Race Vs Ethnicity

I have written several articles Racism and Slavery. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address different aspects on Racism and Slavery.

I decided to write this article because of a recent exchange I had on Facebook with one of my friends. After this discussion took place, I realized that there was a great deal of confusion about race and ethnicity. The discussion came about because of some comments that Whoopi Goldberg made on the View. I want to clarify that I do not watch the view and I am no defender of Goldberg. But I do defend her right of freedom of speech. While the comments she made about Jews was ill advised I do believe that the actions taken by the show were unfounded. Because I believe that she was technically correct. The uproar that her comments generated shows how intolerant people have become and also how faulty many people’s thinking has become. For this I blame our educational system and also social media craze and the news services. I have written articles about the death of tolerance and our attention span. I am one of the old school people. I believe in actually reading books and studying history and my years of being in management have taught me the value of seeing both sides of an argument. However, this article not about those subjects, I am here today to clarify two very confusing terms Race and Ethnicity.

If someone asked you to describe your identity to them, where would you begin? Would it come down to your skin color or your nationality? What about the language you speak, your religion, your cultural traditions or your family’s ancestry?

This bewildering question often pushes people to separate their identities into two parts: race versus ethnicity. When it comes to race and ethnicity, you definitely can’t draw a line in the sand between these two terms. The line between your race and your ethnicity can definitely become blurred. This is largely due to the fact that race and ethnicity are social constructs rather than based on any science. But what do these two terms actually mean, and what’s the difference between race and ethnicity in the first place? 

These words are often used interchangeably, but technically, they’re defined as separate things. “‘Race’ and ‘ethnicity’ have been and continue to be used as ways to describe human diversity,” said Nina Jablonski, an anthropologist and palaeobiologist at The Pennsylvania State University, who is known for her research into the evolution of human skin color. “Race is understood by most people as a mixture of physical, behavioral and cultural attributes. Ethnicity recognizes differences between people mostly on the basis of language and shared culture.” 

Race and ethnicity are used to categorize certain sections of the population. In basic terms, race describes physical traits, and ethnicity refers to cultural identification. Race may also be identified as something you inherit while ethnicity is something you learn.

In other words, race is often perceived as something that’s inherent in our biology, and therefore inherited across generations. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is typically understood as something we acquire, or self-ascribe, based on factors like where we live or the culture we share with others. But just as soon as we’ve outlined these definitions, we’re going to dismantle the very foundations on which they’re built. That’s because the question of race versus ethnicity actually exposes major and persistent flaws in how we define these two traits, flaws that — especially when it comes to race — have given them an outsized social impact on human history. 

Race vs. Ethnicity

Race and ethnicity are typically misunderstood as most people often don’t fit into neat categories that are offered on forms with checkboxes. We don’t necessarily have any tests or scientific basis to separate people out; people are able to self-identify.


  • Narrow
  • Based on similar physical and biological attributes


  • Broad
  • Based on cultural expression and place of origin


The dictionary by Merriam-Webster defines race as “a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits.”

Race is usually associated with biology and linked with physical characteristics, such as hair texture or skin color and covers a relatively narrow range of options. Yet people of similar complexions/hair textures can be defined as different races, and definitions in the United States have changed over time.

While some may be considered to be of a certain race, Black for example, people may identify more with their individual ethnicity, as opposed to race. This could apply for any member of any race.

Race or racial identity simply describes the physical features that a group of persons might have in common. This can include but aren’t limited to:

  • Skin color
  • Facial structure
  • Eye color
  • Hair color
  • Other physical characteristics

For example, a person with white skin might consider themselves part of the white racial category, while someone with darker skin might consider themselves black or African American. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, however.

Racial identity can vary based on your global location. For instance, a person may consider themselves black or African American in America, but they may view themselves as a different racial category in a different country, depending on that country’s racial constructs.

Race is also dependent on your upbringing. For example, someone with predominantly Asian physical features could consider themselves Native American if they were raised in a Native American community or have a Native American parent.

Examples of Race

While racial identity is variable when it comes to governments, it is typically broken down by biological region of origin or skin color. A few examples of racial identifiers or categories include:

  • White or Caucasian – British, French, German, etc.
  • Black, African American or Coloured People – Kenyan, Nigerian, Somalian, biracial, etc.
  • American Indian or Alaska Native – Iroquois, Cherokee, Navajo, Haida, etc.
  • Latino or Hispanic – Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, etc.
  • Asian – Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Cambodian, etc.
  • Pacific Islander or Hawaiian – Samoan, Tongan, Maori, Tahitian, etc.

