These terms are often used interchangeably, but in reality they describe very different traits. When we talk about crossing barriers, there are many different factors that we must consider.

Culture describes the corporate soul of a grouping of human beings. It is manifested as a preference for various choices of lifestyle: the type of food we like, the music we listen to, the clothes we wear, the language we speak,  the types of entertainment we enjoy, leisure activities, arts and other creative pursuits.  I recently heard an expanded definition of the “soul” of man, that went beyond the three parts traditionally taught, to five parts. They are the mind, will, emotions, personality and imagination.  All five of these are formed in an individual through their environment of shared experiences, which we call culture.  Collectively, a group of people with a common soulish  makeup, form a culture or Subculture in a broader general sense.  People from a common culture, will filter all of their corporate experiences through their personal cultural bias.  When we take a set of cultural biases, and formulate them into moral principles, that is when prejudice begins.

Ethnicity involves the origins or heritage of a group of people; their family genealogy, or the lineage of the people who raised them. This idea of ethnicity is often confused with race, which has similar concepts in it’s definition, but is a different matter altogether. Ethnicity determines the family you are born into, the nations from which your ancestors originated, and can all be traced back to Babel, when languages were confused by God, and people were scattered throughout the earth.  Thus LANGUAGE is the connecting thread between CULTURE and ETHNICITY.  One of the most obvious examples of this is the Latin or Hispanic peoples.  There is one common language, Spanish. However, there are multitudes of differing cultures, and ethnicities  which all speak the Spanish language. Often, Hispanic, is considered a race, which is a blatant error.  There are Hispanic people from at least three different racial streams: European, African, and Indian. However, all of these people are considered Latino or Hispanic, because of their language and some aspects of common culture.

Race describes purely the physical genetic history of a person, or group of people.  It is visibly recognizable by the hue or color of the skin tone, texture and color of hair, and the shape and color of the eyes. Other minor physical features also differentiate racial background. There is no direct correlation between race and culture or ethnicity.  The best example of this is the diaspora of people from Africa, with a tightly identified gene pool of common physical traits, yet they were scattered into hundreds of different cultures and ethnicities. There are people of African descent who are British, Australian, American, Islanders, Dominican, Haitian, literally all of the other nations of the earth. These people are culturally and ethnically different, yet they are all racially blacks of African descent.

So what is Racism?  Racism is the belief that there are inherent differences in people’s traits and capacities that are entirely due to their race, however defined, and that, as a consequence, justify the different treatment of those people, both socially and legally. Racism is based purely on prejudice, which we previously defined as building moral principles, which are subjectively based on cultural and ethnic bias or preference.  Furthermore, racism is about power. When one group of people, whether a culture, ethnicity, or race, have an unbalanced amount of power to enforce their own cultural and ethnic biases on another group of people, that is what we normally define as racism.

  1. seeking sadie says:

    Amazing article! This is the first time I have ever heard these terms defined in such a focused, honest and concise manner. You hit the nail on the head when describing the difference between culture and racism…..the key word is POWER. Not all groups of people (whether it be culture, ethnic or race) have an unbalanced amount of power to force their own cultural or racial biases against another group of people- which would be racism. This is SO well explained, thank you! Just because some people in a specific culture are racist, doesn’t mean that everyone in that same culture had a form of the unbalanced power which created the racism in other groups of people of their same culture. Great article!

    • Thanks Sadie. This is my first attempt at blogging, although I am used to expressing myself in writing. I am in Detroit, MI as part of a pilot project on racial reconciliation and urban ministry between white and black churches. I appreciate your comments.

      • SADIE says:

        what a great idea for a blog….I like it because you have personal stories on here too and its a great mix of education, inspiration and perseverance!!

  2. […] Culture, Ethnicity, and Race ( […]

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