Racial and Ethnic Group Stratification

Definitions of Race and Ethnicity

Race is defined by differences in human physical characteristics, while ethnicity is related to cultural values, norms, and traditions.

People sometimes think of race and ethnicity as interchangeable. The two concepts are related, but they have distinct differences. The concept of race is related to perceived physical characteristics, while the concept of ethnicity is related to cultural characteristics.

Race is a concept based on physical characteristics, although there are no biological or genetic definitions of race. A racial group is composed of people who share certain physical traits. The concept of race has changed over time and is defined differently in different parts of the world. People have used various physical traits to distinguish between races, but the most common is skin color. Other criteria include hair color and texture, facial features, height, and the region of the world one's ancestors originated from, such as Asia, Africa, Europe, or the Americas.

Ethnicity refers to a shared culture. Members of an ethnic group may share a common ancestry, history, or national or regional origin and typically share a set of beliefs, values, and behaviors. Their shared culture may include common language, music, food, clothing, traditions, and religion. Many people draw a sense of identity from being a member of their ethnic group.

People who are members of the same ethnic group can be members of different perceived races, and people of the same perceived race can belong to different ethnic groups. Cuban Americans are an ethnic group that shares the language, music, food, and traditions of Cuban heritage. But while many Cuban Americans identify with the white race, others identify as black or multiracial. On the other hand, people with Swedish, Italian, or Serbian backgrounds may all identify as white, but their ethnicities—including language, clothing, traditions, and religion—are vastly different.
Indian Americans are an ethnic group. Some factors of ethnic identity are shared history, traditions, and norms. Expressions of ethnic identify include cultural markers, such as dress and jewelry.
Credit: abdulsalim25081955/PixabayLicense: CC0 Creative Commons
In many societies, some races or ethnicities make up a majority or dominant group with much more power than other social groups. Likewise, societies may have one or several less powerful groups, or minority groups. American sociologist Louis Wirth (1897–1952) defined a minority group as "any group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment." Used this way, the term minority does not indicate the number of people that make up the group. Rather, it is based on the marginalized status of the group.