While these categories can be broken up by descent, they can also be broken down by physical characteristics as well. For example, a person who identifies as “white” might do so based on skin color regardless of ancestral history.

Sometimes, you may be asked to select just one category. At other times, you may be invited to check all the categories that apply.


Ethnicity is a broader term than race. The term is used to categorize groups of people according to their cultural expression and identification.

Commonalities such as racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin may be used to describe someone’s ethnicity.

While someone may say their race is “Black,” their ethnicity might be Italian, or someone may say their race is “White,” and their ethnicity is Irish.

Ethnicity Examples

The waters of ethnicity can get muddy because there are several subcategories and cross-cultural influences. While you might be of German ethnicity, you can also be of Afro-German ethnicity or Sorbs. Some major examples of ethnicity include:

  • Arabs – Populate such countries as Algeria, Sudan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, mostly Muslim
  • Jewish – Judaism religion, languages like Yiddish and Hebrew, originated from Israelites
  • Irish – Catholic religion, traditions like St. Patrick’s Day and Celtic music
  • Han Chinese – Largest ethnic group in China and worldwide
  • French – Unique traditions like All Souls’ Day and St. Catherine’s Day
  • Italian – Largest ethnic group in Italy covering 96%, Italian cuisine is popular in world food culture
  • Russian – Celebrate Orthodox and pagan traditions, including Maslenitsa
  • Dutch – From the Netherlands, original traditions like Sinterklaas and National Queen’s Day
  • Swedish – Famous unique traditions include Swedish National Day and crayfish party
  • Korean – Celebrate Seollal (Lunar New Year’s Day) and Hansik (Eating Cold Food Day), some celebrate birthdays on lunar calendar
  • Japanese – Sports such as sumo wrestling and Bean-Throwing Festival
  • Greeks – Traditions like “name day” and Apokries (Carnival)
  • Carribean – Populate such countries as Jamaica, Trinidad, Bahamas, etc.
  • African – Tribal origins, multiple Afro-languages and cultures, including the Khoisan languages (clicking languages)

The United States Census Bureau

You may wonder why you’re asked about race and ethnicity when you complete medical forms or job applications.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau website, they ask about race and ethnicity because they’re collecting information about civil rights.

Race Data

Race data affects the funding of government programs that provide services for specific groups.

They also collect data about race because they’re ensuring that policies serve the needs of all racial groups. They want to monitor compliance with anti-discrimination laws and regulations as well.

Their data on race is based on self-identification. They report that their categories “are not an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically, or genetically.” And they also make it clear that respondents can mark more than one race on the form to indicate their racial mixture.

The categories listed under “Race” have evolved over the last 200-plus years. Some of the terms that were previously used have been considered offensive and removed from the paperwork.

The ways the questions are asked have also shifted. At one point, people were asked for their “race” and “origin,” but this proved to be too confusing.

Currently, the U.S. Census Bureau uses the following guide to help people pick the category that best describes them:


“The category ‘White’ includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.”

Some examples of these groups include: German, Italian, Lebanese, Cajun, Chaldean, Slavic, Iranian, French, Polish, Egyptian, Irish, and English.

Black or African American

“The category ‘Black or African American’ includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.”

Example of people from these groups include: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, and Somali.

People who identify as Ghanaian, South African, Barbadian, Kenyan, Liberian, and Bahamian also fall under this category.

American Indian or Alaska Native

“The category ‘American Indian or Alaska Native’ includes all individuals who identify with any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment.” 

Groups that fall under this category include:

  • Navajo Nation
  • Blackfeet Tribe
  • Mayan
  • Aztec
  • Native Village of Barrow Inupiat Traditional Government
  • Nome Eskimo Community


“The category ‘Asian’ includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent.”

There are individual Asian checkboxes for people who identify as one or more of the following:

  • Chinese
  • Filipino
  • Asian Indian
  • Vietnamese
  • Korean
  • Japanese
  • Other Asian (e.g., Pakistani, Cambodian, and Hmong)

Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander

“The category ‘Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander’ includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.” 

