General Question

jehnstewart's avatar

What role does society play in defining these terms?

Asked by jehnstewart (358points) February 28th, 2012


People who are born in one country, raised in others and worked in many different might struggle with those terms.

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

17 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Huh? Society defines all terms.

Race: There is one, the human race.
Ethnicity: Your ancestry.

gailcalled's avatar

The country of your birth gives your nationality.

My grandfather was Lithuanian but he moved to the US as a teenager. He was still born in Lithuania, became a US citizen and remained a Jew all his life.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

To me, race means blood, and ethnicity means culture. More specifically, the culture that you were raised with.

As color-blind as we strive to be, scientists will tell you that there are physical differences between the races. They can tell from a skeleton which race the person belonged to. This is due to the races evolving separately from each other in the old days. Of course, now that races often intermarry, the human race is getting more melded. It will still take hundreds or thousands of years before we are truly all one race.

Ethnicity to me means culture. If you were raised in an Italian household in the USA, your ethnicity could still be Italian if that is the culture you were raised with. You could identify with the Italian way of life and even speak Italian in your household, even if you have never been to Italy.

flutherother's avatar

Race is based on biological or genetic criteria which don’t stand up to close examination. There is no scientific basis for the idea of race.

Ethnicity is based more upon cultural background which defines who you are, what music you like, what foods you eat, what stories you heard when you grew up, which language you speak etc. If you grew up in one country and moved to another with different traditions you may experience feelings of ‘culture shock’ or alienation.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

@flutherother Regarding “there is no scientific basis for the idea of race.” How can you say that when forensic scientists can tell you the race of a skeleton? There are differences – scientific differences; genetically and artictecturally.

However, your explanation of ethnicity is right on. :)

marinelife's avatar

@Skaggfacemutt Human beings can interbreed. Therefore, they are all the same species and the same race. Anthropologists can tell what someone did for a living sometimes too. Does that mean that person was a different race?

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

We are the same species, but not the same race. I am not talking about wearing down of certain joints due to certain activities. I am talking about certain attributes that those of that race are born with and are shared by those of that particular race.

flutherother's avatar

@Skaggfacemutt There is as much genetic diversity within a ‘race’ as there is between ‘races’ and so the idea of race doesn’t mean much scientifically. See this article.

It is a bit heavy going but the last paragraph says this “Race remains an inflammatory issue, both socially and scientifically. Fortunately, modern human genetics can deliver the salutary message that human populations share most of their genetic variation and that there is no scientific support for the concept that human populations are discrete, nonoverlapping entities.”

fundevogel's avatar

Roughly speaking isn’t race closely linked to the scientific phenotype? From a scientific position it is useful for identifying a body of persons who may have statistically higher chances of having certain genetic conditions. You know, like sickle cell anemia being more common in black people and lactose intolerance being more prevalent in Asian people.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

@flutherother Then how do you explain that we can distinguish each other’s race by physical characteristics? According to your comments, we shouldn’t be able to do that, but yet we can. Scientists, who can go beyond the physical appearance and get into more specific genetic and skeletal differences can pinpoint race with even better precision. Are you going to tell me that they can’t? Because if you are, then I am done talking about this. It’s no use arguing with someone who claims black is white.

flutherother's avatar

I’m not saying we can’t distinguish physical characteristics as it is clear that we can. I am just cautious about reading too much into the obvious physical differences that we see. The word ‘race’ is not scientifically accurate as it implies that differences exist beyond the obvious ones we can see and there is no evidence for that.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I don’t see why you think that the word “race” implies anything deeper than physical characteristics. A dog is a dog and they can interbreed and everything, but a beagle is a beagle and a poodle is a poodle. The only difference is physical characteristics. Why do you have this idea that “race” does not exist because it means more fundamental differences. Under whose definition?

flutherother's avatar

The problem is that the word ‘race’ is ill defined. It means what people want it to mean.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

RACE: A local geographic or global human population distinguished as a more or less distinct group by genetically transmitted physical characteristics

JLeslie's avatar

The terms are tricky. For instance I am Jewish, I do not consider it a race, some do. I do consider it my ethnicity. My nationality is American, but my national heritage is from Russia and Latvia primarily. My husband is Mexican. He is only a quarter Spanish, a quarter French, and half Israeli (middle east). When I fill out the census for him I list him as whote Hispanic.

For me ethnicity kind of defines your culture. National background, or the current country someone lives in also has a lot to do with culture, customs, normas, and mores. Generally I think race is irrelevant.

Society plays a big role in defining the terms. How society groups us basically puts us into the group. I think people have a right to reject the societies groupings, to self identify themselves, and that should be accepted, but the societal definitions do affect us to some extent, we can’t escape them completely, even if we want to.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I took the above definition from the dictionary. There is a clear definition of both race and nationality. If you were a black guy born in England, your race would be black (negriod, if you want to get technical, but that term is frowned upon) and your nationality would be British, but your ethnicity would be whatever culture you were raised with. If your parents kept your African culture alive, it would be that. If you were Jewish and practiced Jewish culture in your home, it would be that. If your parents were just like every other Brit household, it would be that.

@JLeslie Your race is caucasian, your nationality is American, your ethnicity is Russian. (I am assuming your are caucasian – if not, then fill in the blank with whatever you are.) Your husband is of mixed race, so that is harder. If they found his skeleton in a field, the scientists would be confused. They would probably guess him as the race his genetic characteristics most favor. Only you know what culture he was raised with, and his nationality would be Mexican if he is a citizen of that country.

JLeslie's avatar

@Skaggfacemutt Not how I see it. My ethnicity qnd religion is Jewish, my national bacground is Latvia and Russia. The Russiand and Latvians back when my relatives left were very anisemetix, and saw the Jews as a different race.

Answer this question




to answer.

This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther