Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Differences between Race & Nationality.

Edit: 14/08/2014 My previous title was "Differences between Ethnicity & Nationality" and stood corrected. I initially thought that Ethnicity = Race, but I was wrong, Ethnicity and Nationality is similar in the sense that it is something you can change and Race is something you cannot. I suppose if a Chinese were adopted by an African family, but raised in America... He would be racially Chinese, Ethically African and Nationally American. I have since rectified my mistake.

Disclaimer: I do not mean to offend anyone, but it is inevitable that some may take offense. And for that I advise against continuing.

People tend to merge both together. When I first came to Australia, I had to go through my ancestral history explicitly. A normal conversation would go like:

Aussie: So where are you from?
Me: Malaysia.
Aussie: Oh! - proceeds to say something in Malay, probably thinking that he sounds very clever
Me: I'm Chinese.
Aussie: Oh, so you are Malay-Chinese?
Me: Nope, my parents are Chinese and their grandparents/parents who are Chinese, immigrated from China to Malaysia.
Aussie: What's that? - confused
Me: My mother's mother and father and my father's father and mother-
Aussie: Your grandparents?
Me: .. (Thinking: Don't be a smartass) Yes. My grandparents or their grandparents immigrated from China. To. Malaysia.
Aussie: So, some where along the line, your ancestors must have married a Malay to make you part Malaysian right?
Me: Malaysian is a nationality. Malay is a race. I'm pure Chinese.
Aussie: ???
Me: (Idiots! Idiots all around me) Look, you're Australian, right? So if your parents moved to Malaysia, does that make you Malay?
Aussie: Ohh so you're originally from China and you moved to Malaysia?
Me: No, my ancestors did. I was born in Malaysia, therefore I'm Malaysian.
Aussie: So you're Malay-Chinese.
Me: No. I'm Chinese, from Malaysia. I'm not Malay, Malay is a different race altogether.

Source: Google Images
Usually, the Australian would drop the subject because there's really no point in risking annoying someone for something you don't understand, right? But people, people, people... It's really not that hard to comprehend.

Nationality: Wherever you've got citizenship. So, Australian, Malaysian... Those are nationalities.
Race: Whatever "color" (this is politically incorrect but I don't know how else to put it) you are. So, Caucasian (White), Asians (Brown/Yellow)... Those are races.

I can see why some people cannot differentiate between the two. Asians are branched off into Korean, Japanese, Indian, Chinese, Malay... All of which are also the respective names of their nationalities. Additionally, Caucasians do not have those differing sub categories, they categorize purely based on nationality. So I can see why it's confusing, so let's break it down...

Race is something you can not change. It's something you're born with and will die with. It's in your features, your skin tone, your ancestral heritage, in your blood. If you're Caucasian, that means your parents are both Caucasian, their parents were Caucasian and so on and so forth.

Nationality, on the other hand, can be changed depending on the individual. Anyone who has the right qualifications could apply for citizenship anywhere in the world. If you were born in Australia and you are Caucasian, you could migrate to Malaysia and become a Malaysian or migrate to America and become an American if you wanted to... But you will always be Caucasian.

Here are a few pictures of hot girl stars to illustrate my point:

Hebe (singer) is born in Taiwan. Taiwanese have been known to argue that they are a different race altogether, and much rather refer to those from China as Chinese, and themselves, Taiwanese. But for the sake of this argument, she's Chinese-Taiwanese - because Taiwan was once a part of China and they are descended from Chinese. Anyway, if she migrated to Australia, her nationality will be Australian, making her Chinese-Australian.

Scarlett Johansson (actress) is mixed with Jew (maternal) and Danish (paternal). So, her race is Jew-Danish. However, because she immigrated to America, her nationality is American. Therefore, she is Jew-Danish-American.

Nina Dobrev (actress) is born in Bulgaria and is racially Bulgarian but she moved to Canada when she was 2 so now she is Bulgarian-Canadian. Canadian is her nationality.

I actually wanted White, Yellow and Black representatives but I do not know any Indian/Nigerian/African/Malay actresses/singers so this will have to do. Haha!

Hell, if I had Australian citizenship, I would be Australian but I will always be Chinese. It's the same thing with African-American and me being Chinese-Malaysian!

* I'm not implying that Australians are dim, I am merely unfortunate to have met some ignorant ones. And it's not even limited to Australians, even in Malaysia (specifically Kuching), I have friends who go like:

Friend: OMG, s/he's Australian/American/Kiwi/Canadian/(insert nationality here) so that means s/he's either White or is mixed! (Obviously, they don't phrase it as so, they usually use the word 'ang mo' which is Hokkien slang for 'white people' but it's literal translation is 'red hair' so they would usually say 's/he is ang mo')
Me: Seriously? His/her parents are from Malaysia, they moved to Australia/America/New Zealand/Canada and moved back to Malaysia... How does that make him/her white?! If that's the case, if I move to Australia/America/New Zealand/Canada and moved back here, does that make me white?