There are individual Pacific Islander checkboxes for people who identify as one or more of the following:

  • Native Hawaiian
  • Samoan
  • Chamorro
  • Other Pacific Islander (e.g., Tongan, Fijian, and Marshallese)

Some Other Race

If you do not identify with any of the above groups, you can simply choose the “Some Other Race” category and input how you identify yourself.

Ethnicity Data

The U.S. Census Bureau asks whether you’re of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish descent. They recognize that individuals who describe themselves as fitting into this category may be of any race.

The Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish categories refer to people who identify with any of the ethnic groups originating from:

  • Mexico
  • Puerto Rico
  • Cuba
  • Other Spanish cultures (e.g., Salvadoran, Dominican, Spaniard, Colombian, Guatemalan, Ecuadorian, Peruvian, Venezuelan, Honduran, etc.)

If you do not identify with any of these groups, you would select the option “Not of Hispanic, Spanish, or Latino origin.”


Problems With Categorization

Some scholars argue that race is a cultural intervention that reflects specific attitudes and beliefs that were imposed on different populations in the wake of the Western European conquests of the 15th century.

Historically, the idea of “race” has been used to divide members of society, and it’s often based on superficial physical attributes.

There’s research showing that people who have similar physical attributes aren’t as similar genetically as some people think. Researchers have found that skin color variations stem from adaptations to the environment. Darker skin colors evolved because of more solar exposure. So grouping people according to their skin color only shows that their ancestors got similar amounts of sunlight—and they may actually have very little in common genetically.

People Don’t Always Fit Into Categories

While organizations may want to collect statistics on a population’s race and ethnicity data, people don’t always fit into simple categories.

Many individuals identify with several racial and ethnic backgrounds. They may have been raised by parents from very different groups. And they might not want to pick which group they belong to.

Instead, they may identify as belonging to many groups, or they could feel as though they make up a smaller group that doesn’t appear on the paperwork as an option (which is when the fill-in-the-blank type questions might be helpful).

We Are More Alike Than We Are Different

According to the human genome project, our DNA is 99.9% the same and the differences between people are accounted for are less than 1% of DNA. In other words, we should celebrate and appreciate the differences of one another while keeping in mind we are all part of the same human family.

The issues surrounding what’s considered race and what’s considered ethnicity aren’t always clear-cut. This is why forms are constantly evolving—as is our understanding of both race and ethnicity.

The terms we use, the categories we offer, and our beliefs about genetic make-up will continue to change over time. But for now, government forms are likely to continue asking questions about both race and ethnicity—even though not everyone will agree with the questions or the answer options.

Expand your cultural mind further by exploring cultural diffusion.

Examples of Cultural Diffusion in the World Around You

Cultural diffusion is the spread of cultural beliefs and social activities from one group of people to another. Through cultural diffusion, horizons are broadened and people become more culturally rich.

For example, a woman living in Manhattan might purchase mala prayer beads used by Buddhist monks to focus on a breath or mantra. Her use of those beads, incepted halfway around the world, is now positively impacting her daily practice of meditation. Had she only ever walked the streets of Manhattan, never engaging with any product or activity outside her borders, life would be very different. Also, if it weren’t for cultural diffusion, that same woman wouldn’t be able to enjoy sushi night every Thursday evening with her friends!

The mixing of world cultures through different ethnicities, religions, and nationalities has only increased with advanced communication, transportation, and technology. Folks living in Australia can communicate daily via Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram with someone living in Russia. This enrichment allows us to open minds, and learn as much as we can from every corner of the earth.

Common Cultural Diffusions

Let’s expand our horizons beyond those sushi dinners and daily tweets with some examples of cultural diffusion in society today:

  • In New York City’s Chinatown you’ll meet the largest concentration of Chinese people in the Western hemisphere. Here, you’ll find some of the most delicious and authentic Chinese cuisine in America.
  • The spread of music throughout the world also illustrates cultural diffusion. For example, jazz started in the US as a blend of African and European musical traditions. Now, it’s enjoyed across the globe, taking on many different variations within the genre.
  • Southern cities in the United States, especially border towns, have signs in both English and Spanish acknowledging the spread of people between neighboring countries.
  • Many people in European cities and former colonies speak both their native tongue and English. In fact, almost 80 percent of English speakers in the world are non-native speakers due to the spread of the language through imperialism and trade.
  • Japanese culture has often fascinated foreigners. The popularity of sushi around the world, a traditional Japanese dish, exemplifies the spread of Japanese culture and cuisine.
  • Around 300 years after it was founded, the French Quarter in New Orleans still displays an array of French culture through its architecture and cuisine.
  • Due to its large Mexican population people in the United States celebrate Cinco de Mayo, which commemorates Mexico’s victory over the French Empire. In fact, the day is probably a bigger celebration in the US now than in Mexico itself.

