Like race, ethnicity is a social construct. Though race and ethnicity are related concepts and have some overlap, they’re not interchangeable. Ethnicity typically refers to common cultural markers such as language, ancestral origins, beliefs, and customs, while race is more typically defined first (though not exclusively) by physical characteristics. In the 2020 US Census, there were separate questions to identify race and ethnicity (though its ethnicity question focused solely on whether someone identifies as of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish descent).
People can identify with a specific racial group or category and a specific ethnicity. As with race, ethnicity cannot be assumed based on stereotypes, skin tone, hair texture, physical characteristics, name, diction, vernacular, interests, or religious affiliations. As with any identifier, following a person’s preference whenever possible, including only when pertinent to coverage, and identifying people equally (don’t only identify people of one ethnicity but not others) is helpful for precision. Compound ethnic identities do not need to be hyphenated (e.g., Indian American, British Nigerian, etc.).
Phrases like “ethnic food” are vague and can be seen as marking particular ethnicities or cultures as marginal and others as the default or norm (i.e., arguably, all foods have an ethnicity, but only certain cuisines are commonly called “ethnic”). Specifying the cuisine in question is clearer.
- The Meaning of Race and Ethnicity (University of Minnesota Libraries)
- Racial and Ethnic Identity (APA Style)
- Diversity/Inclusivity Style Guide (The California State University)
- Measuring Race and Ethnicity Across the Decades: 1790 – 2010 (US Census Bureau)
- Race & Ethnicity (Gendered Innovations)
- NAU Diversity Writing Style Guide (Northern Arizona University)
- Race Reporting Guide (Race Forward)