What Is The Difference Between ‘Race’ And ‘Ethnicity’ In A Changing World?

Race. Ethnicity. These are two words that seem similar. But they are two words that mean different things.

When I studied cultural studies at university, the terms ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ often appeared within academic texts that I read. The more I read about these two words, the more I realised they are more complicated than they sound.

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

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

Commonly, ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ encompass grouping and categorisation. But each word is its own concept. As people and culture change, history and stories rewrite themselves; each word builds upon lessons of the past and revelations of the present.

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What Exactly Is “Ethnic”? Is The Word “Ethnic” Relevant Anymore Today?

Do I see myself as “ethnic”? Someone of “ethnic background”?

I’m a Chinese person living in Australia, so I should, shouldn’t I?

Depending on where you are in the world, the definition of “ethnic” seems to vary slightly.

The word "ethnic" is about exclusion and segregation. Photo: Mabel Kwong

The word “ethnic” is about exclusion and segregation. Photo: Mabel Kwong

The dictionary definition of “ethnic” actually forms a firm basis to think about this word. This concept. According to these standards, “ethnic” refers to the “characteristic(s) of a sizable group of people sharing a common and distinctive racial, national, religious, linguistic, or cultural heritage”. Certain markers ascribe belonging to particular ethnic groups.

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I’m White, So That Means I’m Pretty And Smart, Right?

My answer to this question is an emphatic YES. And I am not being sarcastic.

A couple of years ago, I was on a tram in Melbourne and overheard a very intriguing conversation about being white and non-white.

Sitting in front of and facing me on this particular tram ride were two Caucasian blue-eyed, blonde haired girls who I wagered were friends, Australian and undergraduate students not much older than twenty. Eavesdropping on their banter, I was highly amused to hear how full of themselves both ladies sounded as they chatted about being fair-skinned bodies.

I don’t exactly remember the conversation word-for-word, but I do remember parts of it vividly ‘til this day:

Girl 1: I’m heading to China during the holidays after this semester. When I finish uni, someday I want to work in China as a game-show host. You know, like on their wacky variety shows where they play games for outrageous prizes. And you know what? The people in China absolutely love white people! They think we’re so pretty. They look up to us because you are white! It’s so great!

Girl 2: Oh yes, I’ve heard about that. They do, don’t they? Continue reading