Race, ethnicity, and nationality

People putting their hands together

The words race, ethnicity and nationality are often misunderstood or even used interchangeably. They mean very different things, however.

Race refers to physical features, ethnicity points to cultural background, and nationality is all about the country you are from. In countries like Japan, the three things are closely linked. But in a place like the U.S., where people come from many different places and backgrounds, they are completely separate.

Let's look at how I fit into them.


I have light-colored skin, which puts me in the Caucasian category, or White. The concept of race, however, based on the belief that physical appearance is related to a person's skills and character, has no scientific evidence. Studies show that there's no significant genetic difference between anyone in the world.


My ancestry is heavily English and German, aka Anglo-Saxon, so I fit into the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (or WASP) cultural group in America. As a WASP, I speak English and belong to the Protestant branch of Christianity. I grew up going to church every Sunday. We don't have any food restrictions, but broadly speaking we don't like super spicy foods—our culture tends to have a meat and potatoes diet.


My nationality is simple. I'm a citizen of the United States; therefore, I'm an American. In America, you are considered American if you are born here or if the United States government grants you legal citizenship.

Now that there's a clear distinction, dive deep into this topic with your teacher!

Describe yourself according to the three categories. Do Homework
What do you know about your ancestors? Do Homework
Is "race" important in your country? How do people feel about it? Do Homework
What other categories do we put people in? Do Homework
What would the world be like if people weren't put into categories? Do Homework