’ve never felt entirely Chinese. I didn’t have typical silky straight hair my Chinese classmates all had. I don’t speak Mandarin fluently. I also don’t entirely feel entirely Australian as I don’t always identify with Western values – too Asian to be Western.

The other weekday I was grocery shopping at Coles. The store was peak-hour packed, and I was trying to make my way down the spice-rack aisle. Someone with dark hair was looking at the spices, blocking my way. Two blonde-haired girls much taller than us stood next to us, looked at us. They looked at each other and one of them said, ‘Those Asians are in the way.’

And they both laughed.

I looked at them. They were engrossed in laughing. I looked back at the dark-haired girl. She was gone. I looked behind me. No one was behind me. With what sounded like condescending laughter ringing in my ears, I moved through the emptiness.

How do you define race and ethnicity?



223 thoughts on “What Is The Difference Between Race And Ethnicity?

  1. I think of them as layers, I guess — race is your physical characteristics, ethnicity is race plus culture.

    It’s not something we white people think about enough. We have the luxury of being the default race in the U.S., although that’s certainly changing in California.


    • You got a good word there – layers. Yes. It’s like a good cake – it won’t be cake without the sugar and flour. Maybe even the cream and icing too.

      From what I’ve seen and heard, places like LA and New York and California too are becoming so much more open.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was very interesting to read, and identity is one of those things we’d like to think, we know who we are more than anyone else. At the same time, often being asked where are you from or facing casual racism can get tiring after many experiences of it. I can relate to the part where you talked about PE class. It was the same situation for me, it was basketball class and I ended up being the very last person and was paired with the teacher.


    • ‘we know who we are more than anyone else’ So perfectly said. It takes a very special person to understand you the way you are, and I’ve always believed that person has to be similar to you in a big way. I don’t think anyone likes to be paired with the teacher in class to do anything…and I hope that it wasn’t always the case for you. If you can’t relate to your peers, often you’d think a lot where exactly do you fit in.


  3. Enlightening and interesting! Mabel, I have never pondered over the difference between race and ethnicity…thanks for this thought-provoking post. I agree with you, the two terms are more complicated than they seem and only when we are mature, can we understand the difference.

    While we may not associate with people of the same race, ethnicity has a greater pull, as we can feel closer to the group that shares our culture, traditions and language. Physical attributes do contribute to our comfort level and we adapt more easily to the people of same race. The earlier we start interacting, the better chances of assimilation. Children develop this affinity sooner as they get to know kids of different races and are too young to understand the ethnic angle. That memory of a five-year-old child is quite upsetting…I wonder how such a small child could cope with the thought process at that time!

    Human beings may be so different but their basic behavior and beliefs remain the same…probably due to the 99.9% similarities you have talked about!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is so easy to gloss over ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’. But that can’t be faulted because race is ethnicity, and ethnicity is race. Very complicated indeed and this was a very hard post to write.

      ‘ethnicity has a greater pull’…and similarities in behaviour. Love how you said it. A lot of the time we connect with someone not because of how they look, but because of how they are. To a large degree, assimilation helps us a lot – getting along with others we learn from them and they can also bring out the best in us.

      Thank you so much as always, Balroop. We are so far apart but we also have so many things in common 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My friend I’m so proud of you – you did such a good job writing this and nailed the biological science, well done!! It made me sad when you wrote you were picked last for a sport’s team. I was too and it always feels humiliating. I hate that schools even operate in that system – it leads to so much insecurity. I’m not really sure how I define race and ethnicity as it’s not a topic I’ve ever thought too deeply about. I guess race is more of an overarching thing and ethnicity can be broken up into different areas within race. For example Asian is a race but Chinese is an ethnicity. I hope that makes sense haha. This is definitely a thought-provoking post and not something so black and white (pardon the pun :)) whatever race or ethnicity we belong to, we should wear it with pride! xx


    • Now it also makes me sad that you got picked last for the sports team at school! I remember in school in Malaysia and Singapore it was just a matter of lining up and pairing off the odd and even numbered-kids off to one side, just random 🙂

      Maybe you are very comfortable in your own skin and others around you so you don’t think about race and ethnicity 🙂 It’s like how I don’t think of either at work or when I’m hanging with you – it’s the personality that matters (which can be influenced by race/ethnicity…but still…). And you made a lot of sense breaking it down.

      Haha, I don’t know if I made sense in the science part at all. Such a confusing topic. x

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The incident in the aisle at Coles is awful. I would have gone in full strine and told them where to go.
    I’ve always thought of race as a biological taxonomical description which most people don’t get when I hear human race. Apart from Homo sapiens race isn’t used much. Oddly enough sapiens are a weird mixture of many human species but the sapiens have dominated.
    There’s one more subgroup worth mentioning and that’s people who identify with a geographical area based on a special bond. I’m a QUEENSLANDER first and foremost. Everything else is immaterial. Oh I wish we had a facetious tag to use in WordPress 😉😃

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting! I always though of ethnicity as being associated with place of origin (maybe that’s why it includes traditions, religions etc). Race is a concept that we’ve been familiar with often – on the forms we all fill now and then.

    Good to get the concept right, some keep on using them interchangeably 😊


  7. I’m always excited to see a new post from you in my Reader. It’s amazing how powerfully you combine science, research and facts with personal stories and opinions. Thank you for giving me another insight into the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mabel, what a wonderful post …. and the photos are excellent. Love you take on this weeks topic – and thanks for the interesting read. You have given me another insight into the world too. Fantastic job, Mabel. I wish “race” wasn’t that important word as it. We are all humans … that walk on the same earth, breathe the same air (same places a lot cleaner than others) … even it ocean is the one (only that we have given it different names depending on where it docks). Thank you so much for this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agree with you that ‘race’ shouldn’t be overly thought about. There will be endless ideas about it, and as you said, we all breathe the same air and admire the same ocean. You know, we all live under this one big sky over us…all under one roof. And we all see the same moon and same stars. That is something magnificent.

      Thank you so much for being so lovely, Vivi. You are lovely and so kind ❤


  9. An interesting topic Mabel and one that I have never given much thought to! But now that you mention it I cannot help but wonder about it. For me Race has a negative connotation while ethnic gives positive vibes. For instance ethnic wear is great but racial dress? 😀 You know what I mean right? I liked how you differentiated between the two – now I’ll never forget the difference 🙂


  10. Pingback: WPC: Elemental: Wind | Lillie-Put

  11. LOVE your photographs! And yes, agreed on race being different from ethnicity. Especially here on these islands where multiculturalism is the norm. Islanders are only too happy to rattle off a litany of ethnic origins: “I am Japanese Hawaiian on my mother’s side and Filipino Portugese on my father’s.” Not at all unusual, and people take pride in it. It seems such a broad stroke to say a person is brown or black, ‘Oriental’ or white. These are the racist terms I grew up with in the 50’s. Considered the norm. But I was color-blind, to an extent. From my black friends I wanted to know, but where? In Africa? The Caribbean? Elsewhere? And it led to conversation, an opening up and a rich exchange. I think ethnicity allows one to be proud of origins, whereas race is for government forms. And it shouldn’t be. It really. Should. Not.

    On another note, you and I have had this conversation before in another form. As I recall, you? others? found/find it offensive for people to ask. Yet again here on the islands, folks love telling you! They are so proud of that rich heritage. Anyhow Mabel, great post as always – well thought out. ❤


    • It is so heartening to hear how Hawaii is so open about who they are, and difference is embraced. It is interesting to hear your black friends wanting to know where exactly where you’ve been. We live and gain stories from the places we’ve passed through and the people we meet.

      White, black, Oriental, brown…all these terms are racist, but they also may not be racist. It really depends on where we are and perhaps when you say them in Hawaii, people won’t take offence as you mentioned. So, so, lovely with no airs. It’s like how my and some of my friends of Asian heritage refer to ourselves as ‘yellow’ among each other and we’re okay with it.

      You are spot on. We’ve talked about this before 🙂 Keep being proud of who you are, Bela. Thank you and take care. Much love to you ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Mabel

    Nice and comprehensive article that people who has not had the opportunity to live in a different culture might find difficult to get the full understanding.

