Posted by russ on .
What do the terms race and ethnicity mean and why are these concepts important to United States society?
Both terms, race and ethnicity, have many definitions and connotations. I suggest you first look these two words up in a dictionary and note all of their various meanings.
I personally prefer to think of people as only one race -- the human race. However, traditionlly, race has been determined by skin color -- and the skin color of one's parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Since many Americans still suffer from racial prejudice and the long-lasting effects of American slavery of blacks, the color of one's skin still influences perceptions of others. But how do we classify a person whose skin is light brown and whose ancestors came from Asia, Europe, and Africa?
Ethnicity refers to the country or religion of one's ancestors. Again -- many Americans have varied ethnicity. Two of my great-nieces have ancestors from England, Germany, Slovakia, and the Philipines.
Ethnicity and race in U.S. society enables us to celebrate our multi-colored culture. It also alerts us to consider the deprivations faced by some of our minority groups and to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed -- regardless of race of ethnicity.
Although race is more biological and ethnicity is more cultural, both are ways of discriminating between groups.
With prejudices, various traits (stereotypes) are assigned to groups, and some people incorrectly believe that all members of that group will have those traits. People who lack confidence in their own worth sometimes use these differences to try to make themselves seem better than others.
Others mistrust ethnic groups (or anyone) who believe differently than they do, because they believe their way is the only way. These qualities lead to divisions, inequities and conflict within our society.
In contrast, these differences can be viewed positively, like the multi-colored threads that contribute beautiful patterns in a fabric. In problem solving, it is better to have a wide scope of ideas to better adapt to a wide variety of situations. The different views from various ethnic groups can contribute to better adaptation of our society in meeting its needs.
All in all, as Ms.Sue says, it is better to to view ourselves as one race — the human race. It all depends on how you divide people into "us" and "them." We see ourselves having much more in common with "us" than "them."
Here are some articles dealing with prejudice:
I hope this helps a little more. Thanks for asking.