Religion and Cultural Diffusion

For many cultures, religion has always been an integral part of life. (You’ll find a number of remarkable studies examining parallels between Buddhism and Christianity.) And this is the true beauty of cultural diffusion, that expansion of the mind. Through a friend or acquaintance from another faith, we stand to learn a lot more and live our best lives yet.

Let’s take a look at cultural diffusion at work in religious circles.

  • Christianity started in Israel but is now practiced all over the world, initially spread far and wide by the Roman Empire.
  • During the Han Dynasty, Buddhism spread from India to China via the march of Emperor Wu’s armies and the opening of new trade routes.
  • Like Christianity, Islam is no longer contained to one region of the world following immigration.
  • An example of forced diffusion is the Spanish, French, English and Portuguese forcing the native population of the Americas to become Christian.

Cultural Diffusion in Technology

They say knowledge is power. And, when one group of people develops an important element of technology that can benefit people across the globe, it’s nice to see that information-sharing take place. Of course, in today’s world that can happen at lightning speeds.

Let’s take a look at technological diffusion through the years.

  • Paper was first made in China, eventually spreading to the Middle East and Europe.
  • Gunpowder also originated in China. Of course, nations all across the globe went on to produce gunpowder, too.
  • The fax machine was invented by Scottish inventor Alexander Bain, but certainly didn’t remain in the UK alone.
  • The anti-lock brake system was developed in the United States, despite many claims that the German manufacturer, Mercedes, got there first. The Germans then perfected it.

Economics and Cultural Diffusion

Even before the Middle Ages, when merchants traded their goods by traveling from region to region, the benefits of cultural diffusion were apparent. If one region didn’t have the climate to produce one crop, another did, and those goods were diffused across countries and nations. One good was traded for another and communities enjoyed the benefits of varied products. Sure enough, that benefit remains today, as world trade continues to boom.

Let’s take a look at the economics behind cultural diffusion.

  • Trade has been a means of cultural diffusion for centuries, dating back to the Silk Road and beyond, when caravans would travel and exchange goods between Europe and Asia.
  • Today, we can apply tuition money to various study abroad programs. Students are able to spend semesters anywhere, from Ireland, to Greece, to Japan. As you immerse yourself in another culture, you’re sure to bring various components of that lifestyle back home with you and perhaps inspire someone else to go spend their money abroad.
  • People learn of new products in other countries, like personal computers or cell phones, demand increases, the product becomes more affordable, and the product is spread around the world.

Exchanging Ideas, Increasing Knowledge

In the end, cultural diffusion can be life-changing. When an American woman in Wisconsin enrolls in salsa classes taught by an Argentinian man, they might forge a lifelong friendship that would’ve never happened if cultural diffusion wasn’t a part of our reality.

As a man living in Los Angeles watches YouTube videos on how to make his own sushi, he reaps the benefits of a healthy lifestyle offered by the Japanese culture. One remark in the comments section might introduce him to a Japanese chef, and there you have it. A new friendship is formed and added morsels of knowledge are exchanged.

They say travel expands our minds and introduces us to undiscovered worlds. Cultural diffusion, however, is a little more permanent and steadfast. The learning opportunities continue, as entire communities of people exchange ideas, goods, and knowledge. If America’s a melting pot, then we’re sure to be on the winning side of cultural diffusion.


As I stated at the beginning of this article, differentiating between race and ethnicity can be a little confusing, if you allow it to be so. Think of it this way, race, is based on physical characteristics while ethnicity is based on cultural practices or religious practices. pretty simple. I have also listed many examples of both in this article and in the addendum section I included more in depth discussions on the subject as well as a little discussion on the Holocaust which is the reason this whole discussion even started, remember Whoopi?


verywellmind.com, “The Difference Between Race and Ethnicity.” By Amy Morin; verywellmind.com, “Harmful Psychological Effects of Racial Stereotyping.” By Amy Morin; livescience.com, “What’s the difference between race and ethnicity?” By Emma Bryce; livescience.com, “The Holocaust: Facts & Remembrance.” By Heather Whipps; examples.yourdictionary.com, “Examples of Race and Ethnicity”; examples.yourdictionary.com, “Examples of Cultural Diffusion in the World Around You”; lupress.cas.lehigh.edu, “The Myth of the Jewish Race: A Biologist’s Point of View.” By Alain F Corcos;


The basis of “races”

The idea of “race” originated from anthropologists and philosophers in the 18th century, who used geographical location and phenotypic traits like skin color to place people into different racial groupings. That not only formed the notion that there are separate racial “types” but also fueled the idea that these differences had a biological basis. 