    I do agree about the word layer as a way to describe it where the ethnicity is a permeable layer that changes with the time and location while the race is something that is attached to the physical trails of the individual.


    • Layer is indeed a good word to describe the two concepts, as Autumn thoughtfully brought up. Layers can come and go, just like how some aspects of ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ can fade away or become more prominent over time.

      Thank you for supporting. Much appreciated.


  13. Thought-provoking indeed, Mabel. Well done!

    You brought out the difference between race and ethnicity commendably well. Fortunately, in cities like New York and Toronto that remain the quintessential melting pots, it’s tough to see the difference anymore.

    The assimilation of cultures is urgent if you will, for there seems to be a dearth of patience, considering time is money — as opposed to a life in the suburbs where clock ticks leisurely and people get undivided attention to become “a subject of discussion.” If a white American and a brown Indian are in an Italian restaurant in midtown Manhattan, their race and ethnicity are at best devouring pastas and pizzas. In this melting pot however, there are individuals who wear their rude streaks unfailingly and see an Indian in an Indian; Trump’s fear-mongering rhetoric facilitating and deepening these individuals’ narratives further.

    It’s okay to see an Indian in an Indian so long as it doesn’t become their topic of discussion resulting in a word being said ruining someone’s day. I totally understand when I read this: “I looked behind me. No one was behind me. With what sounded like condescending laughter ringing in my ears, I moved through the emptiness.” Powerful words — moved through the emptiness. Powerful.


    • It is amazing to hear that parts of America and Canada are becoming so much more open-minded towards cultural diversity. There are different degrees of assimilation, but with any kind of assimilation new cultures and practices are acquired and some perhaps put on the backburner on the everyday front as we go about our everyday lives being us.

      ‘it doesn’t become their topic of discussion resulting in a word being said ruining someone’s day.’ Very wise words. Timing is important when it comes to discussing race and ethnicity, and anyone’s background really. It’s the same as how we may crack jokes about our own race – there is a time and place for that. You are very kind, Mahesh. Thank you so much. Moving through the emptiness so often, you learn to see it as a friend. At least that’s what I feel 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Nicely written Mabel:) race and ‘ethnicity. You can also think of it as fruit and vegetables that being race and then your ethnicity being which fruit or vegetable you are and what variety. Like squash. There are different kind of squash. One popular kind of squash is pumpkin. Maybe chile, there jalapenos and then there your bell pepper. You get the picture?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Love your analogy, Michael. Such a clever one too 🙂 It certainly helps break down what race and ethnicity is. One kind of vegetable and fruit has many different varieties. Speaking of chillies, you also have red, green and yellow chillies. And that is wonderful, just like how each and everyone of us is wonderful in one way big or small, or both.


  15. I really like your definitions of race and ethnicity ~ this is a great post to read and ponder, and learn 🙂 The assimilation you talk about interests me very much, something I think that must have been a harsh lesson at such a young age. I admire those who are able to hold onto their culture when coming to a new land. When my ancestors arrived in the USA, it was as if the OId World and their history ceased to exist ~ immediately only the present and future mattered and the culture of their homeland quickly forgotten. I think, at least on the West coast, people are now more open and more willing to hold onto their past as well (granted, politically it seems the opposite). An insightful post and your personal stories make me both shudder and smile, a sign of a great story teller 🙂 Wishing you a great weekend ahead.


    • This was a really hard post to write, and while writing it I got utterly confused about race and ethnicity. Race is ethnicity and ethnicity is race to some degree. There are also different degrees of assimilation, and sometimes people assimilate fully and forget about culture for a matter of survival and for a better life. That said, history is important and so are each and every frame of belief – never should be forgotten. It is nice to hear that where you’ve been and lived, the past and present are embraced, and the future something to dream up and work towards to – at least that is what I see in your photos 🙂 Ah, my personal stories make you shudder…that is a first I’ve heard of. You are very kind. Wishing you a good week ahead, and take care 🙂


      • That was one of the first things I thought about during and after reading your post: how difficult this must have been to avoid crossing over into the ‘definition’ of the other. A sign of a great writer 🙂 I agree about holding onto culture and history, very valuable. Wish you a great weekend!


        • Othering will always be around so long as we are different…which we all are. But I don’t think we should go out of our way to make anyone feel like that. Great writer? You are too kind again. I need to write more and express my thoughts more eloquently 🙂


    • That is so true. People are forever changing in terms of personalities, looks, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and so on. No one of us is static on many levels. The least we can do is accept each other for who we are.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I can relate to you when you write that “[w]hen you’re different from most around you and feel worlds apart from those whom you want to connect with, you feel caught in the middle. Never feel part of the crowd big or small. Feel nowhere inconspicuously here nor there.”. This is exceptionally accurate. I don’t feel like I’m part of the crowd here and I certainly feel that I don’t belong whenever I’m back in my hometown in Malaysia. It’s like I’m stuck in the middle of two worlds. Or cultures.

    I don’t know why, Mabel, but I felt a wave of anger rising in me when I read about your experience with the blonde girls in Coles. It might be the flashbacks of some recent occurrences that I experienced. Anyways, at least you chose the mature option of keeping silent when the girls made the comment. I can assure you that if it were to happen to my friend (fellow Malaysian), all hell will break loose – because she’ll confront them over it. D=

    It’s a bit of an irony that we tend to clump race and ethnicity together when I’m sure it has different connotations to it. For me, I define ‘race’ as something attached to the place where you’re born, e.g. I’m born in Malaysia, so I’m a Malaysian Chinese. And yes, how we look also plays a role. There are countless times when the Malaysian in me has been mistaken for a Mainlander. >< Ethnicity is whether you practice the traditional values of your race, such as observing the rites and customs during Chinese New Year.

    People have commented that I don't look Chinese enough to be identified as one when I was younger, just because I'm doe-eyed. *smh*


    • It sounds like you have experienced Australia quite a bit. I don’t know if you were part of a crowd more before you came to study in Australia. Maybe you were, maybe you weren’t. But living in different countries does that to you. You immerse yourself in a new, so unfamiliar world and a bit of it will become you…and as it does perhaps another part or another world of you fades away or gets put on the backburner.

      That incident at Coles: I didn’t expect to hear that from the blonde girls (so loud too). Part of me wanted to say something, but the other part of me was tired from work and just wanted to get home. Also, it’s not like I’m against describing myself as Asian. That said, it was a very passive-aggressive situation that played upon stereotypes – all in a matter of seconds. Your friend sounds very outspoken and confident, and if she ever encounters a sitaution like this in Australia, you need to let me know 🙂

      Building upon what you said about being born in Malaysia: I rarely heard the word ethnicity. It was either you were part of the Chinese race, Malay race or Indian race – that is these are the three main races in Malaysia. And as you mentioned, ethnicity in Malaysia relates to customs – which is what many of us may describe as culture.

      Haha! When I was living in Malaysia and Singapore, I got so tanned from the sun there that people mistook me for a Malay girl. My mum also started called me ‘mah-lay mui’ 😀

      p/s – I tried replying to your blog comment on your blog. I’m not sure if it’s showing up!


      • I was never part of the popular crowd when I was studying in Taylor’s, that’s for sure… but I definitely was a people person. I was more confident and outspoken whereas now, I’d rather remain reticent in group discussions and privately express my opinions/questions to the lecturer/tutor. Yeah, I know, the stark difference in my personality, sigh.

        Oh, yes, she’s more confident than me. Mess with her and you’ll be lucky to leave the scene with an unscathed ego. I’ll let you know if anything similar happens to her.

        That’s true. We often hear ‘race’ more than ‘ethnicity’ in Malaysia, but I guess it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It probably is, but in a different context and setting. Oh my, and here I thought that the Australian sun is worse than the Malaysian sun, lol. 😂 I did receive a sunburn when I wore an off-shoulder shirt last spring and loitered off-campus for two straight hours – not fun. I bet you must have absorbed the lovely Malaysian sun to have adopted a shade darker. =P

        Your reply didn’t show up on my comment – and it isn’t in my spam folder either. Maybe the comment system was under the weather with a fever? =/ Do give it a go again and if it doesn’t work out, then I’ll have to ask Blogger to look into it.


