I’ve been involved in a couple of conversations lately about ethnicity, race, and nationalism. Not that the other people in the conversation realized the topics.

Ethnicity, according to Miriam Webster, relates to “a particular ethnic affiliation or group”, with “ethnic” being defined as “of or relating to races or large groups of people who have the same customs, religion, origin, etc. or associated with or belonging to a particular race or group of people who have a culture that is different from the main culture of a country”.

Race, on the other hand, is “a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock or a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristic”. Race is what you look like, your phenotype.

Nationalism is “a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries or a desire by a large group of people (such as people who share the same culture, history, language, etc.) to form a separate and independent nation of their own”. Nationalism is not equal to Nationality. Nationality is the name of the country on your passport. Should I ever become a citizen of Belgium, I would be a Belgian national, but I will remain an American nationalist. Unless Texas secedes, in which case I will be a Texas national.

Nationalism gets a bad name, fanatic nationalism was the genesis of the NAZI party. “Fanatic” is the key word there, anything that drives you to kill people is a bad thing.

In other words, your race is determined by your genes (ancestors), your ethnicity is determined by your upbringing (parents, peers, and self), your nationality by the geography of your birth, and your nationalism by your self.

We see the definitions being misused and confused more and more, both intentionally and out of ignorance.

If you have filled out a census form or survey lately, you will have noticed that racial and ethnic groups are arbitrarily recognized. We put a great emphasis on defining who we are, and the squeaky wheels get their own designations.  At one point, you had two choices, white or black. The book “Racial and Ethnics Groups” is now in its thirteenth edition, ironically there are two versions, I’m guessing one is in color because the other is listed as “black and white”.

Today in the United States, you can identify yourself as White (the term “Caucasian” isn’t used much), Black (“African-American” is an option, one look at Oscar Pistorius reminds you not everyone from Africa has dark skin), American Indian or Native Alaskan (note the lack of “Native American” as an option), Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (note overlap with “Asian”), Other, or “Two or more races” as your racial identity. You may choose to be identified ethnically as Hispanic or non-Hispanic.

In many surveys I’ve taken lately, the Asian/Pacific Islander category is broken down into a growing number of categories, and Hispanic (or “Hispanic or Latino”) is listed as both a race and an Ethnic group, divided in one or both questions into several categories that denote national origin. Although most former Spanish colonies are considered Hispanic, most Mexicans I know detest the term as it applies to the people who conquered their ancestors. People from Portugal, Brazil, Uruguay, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé, Príncipe and East Timor are not Hispanic, they are Lusitanians, descended from Portugese.

Some white people are a little jealous.

If you are Arabic, you are white. Don’t look in the mirror. You are the same race and ethnicity as someone from Sweden in the eyes of the United States census. If you are from India, you would be Asian. If you are from Japan or Indonesia, you could choose to identify as either Asian or Pacific Islander. These don’t appear to fit the definitions of racial groups. If you are from Israel, Iraq, or Italy you are non-Hispanic, because there are only two ethnic choices.

Nationalism gets a little confusing. As Russians invade Ukraine, claiming they are protecting ethnic Russians, sovereignty disappears. Over the last few hundred years, the land we call the Ukraine has been called several other things. I’m proud to be American, proud of our unique strengths, proud of our growth, and proud of our ability to rise above the mess we have presently created in our society. We can do better, and I have faith we will.

My background is white. There is no category for “Anglo-Saxon”, which is a fair description. The majority of my friends are white, although they represent a wide spectrum of physical characteristics provided by their genes, and non-Hispanic, although they come from  a wide variety of cultural influences provided by their experiences. If we were to break up “White” into the various phenotypes and “non-Hispanic” into the multitude of cultures, I probably wouldn’t know three people who had the same label.

Nationalism has taken the place of race and ethnicity in our culture, and the overwhelming number of people are ignored. If we are going to make distinctions based on race we need to grow up and realize there are three. Caucasian, Negroid, and Mongolian (some anthropologists recognize the aboriginal peoples of Australia as a fourth race). If we’re going to make distinctions based on Ethnicity we need to grow up and realize there are hundreds, not just two. If we are going to make distinctions based on nationality, we need to decide when. Many flags have flown over the land we inhabit, Texas has seen six, how many tribes have inhabited modern day Palestine?

We talk about being world citizens, “color blind”, and equal. Step one is to stop using labels for things they were not meant for. Race identifies a body, not a person. If we are to celebrate multiculturalism, we need to accept all ethnic groups as equal. By that I mean that we should treat ethnic groups the same way we treat football teams, we may have a favorite, but each has strengths and weaknesses, and without a variety there would be no one to play with; to the essential point, the players change from season to season, the Dallas Cowboys of 2013 are not the Dallas Cowboys of 1973.

There is no denying we are different. I wouldn’t want it any other way. But what makes one of us better than another lays only in the quality being measured, and varies between individuals of every race, ethic group, and nationality.

2 comments on “Ethnicity

  1. Mari Collier says:

    All this diversity has become annoying. People are people no matter where they are from. This is coming from someone who was called “Kraut” many times during WWII and right after the war. I ignored them.


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