That flawed principle laid the groundwork for the belief that some races were superior to others — creating global power imbalances that benefited white Europeans over other groups, in the form of the slave trade and colonialism. “We can’t understand race and racism outside of the context of history, and more importantly economics. Because the driver of the triangular trade [which included slavery] was capitalism, and the accumulation of wealth,” said Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe, a medical anthropologist at the Center on Genomics, Race, Identity, Difference (GRID) at the Social Science Research Institute (SSRI), Duke University. She is also the associate director of engagement for the Center on Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) at Duke. The center is part of a movement across the United States whose members lead events and discussions with the public to challenge historic and present-day racism.

The effects of this history prevail today — even in current definitions of race, where there’s still an underlying assumption that traits like skin color or hair texture have biological, genetic underpinnings that are completely unique to different racial groups. Yet, the scientific basis for that premise simply isn’t there. 

“If you take a group of 1,000 people from the recognized ‘races’ of modern people, you will find a lot of variation within each group,” Jablonski told Live Science. But, she explained, “the amount of genetic variation within any of these groups is greater than the average difference between any two [racial] groups.” What’s more, “there are no genes that are unique to any particular ‘race,'” she said. 

In other words, if you compare the genomes of people from different parts of the world, there are no genetic variants that occur in all members of one racial group but not in another. This conclusion has been reached in many different studies. Europeans and Asians, for instance, share almost the same set of genetic variations. As Jablonski described earlier, the racial groupings we have invented are actually genetically more similar to each other than they are different — meaning there’s no way to definitively separate people into races according to their biology. 

Jablonski’s own work on skin color demonstrates this. “Our research has revealed that the same or similar skin colors — both light and dark — have evolved multiple times under similar solar conditions in our history,” she said. “A classification of people based on skin color would yield an interesting grouping of people based on the exposure of the ancestors to similar levels of solar radiation. In other words, it would be nonsense.” What she means is that as a tool for putting people into distinct racial categories, skin color — which evolved along a spectrum — encompasses so much variation within different skin color “groupings” that it’s basically useless. 

It’s true that we do routinely identify each other’s race as “black,” “white” or “Asian,” based on visual cues. But crucially, those are values that humans have chosen to ascribe to each other or themselves. The problem occurs when we conflate this social habit with scientific truth — because there is nothing in individuals’ genomes that could be used to separate them along such clear racial lines. 

In short, variations in human appearance don’t equate to genetic difference. “Races were created by naturalists and philosophers of the 18th century. They are not naturally occurring groups,” Jablonski emphasized. 

Where ethnicity comes in

This also exposes the major distinction between race and ethnicity: While race is ascribed to individuals on the basis of physical traits, ethnicity is more frequently chosen by the individual. And, because it encompasses everything from language, to nationality, culture and religion, it can enable people to take on several identities. Someone might choose to identify themselves as Asian American, British Somali or an Ashkenazi Jew, for instance, drawing on different aspects of their ascribed racial identity, culture, ancestry and religion. 

Ethnicity has been used to oppress different groups, as occurred during the Holocaust, or within interethnic conflict of the Rwandan genocide, where ethnicity was used to justify mass killings. Yet, ethnicity can also be a boon for people who feel like they’re siloed into one racial group or another, because it offers a degree of agency, Ifekwunigwe said. “That’s where this ethnicity question becomes really interesting, because it does provide people with access to multiplicity,” she said. (That said, those multiple identities can also be difficult for people to claim, such as in the case of multiraciality, which is often not officially recognized.)

Ethnicity and race are also irrevocably intertwined — not only because someone’s ascribed race can be part of their chosen ethnicity but also because of other social factors. “If you have a minority position [in society], more often than not, you’re racialized before you’re allowed access to your ethnic identity,” Ifekwunigwe said. “That’s what happens when a lot of African immigrants come to the United States and suddenly realize that while in their home countries, they were Senegalese or Kenyan or Nigerian, they come to the U.S. — and they’re black.” Even with a chosen ethnicity, “race is always lurking in the background,” she said.

