If someone asked you to define your identity to them, where would you begin? Would it come down to the colour of your skin or your place of origin? Perhaps the language you speak, your religion, your cultural traditions or your family's ancestry?
Us humans are a diverse bunch. And although the terms "race," "ethnicity," "culture" and "heritage" are frequently used interchangeably, their meanings are not the same. Concepts of one's race, ethnicity, culture and heritage can be confusing and easily misunderstood – leading to questions like "Where are you from?" and "What's your background?"
These bewildering questions often drive people to divide their identities into two parts: race versus ethnicity. But what do these phrases actually mean, and what's the difference between them?
What’s the difference between race and ethnicity
While the term "race" is usually seen as biological, referring to the physical characteristics of a person, "ethnicity" is viewed as a social science construct that describes a person's cultural identity. Ethnicity can be exposed or hidden, depending on individual preferences, while racial identities are always on display, to a greater or lesser degree.
Although both these terms have frequently been used to group people, every person is unique. We feel that this is something that should be embraced and celebrated.
So what is race, exactly?
We all have unique physical features and appear different from one another in a number of obvious ways such as skin complexion, hair texture and facial features. The term "race" originated from anthropologists and philosophers in the 18th century, used to broadly define groups of people, based just on physical characteristics.
However, in today's society, "race" is becoming harder to define because as people move around the world and nations transform, more and more individuals have multiracial roots.
What does it mean to be multiracial
The term "multiracial" describes people or groups of people whose parents or grandparents are of two or more different races. The generations that come from them will have physical characteristics from all the "races" in their DNA and will typically create their own mix of cultural identities.
For example, British singer-songwriter, actress and model, Leona Lewis comes from a diverse background. Born to Welsh-Italian mum Maria (who racially identifies as "white") and Guyanean dad, Joe, (who racially identifies as black), this means that the superstar, born and raised in Islington, London, not only identifies as multiracial but that she also has a very distinct ethnic heritage.
What is ethnicity?
Whereas race is mostly defined by physical traits, ethnicity is a more useful term as it is more about "what we are" from a sociological point of view. So, when using the term ethnicity, it often refers to how we identify cultural aspects of ourselves, including common indicators such as ancestry, regional culture, language, values and often faith.
Ethnicity applies to everybody; we are all members of (at least) one ethnic group. But could we identify with more than one ethnicity?
What does it mean to be multi-ethnic?
The term multi-ethnic refers to individuals who identify with more than one ethnicity. In essence, it explains the coming together of those ethnicities into a new and personal form of self-identity. This creates a state of belonging to a variety of cultural traditions and allows an individual to choose and mix language, culture, and social norms and traditions.
However, multi-ethnic does not necessarily mean "multiracial." For example, you could have a family where the mother is Polish and the father is British. Both would racially be identified as "white" and so would their children. However, the family might celebrate a mixture of cultural traditions and norms which would give them a sense of belonging to both ethnicities and create their own way of life.
This explains why people can have more than one ethnicity but are said to be the same race.
So, what’s the difference between us all?
Here's the kicker: According to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History "The DNA of all human beings living today is 99.9% alike", leaving only 0.1% of our DNA being different due to our own characteristics.
Here at Wǒ, we feel that we should appreciate how our racial and ethnic origins contribute to our uniqueness and the unique fingerprint of our skin's biology. In fact, we have built our entire ethos around celebrating individuality and personalisation, empowering self-belief and self-assurance.
Embrace the uniqueness of your skin!
What is your cultural background? Share your cultural-identity with us by commenting below or sign up to our newsletter for more insightful discussions.