So What is an Ethnic Group?

Lesson 1: Topic 21 of 25

Merriam-Webster gives us this definition:

ethnic: of or relating to large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.

The graphic below might be helpful to illustrate an imaginative picture of an ethnic group. While the elements represented here may be significant parts of a person’s identity, from a cultural research perspective, one of these circles isn’t enough to claim ethnicity. You may consider yourself part of a particular religion, race, or even place. Those attributes, while important, need other factors for a cultural group to recognize “us” from “them.” It is at the juncture of several of these types of criteria that an ethnic group is held together.  

See the definitions below for more about these attributes of ethnic groups.

Courtesy of Dr. Bryan Galloway lmft lpc lnha lnfa CEU CEU cultural course DO MD Psych

Religion – a system of spiritual belief; an ethnic group may share a single religion or have several religions within it. 

Race – shared physical characteristics of a group, usually including skin pigmentation (melanin). 

Language – system of verbal and nonverbal communication common to a culture. 

Geographic origin – physical location 

Ancestry – an understanding of common origin, such as descendants of African slaves or a formal organized group like the General Society of Mayflower Descendants or the Cherokee Nation

Cultural practices and rules – a usually complex set of guidelines that determine behaviors and structures within a society, for example marriage practices. These may be legal (explicit and formal) or simply understood by members of the culture (implicit and informal).