These kinds of problems explain why there’s a growing push to recognize race, like ethnicity, as a cultural and social construct — something that’s a human invention, not an objective reality. 

Yet in reality, it’s not quite so simple. 

More than a social construct

Race and ethnicity may be largely abstract concepts, but that doesn’t override their very genuine, real-world influence. These constructs wield “immense power in terms of how societies work,” said Ifekwunigwe. Defining people by race, especially, is ingrained in the way that societies are structured, how they function and how they understand their citizens. Consider the fact that the U.S. Census Bureau officially recognizes five distinct racial groups

The legacy of racial categories has also shaped society in ways that have resulted in vastly different socioeconomic realities for different groups. That’s reflected, for instance, in higher levels of poverty for minority groups, poorer access to education and health care, and greater exposure to crime, environmental injustices and other social ills. What’s more, race is still used by some as the motivation for continued discrimination against other groups that are deemed to be “inferior.”

“It’s not just that we have constructed these [racial] categories; we have constructed these categories hierarchically,” Ifekwunigwe said. “Understanding that race is a social construct is just the beginning. It continues to determine people’s access to opportunity, privilege and also livelihood in many instances, if we look at health outcomes,” she said. One tangible example of health disparity comes from the United States, where data shows that African American women are more than twice as likely to die in childbirth compared with white women.

Perceptions of race even inform the way we construct our own identities — though this isn’t always a negative thing. A sense of racial identity in minority groups can foster pride, mutual support and awareness. Even politically, using race to gauge levels of inequality across a population can be informative, helping to determine which groups need more support, because of the socioeconomic situation they’re in. As the U.S. Census Bureau website explains, having data about people’s self-reported race “is critical in making policy decisions, particularly for civil rights.” 

All this paints a complex picture, which might leave us pondering how we should view the idea of race and ethnicity: Should we celebrate them, shun them or feel indifferent? There are no easy answers. But one thing is clear: While both are portrayed as a way to understand human diversity, in reality they also wield power as agents of division that don’t reflect any scientific truths. 

What the science does show us is that across all the categories we humans construct for ourselves, we share more in common than we don’t. The real challenge for the future will be to see that, instead of our “differences” alone.

Harmful Psychological Effects of Racial Stereotyping

Racial stereotyping involves a fixed, overgeneralized belief about a particular group of people based on their race. And while some people say things like, “I don’t stereotype anyone based on their appearance,” the truth is that everyone does it.

Your brain creates mental shortcuts as a way to help you rapidly respond to situations based on past experiences, thus leading to stereotypes. But these shortcuts are generalizations and are rarely accurate assessments of an individual or group. They’re what’s known as a “cognitive bias.”

Once you establish these beliefs, it’s difficult to change your way of thinking. This is because you’ll unintentionally look for evidence that affirms your beliefs and discounts any evidence to the contrary.

When left unchecked, stereotypes may lead to discriminatory behavior. Acknowledging stereotypes, however, and the psychological impact they can have is the first step in breaking down those beliefs.

How Stereotypes Are Formed

When you encounter someone, you make split-second judgments based on that individual’s appearance. Within an instant, your brain is trying to help you determine whether an individual is trustworthy and safe, or whether they likely pose some sort of emotional, social, or physical risk. And these judgments will affect how you feel and how you act.

Many of your stereotypes were developed when you were a child. Here’s how some generalizations about race can likely be formed:

  • When your teachers showed you famous scientists and historical figures, what race were most of the examples? 
  • When you watched crime stories on the news, what race did you see most often?
  • How did your parents talk and interact with people of other races?
  • How did your family treat people who were the same race as them?
  • Who were your childhood heroes? 
  • What race were most of your favorite sports figures?  
  • Were the entrepreneurs, celebrities, and musicians you liked mostly a certain race?
  • How do advertisers portray certain races? 
  • Who tends to appear in magazines or advertisements as the ideal standard of beauty? 
  • Do you see certain types of people being portrayed as smart? Wealthy? Healthy?

The media messages you receive as well as the interactions you have with others influence how you view people based on their race.  

Racial Subtype Stereotypes

When most people think of racial stereotypes, they think of an entire race being grouped together. But research shows we tend to categorize people according to their subtype.2 

For example, someone might have a very different stereotype of “Black men” versus “Black women.” Other subtypes might include “Black athletes” or “White businessmen.”