        • Maybe it is the change of environments coming over to Australia that you are more to yourself these days. When I was at university, I kept to myself a lot and still do that these days 😛

          Malaysian sun can be just as bad. Perhaps it is not as burning…but the kind that make you turn brown. Sometimes I miss my darker shade – I think being dark makes me look more outgoing 😀

          I tried leaving my comment there again, and I think this time it’s better 🙂


          • I’d chalk it up to the change of environments… and maybe the fact that I’ve not fully blended with the local culture as well. I guess that’s introverts for us – we tend to keep to ourselves. 😉

            Maybe I’ve been lucky not to have baked into a chocolate chip cookie by the Malaysian sun. 🙂

            Ah, yes, the comment went through. 🙂


            • I am a loud and proud introvert, and sounds like you are too 😉 Also, there is no hard and fast rule or law that says we need to fully assimilate 100%.

              And I read your reply and I replied. All good now 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

  17. William Haviland and Naomi Zack are absolutely correct, race is a classification in taxonomy. It is still far too common to hear people; including highly educated scholars, refer to the “human race” when we ought to be saying the “human species”. The notion of a race defining who is human from subhuman is imaginary, illogical, backward, dangerous and completely racist. We are all part of one species. we are all human beings. No more, no less.

    Another top-notch post, Mabel.


    • Thanks, Allan. Agree with your sentiments here. Race can be what we see, but what someone sees is different to someone else. What I don’t like about the word ‘race’ is that it not only connotes comparison but competition. Some competition can be good in that it may motivate us to better ourselves. But in the context of the traditional meaning of race, it brings about the idea that someone is better than the other, and outdoing each other is what to strive for. Just no. Just no given we’re all individuals.

      ‘No more, no less.’ Very well said. Thank you.


  18. Interesting lowdown on race and ethnicity. You as an individual, Mabel, have the privilege of straddling many worlds, Chinese, Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia, with, probably, a sense of being all of these and none of it at the same time, if I may venture a conjecture. Have you, at any time, felt a conflict of these cultures within yourself or have all these found an assimilation within you leading to a new state of being? While race and ethnicity share an ideology of common ancestry, they differ in several ways. First of all, race is primarily unitary. You can only have one race, while you can claim multiple ethnic affiliations. You can identify ethnically as Irish and Polish, but you have to be essentially either black or white. For example, a Japanese-American would probably consider herself a member of the Japanese or East Asian race, but, if she doesn’t engage in any of the practices or customs of her ancestors, she might not identify with the ethnicity, but might instead consider herself to be American. I hope I have not offended you with my queries. It is just that your observations on the subject got me talking to you. Cheers…x


    • ‘a sense of being all of these and none of it at the same time’ This is such a profound line, and I actually had to stop reading your comment and take a moment to ponder it for a while. Definitely not at all offended at your queries – they got me thinking. You know what, that is how I feel a lot of the time. One moment I could be chatting with someone and the next moment I’d notice something differnt culturally between us. For example, somtimes I’d go visit my Western friend’s house and when I reach their door, I realise that I need not take off my shoes like I do at home and like how all my (Chinese) friends do too. And when I go in with shoes on, it is a weird feeling.

      It’s true that we may be from one race and have multiple ethnicities, or differing ethcnities from those who seem similar to us at face level. Ethnicity is a product of where we’ve been and what we identify with, which can change over time depending on who we’ve been with. where we’ve been and what we come to know. Maybe you’ve had experienced this yourself, Raj. You come across as very globalised but I am pretty sure you stick to tradition as well 🙂


  19. Dear Mabel, this is a very interesting read.. It is hard I would think, when one is outside of your own ethnic background to not feel alone when merged within another world..
    People I have found can be so cruel in their looks, words and ignorance of how wounding such remarks can be..
    Having worked with those with Learning disabilities, whose looks appear different, and whose behaviours are not the norm.. Who may wear protective head gear as the result of constant epileptic fits.. How cruel the general public and insensitive they can be. As I have seen them cross the street, get up from tables and move, with whispers of retards and worse in my ears..
    I feel sorry for those who can not get past a look, and a label.. And who do not even take the time to get to know a person for who they are inside..
    Here in the UK we are now a very diverse Country, with many races all living along side each other.. While I know that there are still many hurdles to overcome in educating people to this problem of racism and in acceptance of our differences.. For the most part.. We the majority of people here get along with our neighbours who have come to seek out a better life for themselves in our country..
    It is a shame that there are still so many narrow minds..

    I am sorry that you are still getting this discrimination in your life dear Mabel..
    I hope as we move forward, within our changing world, we learn to live outside our narrow boxes.. And see that we are indeed all the same..

    Love and Light my friend.. A most wonderful Post with so much detail and wisdom..
    Sue ❤ ❤ 💜😘


    • Being and feeling alone is something I’ve always known to well. Not that I mind; I’ve grown accustomed to it. I think some people are more opinionated than others, not all the time cruel because a certain perspective can only make us act the way we act.

      It sounds like you are very passionate about looking out for others. People with disability are often some of the strongest people you will come across, and I am sure some of their stories inspire you 🙂 It must be hard hearing others putting them down – none of us deserve to be put down because at the end of the day, we are all human.

      Very nice to hear the UK is becoming more and more diverse and accepting, and hope that continues. I often wonder why some can’t get past a look, label or just the way someone is. As mentioned, it could be perspective, the background they come from…but we also have similarities which we can agree on. Discrimination still happens all the time in Australia. Sometimes it happens more often than other times here to me, can never guess when it happens.

      This was such a hard post to write. Thank you so much for the honest, heartfelt comment, Sue. Always love it when you post and visit ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am pleased that you were able to write it Mabel, for such attitudes to discrimination need bringing out into the light.. Also the effect it has upon us..
        A simple thing when I was a teenager growing up, I was like a stick.. straight up and down.. No figure to speak of.. I would get called names for being thin.. At the time Twiggy was the model and was all the rage, So when someone would call me Twiggy, in a derogatory way I would try to turn it around to be meant as a compliment,, But you can not fool yourself for long..
        Growing up with a low self esteem doesn’t help.. And feeling from the onset you are unworthy puts a huge weight upon your shoulders.. Which I feel for me was the basis of my deep depression bouts as a teenager..
        Yes, learning the back stories of those I supported were humbling, to see how they had survived and come through their abusive upbringings.. Made me and my colleagues very protective of them, And I have on more than one occasion told people how rude they were and disrespectful.. As we would take them out for days out, and for meals.. People have no idea how to interact with such people, so they do their best to ignore them, which is why you find many crossing the road, or getting up to move away from them..
        Sad.. and I have said to many such person, there but for the grace of God go I.. And to thank their lucky stars they were not born with such impediments..
        Some have had the grace to look ashamed.. Others could give you verbal back and tell you where to go.. lol.. Such is life.. We all of us need to look in our mirrors more and see what is reflecting back at us..
        Wishing you a great day.. Thank you for the rescue..
        Much love and Enjoy your weekend xxx ❤


        • Discrimination has such a profound rippling effect on our lives, inside and outside, from the way we carry ourselves to our self-esteem. So sorry to hear you were teased with the name Twiggy. It doesn’t sound pleasant but it sounded like you were very positive to try make it into something better. But agree with you – you can’t hide from the truth and sometimes the more we cover up discrimination or laugh it off, the more it will prevail.

          Good on you for telling those off who weren’t too polite to the people you cared for. I hope the meals and outings cheered them up 🙂 I usually don’t have a problem with people ignoring other people – sort of similar to the saying if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it. But to actually move away because you can’t stand being around, that is just horrible.

