To me the word “race” refers to a group or population of people that share similar physical characteristics or features. It is an umbrella term used to describe traits like skin color or other physical characteristics. For example, the dark skin color of African-Americans or the slightly slanted eye shapes of Asians. We use these traits to make determinations about what race someone is. “Ethnicity” is a method of grouping people based on their country of origin and their ancestors. People are classified by their last name, religious practices, language and sometimes their style of dress.
For example, by my last name, one can deduce that I am Italian. Another example is when you see a woman walking with a veil over her face, usually the assumption is made that that person is Middle Eastern, or practices the Muslim faith. Ethnicity says things to the rest of society about that person’s practices and values…. to a certain extent. I am Italian. It is usually assumed that I am Catholic and like pasta, also that I am close with my family and I have a sauce recipe that has been handed down through the generations. Pertaining to me personally, all of that is true.
These concepts are important to the society of the United States because the U. S. itself claims to be a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities from all over the world. People from everywhere, emigrate to the U. S. in search of jobs, political or religious freedom, or some other type of freedom that they are not able to have in their homelands. All people in the Unites States are supposed to be treated equally not matter what race or ethnicity they are, but people in today’s society love labels. We want to put everyone in a category.
Sometimes those categories are used to persecute people, but that is a later argument. We use those categories every day. College applications ask you what your race and ethnic background is. Why do they want this information? Because they want to make sure they are accepting a diverse group of students into their institution. You are asked your race and ethnicity on the census, at the DMV, when you register to vote, on job applications and in many other places in every day life. Statistics about things like inmates in a jail are organized by race and ethnicity. That is how society is structured.