I have lived in the US since 1975 and have had the privilege of living in a mostly peaceful, safe, prosperous and dynamic environment. I am proud to be an American citizen and I am just as proud to have Korean and Hungarian heritage. I understand the difference between race, ethnicity, nationality, heritage and culture. I don’t think many people in America bother to learn about them, sadly.
You would think in 2022 the very insensitive and ignorant phrase, “Where ya from?” and even worse question, “What are you?” has been erased from our vocabulary. After the dumpster fire of 2020 that bled into 2021 proves this is not so. Now we hear too often, “Go back to where you came from!” and “I’m from here and you are not!” Just in the name of education, here is my explanation of the differences in the above mentioned terms. I am not an expert by any means so take it all with a grain of salt and do your own research.
Ethnicity is based on an ethnic group that is based on a common language, heritage and cultural similarities. Sometimes common foods, faith and geographical location may influence one’s ethnicity. Race is similar to ethnicity but relates more to the appearance of a person and in the many cultures possibly the color of their skin. Race is BIOLOGICAL and includes inherited genetic traits like hair texture and color and especially bone and jaw structure among so many other things. Nationality has the word NATION in it so it usually refers to where a person was born and/or has his/her/their citizenship. Like me, if you were born in South Korea but immigrated to US it gets murky what your nationality is. Since I have lived in the US for far longer, I say my nationality is American while my ethnicity is Korean. Heritage is a more confusing term. It overlaps ethnicity and nationality a little bit but in general think of it as part of genealogy. Heritage most often refers to the ANCESTORS of a person. Even if you only are 10% Scottish if you identify with that part of you and live as a Scot then that is the part of your heritage that you claim the most. My eldest daughter was born in Raleigh NC and has lived all 16 years in the Southern US. She is 1/4 South Korean and strongly identifies with her Asian roots. So on her school papers she identifies as Asian and I’ve told her that is absolutely up to her. By contrast my 12 year old daughter feels more Caucasian and identifies as “white” on all her paperwork. Culture is closest to ethnicity to me. Think of culture as a village of a country. It might involve one subset of the ethnicity. This one may be harder to grasp, I know. Let’s use my brother as an example. He is ethnically 1/2 Korean and subjects himself to maybe one or two things Korean but he does not relate with the entire breadth of being Korean as an ethnicity because he was raised solely in California by Caucasian parents.
So what of different races with the same nationality that may be rooted in different ethnicity and heritage. What happens then? Such is the case in America which is a melting pot. These past two years has really brought into focus the division we face in an otherwise amazing country. Black Americans have long suffered systemic racism even though they are throughly AMERICANS. It’s been more than 150 years since the 13th amendment has been accepted. Yet, slavery is a deep, dark shadow for our nation. I don’t think any learned person is surprised at the resistance of at least 50% of the Americans who will not accept people of other ethnicity as “American”. They don’t even consider Caucasian FEMALE Americans to be equal. Glass ceiling anyone? Unequal pay by gender? Black history IS American history so why do we have a separate month to “celebrate” it. How about we educate ourselves and accept ALL Americans equally regardless of their race, ethnicity, nationality, heritage or culture?
I’m not trying to begin a debate. I am one person in a sea of shouting. I refuse to shout. Instead, I try to educate anyone who asks me to help them. Slowly, people in my circle have come to understand many of the differences. They know I am a “safe place” to come and ask awkward questions although I do get impatient with my husband sometimes. But he has BP2 and ADHD working against him so I don’t hold him wholly responsible for not being able to retain information LOL. I think education is the key. I don’t mean going to university necessarily. I mean people caring enough to just read, discuss, visit museums, listen to people who are a part of that particular race, ethnicity, nationality, heritage and/or culture.
My best advice I give people is that if you are curious about someone’s race, ethnicity, nationality, heritage or culture, simply spend time with that person. Don’t grill them because you are curious. Become friends with them and when THEY are comfortable, they will share whatever they feel they can share. Other aspects will become clear as time goes by. It is none of your business WHAT anyone IS or IS NOT. Get to know the WHOLE person. This goes for asking about a scar, gender, a physical difference, an abnormality, sexuality, religion or anything else that is different from you. People are not zoo specimens and we don’t come with placards explaining everything. We are complicated. Love people just the way they are and you will receive their love back and I think that makes for a better world – don’t you?