          Positivity goes a long way, and I see that it has always been with you for so long, and it’s still going strong in your life. It is something to be admired ❤

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thank you Mabel.. Moving into to support work taught me a whole lot.. I had tons of patience previously but the job opened up a lot of discrimination that I had never before witnessed.. So the drive to stand up for their rights was strong..
            One colleague even had the landlord of a pub ask her not to bring her group of people she supported in there. She loudly reminded him of the discrimination act.. But she did not take it further.. Sad people still only see the outer shell of a person.. When there but for the grace of God we could all be walking in similar shoes.. xxx Many thanks for your time Mabel, really appreciate it xx ❤


  20. Hi Mabel, I have always thought of race and ethnicity as overlapping terms and may have used the two words interchangeably. But now, I begin to see the difference when I read that we can think of race as something that we see and ethnicity as something we feel emotionally and spiritually.
    Thanks for sharing various perspectives on race and ethnicity. The references to your school days in Australia, Malaysia and Singapore go on to show that preference for certain racial features is ingrained in our psychology right from our childhood. Most of us do not want to be seen as outliers and so there is a natural desire to belong to the similar ethnic group as the others around us.
    Having said so, I think it is both immature and rude to laugh at others because they belong to a different race or ethnicity. Btw, Sue has posted a wonderful video today, which conveys the essence of oneness notwithstanding the differences in race and culture.
    Have a lovely weekend, Mabel.


    • Race and ethnicity are probably two of the most confusing terms out there. Both are categories and touch upon the way we are, looks and traits.

      True that none of us like to be on the sidelines. There is always some stereotype of uncertainty surrounding being alone, when in fact there is nothing wrong being an outlier. But being a part of something is an amazing feeling – you feel people get you and so have your back.

      Thank you so much for letting me know that Sue shared a wonderful video in unity. Will have a look. Thank you so much again and wishing you well, Somali.


  21. Thinking about what you said of childhood experiences, I grew up in London as you well remember, and my classmates at that time were much less racially diverse than I imagine it would be now, with Caucasians making up the vast majority of students. I probably mentioned it before but I think I was put into an ESL class simply because of my race, even though English was the only language I was fluent in! When I moved to Sydney, I think there was more racial diversity in my classmates, but I also remember being picked towards the end when it came to choosing sport teams – I accept that as my genuine lack of sporting skill, though, and not necessarily because of my race. I think it’s a fair stereotype that Asians aren’t generally known for their sporting prowess (at least outside of sports like table-tennis), athletes competing in international events like the Olympic Games notwithstanding.

    I’ve often heard of the word ethnicity used in a sense like ‘those of an ethnic background’ – which really means it is referring to anyone outside the dominant race and/or culture which, in our case in Australia, probably means anyone not white/Caucasian or not assimilated into white/western culture. I’d say what you described is a fair way of interpreting the distinction between race and ethnicity, physical vs cultural characteristics. And use of those terms probably is changing, but then I don’t spend too much time thinking about such topics because I try not to group people in such a way, putting up walls instead of breaking them down. (:

    The 99.9% genetic similarity is an interesting aspect that I suspect many who focus on racial segregation often miss. It supports the ‘all mankind is made in the image of God’ mentality that I and those of my church take when it comes to relating to others – there is no racial barrier when it comes to loving and caring for other people! Indeed, with the changing demographics of our area, there is an increasing Mandarin-speaking population at my church and while they might not be ‘assimilated’ into white culture – primarily because of the language barrier – they are still keen to participate and be part of the family which is a wonderful blessing indeed.

    In contrast, I think there is still a high focus on racial differentiation in some places that isn’t always helpful, particularly in parts of the US. I understand that with the wrongs of the past inflicted by one group on another, and perhaps an overcompensation against that in the present and the natural reaction against that, as an outsider I note there’s still a lot of racial tension over there. One only needs to look at all the rioting over police conduct – wrongful or otherwise – in recent years. Which is not to say violence of that sort doesn’t happen at home either, you may well remember the Cronulla riots in Sydney back in 2005, and other racially-motivated violence in Australia.

    Thinking about your experience learning among a multi-racial group got me thinking about the generation that’s growing up today. At least in the communities I’m in, there is such a racial diversity and kids generally don’t care (unless they’ve been influenced by their parents) about the racial backgrounds of their friends and class-mates. If our cosmopolitan environment is sustained long enough I think it will become self-sustaining because we’ll all be together as one community regardless of race anyway. (I am, you are, we are Australian!)

    Regarding the theory of evolution – questions of how it is and should be taught in classrooms aside – what you mentioned here sounds to me like it’s speaking of micro-evolution – adaptation and change at an intra-species level. That’s certainly something that we can scientifically observe and not something I have an issue with. And it takes place all the time even today – as I understand it, the genes for blond hair and/or blue eyes are recessive so there must be some ‘selection’ involved for the traits to still be prevalent today. Certainly they seem to be desirable characteristic among races/peoples of a European background.

    I’m sad to hear of your encounter at Coles, and that such remarks are still being made today. Maybe it’s our different environments, but I think I’ve mentioned that I haven’t encountered any overt racism since my childhood here. I’d like to think that’s progress, but clearly there is still more to be made. Certainly, I’d like to see greater ties between Indigenous and other Australians, genuine bonds of friendship as I’ve experienced in the Pilbara, not just political point-scoring. And not just of Indigenous people ‘making it’ in white Australian culture, such as sports men and women like Cathy Freeman and Adam Goodes (as remarkable as they are), but a genuine appreciation for Indigenous culture and heritage as well as those that we’ve brought from overseas – British, Asian, American, African, etc.

    Thanks again for such a thoughtful post! (I didn’t get a chance to write till today as I was in Melbourne for work again Thursday/Friday.)


    • I do remember you mentioned you grew up in London, and you were put into an ESL class because of the way you look and the perception that goes with ‘looking’ a certain way. It always sounded to me that you never really let it bother you. If it did, you probably moved on from that experience (but of course never forget judgement of that magnitude).

      Like you I wasn’t all that sporting inclined and never had much desire to come in first in a sporting competition at school like the 400 metre relay race or scoring the winning goal in basketball. I saw sports and PE class as recreational fun, though, something different from the books and so wanted to be an active part even from a young age.

      ‘word ethnicity… our case in Australia, probably means anyone not white/Caucasian or not assimilated into white/western culture.’ Absolutely spot on. Here in Australia if someone doesn’t speak Australian English or English that doesn’t sound like Australian English to some degree, they are more than likely to be thought of as an ethnic minority – though many don’t think that way if in the context of an American or British expat residing in Oz.

      The 99.9% genetic simliarty is indeed fascinating. However, I am really not sure how that finding aroused from the decade long Human Genome Project, or that the scientific argument is convincing enough – in terms of our physical makeup. But in terms of who we are and the way we go about lives each day, I think that idea applies. As you mentioned, those at your church come together in the image of God and uplifting others – a moment where clearly differences are put aside for mutual passion and heart. It is heartening to hear not all everyone needs to be fully assimilated yet still get along.

      It’s true in other parts of the world there are more segregation than cultural unity. At times that can be said the same of Australia. For instance, it is still pretty common to have a racial incident on public transport reported every now and then, and makes the news. Casual racism often goes unspoken of. All the more reason for the need for diverse communities to sustain themselves for a more respectful environment.

      ‘I am, you are, we are Australian!’ Very much a catchy phrase. You better claim it as yours 😀

      Definitely see the need for stronger ties between Indigenous Australians and the rest of Australia, or rather, stronger and more respectful ties between all Australians. It’s a sure way not only to appreciate cultures and languages but to preserve them for future education. Like you, it’s not every day that I experience overt racism. But when it happens, it catches me off guard. I guess within me, I no longer anticipate it happening these days.

      Thank you so much for an engaging response again, Simon. Sounds like you are busy. Take care, and take it easy too 🙂


      • Nah, I was more bemused than bothered. Although, maybe ESL class isn’t quite accurate – I recall the few of us present taking turns to talk about our home languages a little bit, and at the time I only knew counting 1 to 10 in Hakka Chinese.

        Some things about PE I liked, others not so much. Unsurprisingly, I don’t recall doing much of it in England, only when coming to Australia did I learn about things like rugby and cricket during school sports.

        I suppose it’s because the dominant culture/language of the land is (Aussie) English. It can be surprising to note that Australia doesn’t have an official language – English is only the de facto national language.

