Race Vs Ethnicity Vs Nationality: Meaning, Difference, Types & Examples

Often times, people use the terms race, ethnicity, and nationality interchangeably, especially when trying to find out where another person is from. This is not correct. Even though race vs ethnicity, as well as nationality, may have a meeting point, there are marked differences between the three. Besides, in this modern-day where people may easily get offended, it is important that you get it right the first time.

Meaning Of Race, Ethnicity And Nationality


Race refers to the major groups that human beings can be classified into. This classification is based mostly on physical attributes such as hair texture, facial structure, eye shape, skin color, etc. In recent times, some scientists have argued that race has no biological or genetic basis but is rather a social construct. They argue that there is no single bundle of genes that distinguish one race from the other, rather they have overlapping characteristics. As a result, they conclude that race is a social construct developed by the Europeans to further their quest of conquering and dominating new territories and new peoples during the 15th century.


Unlike race which is based on physical or biological attributes, ethnicity is based on cultural attributes. Ethnicity is the state of belonging to a social group who share a common culture and a common way of life. Such a group is known as an ethnic group. They share a common ancestry, history, language, mythology, dressing style, food, art, folklore etc. While some ethnic groups are domiciled in a particular location, some others are spread out over different countries. A very good example is the Yoruba people who are one of the major ethnic groups in Nigeria. They are found not only in Nigeria but also in Benin, Togo, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast.


While ethnicity is based on culture, nationality is a legal creation. Nationality is simply the status of belonging to a particular country or state. It is the legal relationship that exists between a person and a particular country. This relationship gives the state authority over that individual; the individual owes allegiance to that state and in turn, is protected by the state who also guarantees his rights. Nationality is psychological and as such inspires feelings of national pride and patriotism. Nationality is most commonly acquired by birth. However, it can also be acquired by marriage and naturalization.

Race Vs Ethnicity

Race Vs Ethnicity Vs Nationality: Are There Differences?

Race is the major subdivision of human beings and as such we only have 5 human races. On the other hand, we have thousands of ethnic groups in the world. Nationality is based on the country that one has a legal relationship with. There are about 156 countries in the world and as such, 156 nationalities.

It is not possible to change one’s race and it is difficult to change one’s ethnicity though this can be achieved after long periods of acculturation, however, it is very much possible to change one’s nationality from one country to another.

One’s race is based on the person’s physical attributes such as skin color, hair texture while ethnicity is based on one’s cultural identity such as language, mode of dressing. Nationality, on the other hand, is a legal creation and is mostly psychological. More so, people of different races can be nationals of one country example Black Americans, Chinese Americans etc.

Ethnicity denotes one’s membership of a particular ethnic group while nationality refers to one’s membership of a particular country. An ethnic group may not necessarily be domiciled in a  particular geographical location. On the other hand, one of the indispensable attributes of a state is that it must have a defined geographical location. As a result, people from the same ethnic group can be from different countries. for example, the Maasai ethnic group can be found in Kenya as well as Tanzania. Therefore a person from the Maasai ethnic group may either be a national of Tanzania or Kenya. On the other hand, people who have the same nationality may be from different ethnic groups. For example, a Nigerian maybe Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Efik, etc.

See Also: Yoruba People – Tribe, Language & Religion

Types And Examples Of Race, Ethnicity, And Nationality

Nigeria has no less than 250 ethnic groups. They include the Hausa-Fulani, Igbo, Ijaw, Ibibio, Kanuri, Tiv, Efik, Igala, Nupe etc. Other examples of ethnic groups include the Zulu tribe in South Africa as well as the Maasai tribe in Kenya.

Examples of nationalities include Nigerian, Indian, Pakistani, American, British, Dutch, Brazilian, Norwegian etc.

On the other hand, there are four different types of human races in existence today. They are listed below.

The Negroid Race

This is usually referred to as the black race and is commonly found in Africa, specifically Sub-Saharan Africa. they have very dark skin colour due to the abundance of Melanin in their skin. This Melanin protects them from the harshness of the sun which dominates in their location. Additionally, they have kinky hair and also relatively wide noses and thick lips when compared to people of other races.

The Caucasian Race

Mostly found in Europe and the Middle East. They have light skin tones, relatively thin lips, and pointed noses. The light skin tone is as a result of the absence of much Melanin. This enables them to easily absorb the little sun that is available in their region.

The Mongoloid Race

This type of race is mostly found in East Asia. They usually have almond-shaped eyes protected by folding eyelids. Also, they have the smallest body hair and body odor ratio when contrasted with people from other races.

The Australoid Race

This is indigenous to South-East Asia and Oceania. They have darker complexions than Caucasians and are relatively shorter in height.

Ngozika A
Ngozika A
Ngozika loves nothing more than to turn information into an exciting, delightful, and compelling article that informs and educates, inspires, and motivates the reader.


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