It’s important for individuals to consider how they categorize people into subtypes and what stereotypes they may hold about these groups in general.

How Your Stereotypes Impact Your Emotions

The way you think about other people affects how you feel and how you behave. 

A person’s race may affect the emotional response you have when that individual:

  • Walks past you
  • Sits next to you
  • Approaches you
  • Strikes up a conversation with you

Your emotional responses may range from anxiety and apprehension to relief or pity. 

How Stereotypes Influence Your Behavior

Your stereotypes affect how you behave as well. Here are some examples:

  • When you’re reviewing resumes, the candidates’ names may influence whether you contact them. Names that make you think someone is part of a certain group or race may attract you while other names may deter you.
  • You might walk to the other side of the street when you see individuals from a certain group approaching you.
  • You might choose a seat in class or when using public transportation based on what people look like. 


Stereotypes are also likely to lead to microaggressions. Here are some examples:

  • Asking someone from another race where they are from as if to imply they must not be American.
  • Saying, “You’re so articulate,” because you’ve stereotyped individuals of a particular race to be inarticulate.
  • Assuming someone of a particular race has a certain occupation.

Being Stereotyped Affects Decision-Making

Individuals on the receiving end of stereotyping are also impacted emotionally and behaviorally.

A 2010 study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto Scarborough found that stereotypes can have a lasting negative impact on those who experience them.

In one study, participants had to perform a task in the face of negative stereotyping. After participants were removed from the situation, researchers measured their ability to control their aggression, eat appropriate amounts, make rational decisions, and stay focused.

The results showed people were more likely to be aggressive after they were stereotyped. They were also more likely to lack self-control and had trouble making good decisions. And they were even more likely to overindulge on unhealthy foods.

Being Stereotyped Can Lead to Self-Stereotyping

Research has also found that individuals who are stereotyped may begin to act in a stereotypical fashion because they want to be more included in their group.4

Self-stereotyping can be a way for individuals in a certain group to band together when they feel as though they are “low status.” It may help them experience some cohesion.

Consequently, negative stereotypes can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A child who has grown up being taught that people of his race engage in illegal activity, for example, is more likely to so during his lifetime.

Building Awareness

Recognizing your stereotypes and the potential damage they do is the first step in creating change. Fortunately, you can take steps to change harmful stereotypes.

  • Have compassion for yourself. It’s not your fault that you have stereotypes—they likely developed in the context of society and social networks that you largely had no control over in your early years.
  • Educate yourself. Make an ongoing commitment to educate yourself on the different types of bias and racism.
  • Pay attention to the stereotypes you see in the media. Becoming more aware of them will open your eyes to how often these beliefs are reinforced. This said, it’s also important to take breaks as constant exposure to stereotypes in the news and on social media can be harmful.
  • Breakdown your stereotypes. Monitor the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that reinforce your beliefs, and choose to look for the truth about people.
  • Work to reduce the stereotypes you portray to others. Be conscious of the posts you make on social media and the conversations you hold with others. Make an effort to avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes.
  • Connect with “safe people.” Having a support network of family, friends, or mentors can help you work through your emotions and better cope with any outcomes.
  • Stay grounded. Incorporate activities like yoga and meditation into your daily life.
  • Decide what’s best for you. If you’re on the receiving end of a stereotype, acknowledge how it affects you. This may mean speaking up, or it may also mean simply acknowledging it to yourself.
  • Seek support. A mental health professional can help you identify and develop strategies to better deal with negative stereotypes/biases.

The Myth of the Jewish Race

A Biologist’s Point of View

As a youth, the author, who had two Jewish grandparents, was defined as a Jew by Vichy France; his parents, however, refused to register the family as Jews. (In March 1944 Corcos and his brother fled to Spain and joined the Allied Forces in North Africa.) States that antisemites consider Jewishness to be inherited and to embody inferior, evil traits. This view is based on two false biological premises: that there are pure races of humans, and that some races are superior to others. Rejects these premises by considering modern biology and Jewish history. The latter indicates that the Jews cannot be a race, due to their lack of sexual isolation; diversity among Jews is a result of both intermarriage and proselytism. Sees the Spanish “limpieza de sangre” statutes and the Inquisition as precursors of Nazi racism. Observes that sometimes Jews have joined antisemites in accepting biological determinism. Intermarriage in countries such as China, India, and the USA has led to considerable biological diversity among Jews and to the reduction of diversity between Jews and non-Jews, if such diversity existed at all. Stresses that if antisemites have worried about “contamination” of their “race” by the Jews they have already missed the boat since Jews have mixed with non-Jews for many centuries.