        From what I understand, only small changes in certain genes can lead to different physical characteristics. As a (probably inaccurate) analogy, I imagine dog breeds can be thought of as equivalent to human races. They are all dogs, they can interbreed and continue breeding in later generations after doing so – they are still of the one species. In the same way, we are all still people, still humans, in spite of our racial/physical differences. As for my church family, well, we have a bond that goes deeper than just being fellow humans, but I won’t bore you with the details. 😉

        It is sad that it still happens… I’m just saying that I personally haven’t experienced it in recent years.

        …I was quoting a song. Maybe you knew that, maybe you didn’t. o.o;

        The political process of ‘reconciliation’ is a bit of a misnomer. Not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing, but reconciliation implies there was positive relations previously. I don’t think there’s ever been good relations between Indigenous and ‘white’ Australia. We need something that goes beyond ourselves to have true harmony among all Aussies. 😉

        I only mentioned because I thought I could have dropped by to say hello. Of course, I don’t know that you’re not busy as well. 🙂

        Till next time.


        • That is true, there isn’t an official language in Australia. Our common language is English, and in a big way it’s a language that allows us all to get along for most part. It is heartening to see the push for compulsory second-language learning in schools. But I do think more needs to be done, and more resources and skills are needed to make this eventuate.

          So true that there are many, many breeds of dogs but they are one species – and often dogs come across as so lovable and many of us have a soft spot for dogs. Wish it could be said towards every person around us.

          I actually had no idea that that line was a titled of a song. I googled it and it seems like a rather iconic song :O To me, reconciliation means there were positive times too, but somewhere along the lines we just didn’t get along…there’s a kind of taint but let’s respect each other’s differences for a better future kind of sentiment.

          It would be nice to get a hello, I will admit that. But it has been busy over here on many fronts, unforseen actually. Perhaps I’ll share in a couple of months in a post 🙂


          • French, German, and Japanese were the options in my school. My brother did Indonesian. I think I’ve already told you about my experience of Mandarin school on Saturdays.

            Eh, I’m not fond of dogs, unfortunately. They are often noisy and/or they poop everywhere. Sorry, I’m just not comfortable around them (it doesn’t help that my neighbours’ dogs are annoying.)

            I remember singing that song in primary school class, and I’m sure it’s been used in at least one television advertisement (Qantas?). Indeed, it would be good if we can work together for a better society. I just had a thought about the British and the French – two great European powers at each other’s throats for so many generations… but in recent centuries have come together as allies with (for the most part, I think) a genuine respect and admiration for each other in spite of a chequered history. Of course, they each still kept their homeland so it’s not the same situation as for Indigenous Australians, but my point is that such different peoples can overcome the past, so it’s not impossible.

            That sounds ominous. I do wish the best for you whatever it is that’s going on. As it happened, I just crashed to bed at the end of the work day anyway…


            • I don’t mind dogs or animals in general, but if you ask me to keep a pet, I need a lot of convincing on that one!

              It is true how Britain and France have come together to some degree. But given what has happened over the last two years in the world in terms of the political front, I think many of us are more than divided than we think – and especially what has been in the news lately in Australia.

              Wishing you the best too, Simon. Don’t tire and stress yourself out.


              • I was thinking about the people generally, not the politicians. Though now that you mention it, the whole Brexit thing does seem like a bit of a sour parting, although that may well be more to do with the European government and bureaucracy as a whole rather than the French.

                On the other hand, both Brits and French are both predominantly Caucasian, so I suppose that’s a point against it if we come back to your discussion about race and ethnicity.

                Let’s hope we can both get some rest for the weekend!


                • Given the turn of events in America and still the constant incidents of racism in Australia, we all have a long way to go to make this world a fairer place.

                  Really need the rest this weekend and hope you do get your rest.


  22. Great post Mabel👍🏼. I think that recently the word race is used in such a way that it can leave a bitter taste in ones mouth. It is usually used in news reports – race riots, racial intolerance, race segregation etc. while ethnicity is a little ‘softer’ as it encompasses the spirituality of the person as well as what the look like. We may lol dissimilar but we have the exact same beliefs and maybe even birthplaces. This is so thought provoking Mabel. I was born in England and came to Australia on a migrant ship with my family, I went to school here in Australia and then finished my education in Singapore. I love things about all of the places but I guess as far as race goes I am Caucasian (I got picked first for basketball and never for the choir haha). My close friend calls me an honorary Singaporean which I am happy with – but I don’t mind being a ‘pom’ either. Stay warm Mabel – I’m looking forward to your next article 😊🙏🏼


    • You are so right, and so sharp there. Race comes across as a hard word with negative connotations while ethnicity seems to sing the songs of multiculturalism. Also the word race connotes competition – that some of us are better than others, and I feel this is a ridiculous idea as we’re all individuals.

      So true that we may be different but we have the same beliefs. Even also same dreams and same problems.

      Perhaps you never showed that closeted singer singer side to anyone 😉 It is wonderful to meet an honorary Singaporean. I never got bestowed that honour 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Hi M – as always – you give us much to chew on and ponder. I agree with you on the :probably endless perspectives…” with race and ethnic definitions and social views.

    and even with so much to soak up here – I had to check a few of your links and I am really glad I did.

    for example, midway down your paragraph that started with: “It has also been suggested…”
    led me to this:
    “Ethnic identity is believed to promote group cohesiveness, particularly in communities of immigrants. Sharing ethnic identity within groups or communities provides safety to individuals who might otherwise be shunned within their host country. Over time, however, ethnic identity is replaced with racial identity.”

    and that (and this post) actually answered a question that came up around our house recently – so thanks! (my nephew wanted to know why some folks start to identify with their heritage more – and why some folks do it less – and it was just a small chat)


    • This post was a lot of chew on already. To be very honest, I felt I could chew on each point individually make the post longer than it already is, lol.

      Safety. Perfectly said, Y. We all want to feel safe as that feeling is a part of the need to feel comfortable, comfortable where we are and comfortable being who we are.

      I’m not sure about ethnic identity replacing racial identity. I need to chew on that a bit more 🙂

      So glad you took something away from this, and your nephew did too. Hope all of you are well x

      Liked by 1 person

      • well I don’t think one can replace the other because they are different constructs – but I did like the point about how definitions change and society evolves –


  24. and let me know if you can play this video – but just this week I saw this video snippet that also tied into my nephew’s race/ethnic topic conversation….


    • I watched this, and thank you so much for sharing this. Thought the suggestion about doing away with certain award shows for a certain demographic and cultural group all in a bid to achieve unity very, very interesting.

      It’s something I’m divided on. If the world was all fair and square, there’d probably be more diverse faces in every corner. On the other hand, such ‘exclusiveness’ helps and goes towards retaining tradition, beliefs and values right down to their core – and preserve a part of history in a sense. Thank you so much again for sharing. Got me thinking.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. It’s a complicated subject to tackle, Mabel. So often the issues are clouded with predjudice, and the need some of us seem to have to make ourselves feel superior at the expense of others. It’s not a happy reflection on the human race but hopefully we might one day grow nearer to understanding. Sending hugs, darlin’. I sense a lot of unhappiness underlying some of your reflections.


    • It is true that some want to be superior than others…and in a way its a survival instinct. While life hasn’t always been smooth sailing here but discrimination does make you try all the more harder in some ways. Hugs right back to you and hope the week treats you well x

      Liked by 1 person

  26. First of all your ability to tackle such diverse and complex topic so eloquently and brilliantly is something to admire boundlessly. Because I’ve read many other people write on similar topics but they are never able to capture the reader’s interest the same way you do. And keep them engaged throughout the article. You are truly gifted Mabel!

    I never knew or rather thought about the difference between these two words mostly using them synonymously one or the other. So that was very informative !


    • ‘they are never able to capture the reader’s interest the same way you’ It is so kind of you to say, Zee. Thank you so much. This was such a hard article to write…and to be honest I am still not happy with it XD

      We’re all different people with our differences, and we’re also different people with similarities. One day maybe the whole world will get along.

      Liked by 1 person

  27. Very interesting question Mabel. (beautifully illustrated by the way). IMHO, there is way too much emphasis on both. Most of us at some point feel excluded, or uninspiring, or unaccepted for what we are – race and ethnicity notwithstanding. Would that we could all see others for who and what they are at their very best.


