- Meaning: Race refers to the biological aspects of a person. It comprises the skin color, hair color, eye color, and so on. It even comprises some of the health problems a particular race may be prone to.
- Who Defines Race: Though this discretion of biological traits has been underlined, it is important to note that the variety of prevalent races have been defined by governments and laws, and not by science.
- Indicator of Biological Traits: Race does not involve the behavioral or cultural tendencies of a person, as these are shaped mainly by the environment. If 3 different people belonging to the same race were to be placed in starkly different cultures, they would adapt to the behavior of those cultures and groups. However, their physical characteristics would remain unaltered.
- Capable of Change: Racial differences, however, can be altered over time, when there is a crossover among different races. As such, race is also vulnerable to change. For instance, if an African-American were to marry a person of Chinese origin, this would lead to a change in the physical characteristics of a child born of this marriage. Thus, further such crossovers would lead to alterations in the race.
- Meaning: Ethnicity refers to the culture, customs and traditions acquired from the environment one belongs to. Ethnic groups are marked by regional differences, and not physical characteristics.
- Common History: Ethnic groups have a common history, and may even share their language and religion. However, this is not true of every ethnic group.
- Capable of Change: While races may be altered over generations due to crossovers, the ethnicity of a person can easily change if he chooses to adopt the customs and traditions of another ethnic group.
A clear way of understanding the difference between ethnicity and race is this example. We all know that the African-Americans are a race that have emerged from the African continent. While their physical characteristics, such as the shape of their skull, their hair texture and their skin color are similar, the ethnic groups that they have now been divided into are numerous. There are African-Americans, North Africans (following Islam and belonging to Sudan, Somalia, etc.), and Sub-Saharan Africans. Each of these groups have adapted to different customs and traditions pertaining to the region they reside in. Their physical appearance, however, is similar.
A factor in this debate that is common to both race and ethnicity, is the ability to transcend religious barriers. While you may be born into a Christian family, it is not essential that you may follow all the religious traditions that a Christian does. This is true to both race and ethnicity. Thus, we cannot clearly differentiate race vs. ethnicity, and their definitions often overlap each other. While a race and an ethnic group can be similar, as is clear from the example mentioned above, races adapt to the ethnicity of the region they belong to.