The Holocaust: Facts & Remembrance

While the term “Holocaust” — a word with Greek roots meaning “sacrifice by fire” — has historically been used to describe large-scale massacres of people, it now almost exclusively refers to the state-sponsored murder of the Jewish population of Europe during World War II at the hand of the German Nazi government, led by Adolf Hitler. Approximately 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis between 1939 and 1945, historians estimate, alongside a myriad of other groups they considered undesirable or dangerous, including the mentally and physically handicapped, the deaf, homosexuals, Communists, Poles and other Slavs, Roma or Gypsies, political dissidents or intellectuals, and many more. Researchers estimate that no fewer than 10 million non-combat, non-civilian casualties of World War II were a result of the brutal and targeted Nazi killing machine.  

How it began

The Nazis believed that Germans were a superior race of people destined to rule Europe and all its inferior classes, with Jews occupying the very bottom rung of the ethnic ladder. Though organized and widespread killing programs occurred during the war years, the persecution of the Jews actually began in the early 1930s, when Hitlerfirst came to power. Leading up to the war, Jews in Germany were forced to carry papers marking their religion and were subject to increasingly discriminatory laws. As the war began, Jewish populations throughout occupied territories in Central and Eastern Europe were pushed into designated neighborhoods called ghettos. The ghettos made it easier for the Nazis to round Jews up and send them to camps as political prisoners, a practice that began slowly in the first years of the war but then picked up pace rapidly in 1941. By 1942-43, Hitler was using the chaos and cover of the Second World War to execute his “Final Solution,” or the systematic murder of the Jews of Europe.

The ultimate tally was grim: Poland alone lost over 3 million Jews, or 90 percent of its pre-war Jewish population to the Holocaust; Ukraine lost almost 1 million. By war’s end, nearly 70 percent of the continent’s Jewish population was gone.

Concentration camps

The Nazis were able to accomplish their goals so quickly by creating concentration camps — prisons, effectively, where Jews and other persecuted peoples could be held, sorted and murdered in large numbers. Many of these camps began as forced labor camps early in the war and were converted for killing, while some were built exclusively for that purpose as the Nazis ramped up their Final Solution. Nearly 20,000 camps of various sizes and purposes would dot the European countryside by the end of the war. The most lethal among them were found in Poland and Germany, where the Nazis long had a stranglehold. Auschwitz-Birkenau alone, a sprawling complex in Poland, is estimated to have seen the deaths of 1 million Jews. Other notorious death camps included Chelmno, Sobibor and Treblinka.

Gas chambers and medical experiments add to toll

Once captured and shipped to the camps, Jewish prisoners could be selected for work, if healthy, but many were sent straight to gas chambers. These custom-built rooms, usually disguised as showers to avoid prisoner revolt, were pumped full of poisonous gases that caused death when inhaled. Victims were then burned in purpose-built ovens, in part to preserve the secret of the camps as killing machines and also to deal with the masses of bodies needing disposing of. Those who survived the original selection process at the camps were forced to live in horrible, cramped conditions, and many simply succumbed to malnutrition or disease. Medical clinics onsite also employed Nazi doctors to conduct painful scientific experiments on the handicapped and, occasionally, twins. These experiments usually ended in death for the patient.

Holocaust survivors remember

Most of the Nazi concentration camps were liberated by Allied soldiers in the spring of 1945; some, like Dachau and Auschwitz, remain open still today for visitors as a memorial to what happened there. There are also countless museums around the world dedicated to keeping the memory of victims alive, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., America’s national place of remembrance and commemoration of the Holocaust. Over the decades, Holocaust survivors and their families have been diligent in gathering and sorting once scattered records belonging to the victims lost during those years, aided by groups dedicated to the cause.

The number of people with first-hand memory of the Holocaust is dwindling, but the importance of commemorating the event and paying tribute to both victims and survivors remains as significant as ever for communities around the world, some 70 years later. Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah in Hebrew, is set aside annually to observe this, one of history’s worst genocides. The internationally recognized date corresponds to the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar. It marks the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. In 2014, the day falls on April 28.

Race Relations and Slavery Postings