    • You bring up a great point, Tina. Sometimes we overthink things and everyone gets stressed all round. It’s a fact that we all look different and some of us more similar than others. Love your suggestion of seeing others for their best and just themselves. We’re all human.


  28. Very insightful article Mabel. Have you though of submitting this somewhere for publication?

    I was always in the ‘picked last’ camp too. And I know what it is to not fit into any particular class (as a Jew who is not Jewish enough to be Jewish) It has taken a long time to get over the rejection, but I made it. Now I think I’m pretty swell 😀

    Love the lantern photos, especially the 🐉 . Hugs to The Wobbles clan

    PS – I hope those snooty girls in the Cole’s spice aisle evolve into something far less hateful someday soon 😡


    • So kind and thoughtful of you, Lisa. Actually, no, haven’t thought about submitting this somewhere for publication. Not sure if I want too, though 😛

      I also think you have made it – great career and now a great big trip around the world on a sale boat. Such a way to live life among the currents and swells and lovely people along the way 🙂

      The dragon photo almost didn’t make it in this post. Wasn’t feeling it but then after a bit of post-processing, I changed my mind 🐉🔥 I think the girls at Coles need to be more careful with what they say – they probably just don’t know better.

      Mr Wobbles prepared something for you today 🍔 🍟🙉


  29. I identify as a mongrel. That is partly because I am a mix of ancestries which I can see various signs of in my body. It is also because I feel I have been shaped by a mix of cultures. I like the mongrel label because I find it liberating for be somewhat across racial and ethnic boundaries and not bound by them in my thinking. (That aside, I’ve always found the mongrel dogs to be better than the pure breds so I am letting some of my dog owner prejudice come through.)

    However, how I see myself and how others see me is not always the same. In your post, you mentioned how children in Singapore with Chinese ancestry had to study Mandarin Chinese, which was good illustration of how ethnic and racial categories are imposed upon people. In different places and in different cultures, these racial and ethnic categories have been applied to me with expectations of certain behaviours and responsibilities. It can be frustrating but I keep in mind that my own identification matters more.


    • ‘I feel I have been shaped by a mix of cultures. ‘ It is very honest of you to put it that way about yourself, and that probably applies to a lot of us too. No reason why we need to confine ourselves to one group or the other. If we can feel an affinity to one of them, no reason why we can’t call ourselves a part of it – no matter what someone else might think, and there will always be a conflicting thought.

      You hit the nail on the head with what you observed about schools in Singapore. Over there is an emphasis on keeping tradition alive, and cultural stereotypes too to a degree.

      Knowing who we truly are ourselves, we don’t need to shout it out to the world. If we identify a certain way, we’ll feel it, believe it and get on with who we are and our lives.


      • The Singapore identity is pretty interesting to me. On one hand, it makes sense to promote Mandarin (and simplified characters) as it improves business opportunities with mainland China, but the heritage of Singaporean Chinese tends to be more of the southern dialects like Hokkien or Cantonese. So it seems that pragmatism is elevated over culture or identity. The same thinking doesn’t seem to occur with the Indians though, as it is Tamil over Hindi. Then there is the anthem which is sung in Malay even though most Singaporeans can’t speak Malay. English seems like a pragmatic choice of language for the national anthem but there seems to be a desire not to acknowledge Singapore’s British heritage in national symbols because Singapore is Asian. Finally, my memories of reading the Strait Times was that race was a prominent feature of the newspaper stories, with a few lamenting that Singaporeans identified by race rather than by their shared Singaporean nationality.


        • Very, very spot on with your points. While living in Singapore, I did think Hokkien was more prominent than Cantonese – and it was Malaysia where so many more spoke Cantonese. The Malay national anthem was something is something I still know by heart today.

          It’s worth noting The Straits Times came about during British colonial rule, and notably it is probably the news publication in Singapore that is able to draw international readers too. ‘…their shared Singapore identity’ – that is a good thought there, and only time will tell what that may be, or sort of is.


  30. Race and ethnicity are such hot topics right now in North America that I find myself trying to read between the lines of what people are saying. Sometimes I just read and don’t read too critically because I know how a person feels already. And to be honest, I don’t like this hyper-sensitivity I feel towards this topic because so much anger and hate has been fired off from all directions that I want to run for cover and hide.

    What’s intersting is how much my perspective on race and ethnicity, fitting in and fitting out has changed over the years. When I was a university student I felt newly educated, therefore, that I knew something of the world around me and I mistakenly looked down on people who I felt were ‘culturally appropriating’ because they lacked culture. Now, I laugh at my ignorance because EVERY society has culture, and I’ve learned to pay attention to what goes unnoticed and unsaid, especially as a expat.

    So I think it was good of you to notice and point out that these terms change and have changed. When I was growing up, we were taught “WE are ALL ONE”, but nowadays that’s not considered a good thing or acceptable. It feels like we are experiencing one of those ‘cultural revolutions’, trying to figure out how to live in the Age of Information. For me, I try to look at things critically and decide, is this (video, article, message) trying to tell me how to feel or think? Is it building a bridge or errecting a wall?


    • Race and ethnicity are very much sensitive subjects, and as you said, perhaps even more so in the States right now. And probably for the next few years to come, given the political, social and economic issues going on there.

      Cultural appropriation itself is such a fascinating topic and it can be tricky drawing the line between what is acceptable and what’s not. You are right in saying that every society has a culture (maybe many cultures, and the world culture itself can also be rather vague and debatable and we’ll not get into that here yet…). Each of us has a certain perspective, so it is impossible for us to know about all the customs and ways of living in this world.

      I think you’re the first person to bring up that it’s not a good thing to be ‘We are all one’. Currently I don’t think that’s the case anywhere in the world, and don’t know it will ever be. It might be the case in our minds and perception but in reality, that’s another story altogether. Maybe not in this era we are living in. As you touched upon, this age of information brings up so many questions, so many possibilities that each of us will agree and disagree on – and at a time when speaking up is so much easier.

      Liked by 1 person

      • To be clear, I do believe we are one race, one humanity, but learning to live with each other’s differences and cultures seems to be a real doozy, ironically in this time of globalization. I’m surprised by how much ‘racism’ has taken the front seat of all the issues we face in 2017. Americans are taught to be racially sensitive.

        At the same time, there is definitely a fight for France to remain France, and Japan to remain Japan and so on. The US is different though. It’s a true melting pot where “racially” we’re at about 50% white and 50% other colors. Actually, white still might be the predominate color, but it’s changing.

        At the end of the day though, I hope everyone remembers that despite any surface differences, we are all the same underneath and we want the same things: comfort, safety, shelter and love.


        • Racism seems to be the buzzword of late, and people and each country appear to want to define themselves distinctly in one way or another. Nothing wrong with that but it would be nice if we could all come to see that we all want similar things like the ones you mentioned.

          To be honest, I’ve always thought Americans were much more relaxed and open-minded compared to Australians. But given what has panned out over the last year, I’ve thought twice about that. That said, many from the States I”ve had the pleasure of meeting through the blogging world come across as incredible people.

          Liked by 1 person

          • The media has done a great job of portraying America as a place teeming with racism and hate. This has not been my everyday experience when I lived there. Also, I find this ironic this all is coming after our first Black Presidency (Obama), and that the majority of Americans go about their daily lives in harmony.

            But when we keep talking about ‘race’ and our differences then that’s what we focus on and what grows. When we focus on hate, we get more hate. When we blame others then more resentment grows. Extreme ideologies have taken root, and those in the middle of this social-political battle, it seems are more interested in gaining higher moral ground than having a conversation and looking behind at what are causing the problems.


    • I think the modern age has also become complicated by ease of movement and communication so you have a lot of people feeling affinity with subcultures outside of their geographic area and these affinities may transcend national boundaries and racial boundaries. Nevertheless, we live in a visual world so how we look still shapes how others approach us and in turn how we may also see ourselves.


      • Such a great point, Chad. This digital age that we live in is a much more visual and fast compared to previous generations, and it’s easier to judge others if we are are constantly absorbed in our own world.


      • Sure, but we’ve been taught, at least my generation was, to look beyond the surface, skin color, you know, the “don’t judge a book by its cover” bit. We’ve seem to have flipped that on it’s back and now we’re judging the book by its cover…I feel like I’m watching a sci-fi movie, but it’s real.


  31. Hi Mabel, Thank you for such an interesting, informative and courageous post. It was great to hear your perspective on the way you have been treated and your response to it at different times throughout your life. I apologise for the insensitivity of the girls in the supermarket. We have been doing so much to develop an inclusive society and appreciate diversity that it shocks me, as it must you, to heard rude remarks, obviously intended to give offence, perpetuating. I have had some discussion with my younger family (adults) recently and they have convinced me that race is a social construct. However, if asked to describe someone, it is sometimes difficult to do so without identifying features. I love diversity. It enriches our world. We need to keep it a valued and living thing.


  32. I’ve heard good arguments that the only race among humans is the human race. Beyond that, you can’t draw a line between one group and another and say, “This is one race and this is another.” I find the argument convincing but in spite of that I find myself using the word because it’s convenient, understood, and–well, it’s a habit. Which is a lousy excuse for perpetuating it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A habit. I think you’re right in that we use the word race out of habit, and labels and stereotypes too. For some of us, some things are just the way we are, how how we’ve always perceived them. It doesn’t mean we’re not open-minded. Sometimes it’s because we’re just comfortable with a certain way.

      Liked by 2 people

  33. Mabel, I’m so glad you tackled this topic in your article today! Last year my son was in a communication class in which they were given an assignment that included listing your “race” and your “ethnicity” (separately) He came home and asked me, “Aren’t they the same thing?” At the time my response was “Race is what other people want to call you, and it’s an out-of-date term for what people used to think were biological differences (but there is no ‘biological race’), and ethnicity is how you think of yourself, e.g., your ethnic identity.” Then I said, “What do you think your ethnicity is?” and interestingly, he said, “American.” – So, your detailed explanation of race vs. ethnicity answers this question! Thank you!

    I have pretty much all European background; I even did one of those DNA tests where they send you a report on where your genes came from, and it was all Northern European – England, Germany, Ireland. Not even any Scandanavian, which I love, no native American, no African, no Middle East, no Asian. That puts me in this category of “privileged white,” and every time I have one of those “ethnicity” demographic questions, I cringe. I hate to put down “white.” Sometimes I feel like checking “other” and writing “European-American.” I’m not sure why, I think it’s because I feel as though the weight of all the horrible things privileged white people have done to exploit other non-privileged non-white people is invoked when I see this question. (I’ve never divulged this before.)

    Back to my son’s response, in my family we do have a fair amount of early-American (colonial) background; one ancestor named “Barker” was in the U.S. during the time of the Revolutionary War and was part of the army. Yet when I think about my own heritage, I feel most drawn to the Irish part of my background – my mother’s maiden name was “O’Neill,” and the other great-grandparent in that branch was “Kirkpatrick.” When I visited Ireland for business back in the ’90s, I felt as though I’d come home. Even the food was like what my mother and grandmother used to prepare – very plain, hearty – even though my mom also has English and German from her mother’s side of the family.

    About slurring Asians in public, I have a couple of friends with Asian background who have mentioned slurs they hear/have heard directed at them in public, and it’s really awful. I’m sorry! Even here in the U.S., maybe especially so now that other-bashing is becoming apparently acceptable under Trump. – sadly! I’m sorry to hear about your recent bullying, and those girls sounded just stupid AND rude.

    One thing I wonder – have you done any research on this – why is “white” apparently more desirable, even across cultures? I have read that in India, for example, the fairer the better. And here in the U.S., it seems like lighter-color skin is considered better than a very dark-skinned person. I’m curious if it’s solely a cultural thing or if it is something that crosses cultures, and I wonder why that might be, if so. 🙂

    One other small anecdote I wanted to share on this topic: when my daughter was young I tried hard to provide both black- and white-skinned models of beauty in her life. It’s always an imperfect science, but I had encountered prejudices when I was a child that suggested “white is better,” and I wanted to try to make a better world. I was delighted when she was about seven, and we were at a puppet show event in our town, and two seats away was an African-American family (mom, dad, kids) … and she turned to me and said, “Mom, she is sooo beautiful!” (indicating the mom of the other family). – Of course I said, yes, she is, but I was thrilled, since the family did have dark-toned skin, that my daughter didn’t seem to be making value judgments on white vs. black. – Although there may have been a value judgment on beauty vs. non-beauty, but, oh well! 🙂

    Thank you, Mabel!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is interesting to hear how schools and universities are getting students thinking about the concepts of race and ethnicity in detail these days. In a way, I do think you are right that the word ‘race’ is outdated – and I suppose traditional thinking at times is not relevant anymore. The world is changing, we are constantly evolving.

      Also so interesting to hear about your background and that your DNA has its origins in Northern Europe. There really is no shame to be white and it is very thoughtful of you to acknowledge the status quo that is today and how the world has gotten to where it is at 🙂 We are all our own people and much more complex than we think, and we should all have our own box to tick (bit of a far-fetched idea, lol).

      What we ‘are’ and what we feel/where we belong to are two different things, and you illustrate this so well with your name and Irish heritage. It’s funny how sometimes something so foreign can feel so comfortable to us. Hope you had a lot of local food in Ireland and ate til your heart’s content 🙂

      No need to be sorry about racial slurs. I’ve come to accept it as a part of life given we all have different perspectives, but don’t really expect to come across these incidents. I have done some research on why ‘white’ is more desirable, and have written a couple of blogs on why ‘white’ is desired beauty in terms of looks and fashion. But in terms of ‘white and Western’ as a supposed better lifestyle, I think that’s another topic for another day. So…thank you! (But bottom line is that often Western culture and ‘whiteness’ tends to be associated with progressiveness, hence a more comfortable lifestyle).

      The story that you shared of your daughter made me smile. It certainly seems that she is very open-minded, very accepting of others as who they are. It is who we are inside that matters 🙂

      Thank you so much for this heartening comment ❤


    • I really like your thoughtful comments Theresa! Interesting point about felling guilty about being “white” … I am white as well – mostly German background. However most of my best friends are African or Asian. But I love playing my Djembe drum, which means I got some African deep down beneath my white skin!

      Liked by 1 person

  34. Ambitious, Mabel. You took another big bite.

    “..the US that racial categories ‘no longer exist…due to later policy changes, people from these groups began to be accepted into the wider “white” race’. ” I’m not sure about this, esp as one who’s living in it. The new presidency has taken us in some new (or shall we say, very old) directions.

    On a brighter note, I love the United Nations that your school comprised. What a rich experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I did take another big bite with this topic. You picked on a good point there. True, with the current situation in the States, there seems to be a lot of social discord. I also think it brought out the fact that a lot of people want a more equal, better world for each other 🙂

      It was indeed a rich experience in my primary school. There were also some sour ones though 😉


  35. Quite an interesting array of thoughts, Mabel. Another heartwarming and touching post of your multicultural life. I wish things weren’t so complicated. I wish we could see people as people. Maybe, someday we’d not have the need to discuss topics like these. Until then, thanks for starting the conversation. Hugs!


    • ‘I wish things weren’t so complicated. I wish we could see people as people.’ I wish that was the case too, Cheryl. If we could all just respect each other, we’d all work and relax together so much better. Thank you for your kind words. Very kind of you.

      Liked by 1 person

  36. I haven’t given much thoughts about the difference between the race and ethnicity. Your post makes me think about the topic. I guess I can be categorized as Asian with three different ethnicity backgrounds – Javanese, Sundanese and Peranakan. While it is interesting to view how the Latin Americans as some of them are often considered to have two races but having local ethnicity..


  37. What a wonderful and timely post to provoke comments and spread information about misconceptions and prejudice, Mabel! I still shrink with embarassment when any Australia has the audacity to make racist comments at any time. Your post also touches on the deeper issue of not fitting in with folk around you, where ever one might live.
    I also used to be picked last on the sports team, Mabel and it wasn’t because of my blonde hair! People with disabilities also suffer blatent prejudice and as a small child it can be confusing and destructive to one’s confidence. People will exclude and demean others without a second thought, and if they could not do this based on race or ethnicity, they would find some other reason to exclude, insult or put down others in order to quell their own feelings of inadequacy or fear.
    We are all individuals and to expect we are all going to look, think and act and talk the same is naive. Without diversity, society has monotony and stagnation. Since the dawn of human history, new influences and differences have led to growth and discovery. It is a great shame that we feel so compelled to fit in in some way, with the rest of the crowd in order to achieve a sense of belonging. Celebrate one’s individuality! Ignore those who don’t – they are not worth wasting one breath over.


    • Racism in Australia is more common than anyone thinks, in particular casual racism which often goes unspoken. Sorry to hear that you weren’t favourited for the sports team in school, Amanda. It really is odd how hierarchies and competition are cultivated so early in our lives. On one hand, this may encourage self improvement but when it’s about being left out because of who you are as a person, then it becomes discrimination. You are right in saying that people will demean and bring down others without thinking too much about their actions and ramifications. Maybe this has to do with one’s personality and what they know.

      ‘growth and discovery’ Great way to describe this world. Recent events around the world, though, seems to be making the world go backwards or at the very least stagnant. We have to speak up to put a stop to racism and cultural discrimination. The more we speak about it, the more we’ll believe in a more fairer world for all of us.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Very True,the more we speak up about it, the more we’ll believe in a more fairer world for all of us.’ The silence conspires to allow the racist voices to gain strength and validity! Racism should be called out. I feel that the slight shift backwards is in one way a reaction to overt political correctness. Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware of how offensive comments can wound a person’s self esteem, and they are to be condemned, and yet, sometimes I feel that Political correctness alienates people. The need to sing ‘Baa Baa Rainbow sheep’ – is an example that detracts from sympathy to the damage racist and offensive words can do to a person. It gives certain sectors cause to be dimissive of political correctness. In disability, it is also well meant but stretched a little too far at times, and in other countries, such as Canada, there is a shift back to using words that were formerly used such as ‘handicapped’ – which would be consider demeaning in our country today. I won’t say anymore now as I feel like I am hijacking the full context of this conversation, and wish to reiterate my condemnation of racism in all forms. Just a thought as to one rationale behind the shift backwards that you referred to.


        • This is a very thoughtful comment, and love how you linked various issues to this thread – all of which are so relevant and touch upon race, ethnicity and discrimination to quite a degree. Certain words and phrases can really rub others the wrong way especially if we use them in sensitive context. Or o the other hand as you alluded to, this could just be a matter of over political correctness – but avoiding what is actually is doesn’t help us a get along. Talking about it openly and measuredly. Now that you mentioned it, I don’t think I’ve heard the word ‘handicapped’ a lot – usually it’s the phrase ‘people with disability’. I do think there’s a time and place for the word…just like the word ‘racist’. No one likes to be called racist directly in their face, but it’s also worth remembering that all of us won’t always see eye to eye.


          • It would be crazy to expect that every one of us are going to see things eye to eye at all times. And thus, we have a diverse world and everyone has value. You were saying that racism as a word has a place, as does other offensive words. This is the important take away message. It is not the word itself, but how and when it is used, the tone it is said in, the context it is spoken with, and I find it hard to find many instances where racist opinions would sit well with me. I know everyone’s opinion is valuable but a racist viewpoint, is not something I could agree with. But we can agree that we disagree and as long as we respect and allow other’s right to a differing opinion it is okay. When people act in a racist way or preach racist messages to others, they have crossed a boundary.
            Handicapped as a term went out of favour here decades ago, in Australia, and yet Canada which first championed the valorisation of social roles for the people with disability, seems to think that there is a place for the word, perhaps because it alludes to one facet of an identity. In some places, the hearing impaired communities still like to be referred to as the deaf community. This is their individual choice and therefore, their right, I think.


            • Such a good point – that it would be crazy if every single one of us agreed on everything at moment in time. It really is impossible, and all of us will interpret every single situation differently. Thus, what may be racist to someone or a certainly ethnicity may not be racist to another group. It is all about perspective and interpretation – and I guess sometimes ignorance can come in between it all as well.

              ‘allow other’s right to a differing opinion it is okay.’ I agree with this sentiment provided we don’t let the status quo get in the way of our emotions. We can respect each other’s opinions about others and on certain issues in life and not let them dictate our lives – it’s a matter of choice as you mentioned there as well.


              • Yet you and I seem to agree on a lot of fundamental issues, Mabel yet we come from different ethnicities and backgrounds. Values must therefore be quite a personal matter and not dictated by racial idiosyncrasies. Which is interesting as it is often this same point that is used as valuation for arguments that are pro apartheid. (For example) that different races or ethnicities should be separated as they have nothing in common and believe different things. I think you have open mind Mabel and I would like to think that mine is open as well.


                • ‘Values must therefore be quite a personal matter ‘ Absolutely spot on. Each of us get to choose our own values and what we want to believe in…which sometimes can be a dangerous thing as you alluded to. It’s one thing to have an open mind, but another thing altogether to have an open heart.


  38. Well true start that race is something that we see, whereas is something that we b)feel c)) think…..because partially defines how we think and even view the world at times.

    I grew up in a predominantly German-Mennonite (latter is religious for some Germans. Not the majority) city at that time. (Not any more.)


    • So true that race is also something that we think. After all, race in a given moment is one perspective. Interesting to hear how the city where you grew up has changed – hopefully for the better.


  39. I feel “race” is the physical make-up and “ethnicity” is your ancestral background, your culture. One thing I want to throw is nationality, that also play in you too with the language you speak, the food you eat, holidays you celebrate . Not too long ago, I had a silly conversation. I say “silly” because this person I spoke with had the impression there were two types of Asians: Asian-Americans (because she’s Asian American and so am I) and everyone else is Asian. She did not quite get there are Indonesians who grew up in the Netherlands, Vietnamese who grew up in France, Chinese growing up in Mexico, etc. Maybe it blew her mind? Before my parents settled in America, they lived in Germany. I always wondered how my life would be like my parents settled there. Being an Asian in America, I feel I am a perpetual foreigner, despite being born in America. Not too long ago at work, I received a comment from someone stating they could not understand me over the phone and I had some sort of an accent. I was fuming, but going forward I say things like, “yeah I used my real accent and I can’t believe people understand me.”


    • What you said is so true – that nationality comes in the picture when you speak of race and ethnicity. It is interesting to hear the perspective of that person you were speaking to. Maybe she just hasn’t encountered people of Asian descent living in other parts of the world or could have moved around. The world is becoming more and more globalised these days with different people mixing and coming together, but sometimes I think some of us aren’t on the same wavelength – for some reason we are more comfortable living in our own bubble.

      Sorry to hear about the comment you received over the phone. It didn’t sound pleasant at all, and maybe that person wanted to speak to someone else – when you could have helped him just the same.


    • What you said is so true – that nationality comes in the picture when you speak of race and ethnicity. It is interesting to hear the perspective of that person you were speaking to. Maybe she just hasn’t encountered people of Asian descent living in other parts of the world or could have moved around. The world is becoming more and more globalised these days with different people mixing and coming together, but sometimes I think some of us aren’t on the same wavelength – for some reason we are more comfortable living in our own bubble.

      Sorry to hear about the comment you received over the phone. It didn’t sound pleasant at all, and maybe that person wanted to speak to someone else – when you could have helped him just the same.


  40. This is why I am not that interested in living permanently anywhere else, but here (unless I am forced to decide, of course). I would like to go to other countries ONLY for vacation, or maybe stay 1-2 years, then I want to go back. I don’t want to experience all those racist BS.


  41. “We can think of race as something that we see and ethnicity as something we feel emotionally and spiritually” is a good starting point. The definitions blur with each generation. Many asians can’t speak an asian language. Many caucasians who live in Asia or Africa can probably speak the local language fluently. I guess these are all simply subsets of identity, hopefully not too important, although that is not necessarily the case in the current environment.


    • ‘The definitions blur with each generation.’ Very well said. While progress makes our lives easier, it always is worthwhile to keep languages and lessons of the past alive – and probably will always rub off on our identity in some way more than we think.


Share your thoughts. Join the discussion

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.