Oh, to understand the above, you have to bear in mind that a majority of Chinese are more welcoming towards the white folk and tend to ostracize darker skinned races. But that's for a different post which, I promise will follow this one. That's a promise I will keep unlike this promise which I broke because, I have a personal vendetta against people who worship Caucasians.


  1. A very insightful view on the matter. I agree with you all the way.

  2. Ya, they tend to confuse in between these 2. We have no problem cause we are multi racial over here. But surprisingly, there should be multi racial also in Australia, right?

    1. Australia is a multiracial country, but I suppose they associate "I am from Korea/Japan/China/Malaysia" with Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Malay ethnicities respectively as they do not give any thought to how people have immigrated all over the world, thus 'where are you from' no longer correlates with 'what race are you'.

  3. great post.. enjoy reading .. :)

  4. Serious? Kch friends getting dim too? Yeah those Caucasian never bother to see outside their world so that's why they won't know

    1. "Those Caucasians"??? That's pretty ignorant, seeing as "Caucasian" is a lexical gap only recently invented as a political definition of fair-skinned people of European descent. All of these people are of multiple ethnicities, such as Anglo, Saxon, Anglo-Saxon, Teutonic, Celtic, Celt-Iberian, Romano, Romani, Scandinavian, Baltic, Slavic... etc.

    2. Many, many white people are Jewish, and some consider themselves to be of mixed ethnicities, such as Yiddish. Some Romani-Celts consider themselves to be Shelt-Romani, based on their discrete language, “Shelta”.

  5. ahahahah When China classmates too lazy by calling Malaysia as Malay, I asked if it's ok if I call China as Chinese? LOL

  6. This is actually inaccurate too, because ethnicity and race are not the same thing.

    Ethnicity is heritage and culture based, while race is an arbitrarily assigned social identity to mark status in a socio-geographic location (usually based on easily spotted phenotypic physical traits) . A person can be a "black" person, or of black race, in either America, Britain, or South Africa, but are usually of different ethnicities.

    For instance, a person of Haitian descent (born and raised in America) might ethnically identify as Yoruba, Vodoun, or as Caribbean. A person who descended from African slaves in America would identify as African-American. Both would still identify as Black, and American.

    Some ethnic identities are also religious identities (as in the case of Yoruba and Vodou, and Jew) because the religion itself is understood as the religion of a certain ethnic group. For instance, Jewish people originally established their ethnicity as "God's People", and indigenous peoples created their ancestral emergence and genealogical stories that often tie them to certain geographic location (such as the Arapaho of the Sacred Valley). The names of these tribes often mean "the people" or "the way", which indicates cultural and religious practices relevant to the place they come from.

    This is distinct from "Global Religions" such as Buddhism or Catholicism, that often have different sects that tailor their rituals and practices to fit certain ethnic groups (such as Zen-Buddhism, or the practice of Santeria by Latino Catholics), while still agreeing on general doctrine and common rituals (the attainment of Nirvana, or Communion).

    Nationality is different than you described it, too. Nationality is defined by social affinity and common political history with a group of people, not by current citizenship status. A person who lives in or was born in a current Israeli territory, who personally identifies as Palestinian because of their political heritage, will argue that being called Israeli is offensive because their Palestinian lands and territories were disputed, war torn, and eventually conquered.

    But a person who is Palestinian can have the ethnic identity of a Kurdish person, a Jewish person, an Arab person, or any other ethnicity. Their race will likely be called "Middle-Eastern" or, rather erroneously "Arab" by European ambassadors and academics.

    The reason why it is so common for people to confuse ethnicity and nationality is because both are terms defining "Peoples" (sovereign relational understanding of a human group), not by current political arrangements, laws, and nation-states. People often come together to create a national identity that is in part based on common ethnic identities.

    Nationalism, for instance, is based on things like common language and political goals, not the actual borders people are confined by. Nationalism is what inspired Haiti to start a revolutionary war against the French, in order to create an independent country for Haitians. Nationalism is also, ironically, the driving force behind British Imperialism and the colonization of America, and the enslavement of the Indigenous Americans and the disbandment of many of their First Nations.

    This all gets especially confusing when the census bureaus of modern states collect information based on their own constantly changing POLITICAL categorizations of racial and ethnic demographics. It wasn't very long ago that Irish people in America were their own race. Now they are all considered to be of "white" or "caucasian" race and ethnicity by the governing entity. Their ethnicity is actually Gaelic, Scots, or Celtic. Sometimes the ethnicities are mixed, such as Scots-Irish, Gael-Celtic, or Scots-Celtic. The names of those ethnic groups originally derive from the language their ancestors spoke, and that some people of those ethnicities still speak today in their place of origin.

  7. The issue of common language is also of great dispute within groups of people constructing their own nationality and ethnicity. Many people of the same ethnic groups don’t speak the same language, or speak multiple languages, and sometimes multiple discrete languages with people of other ethnicities and nationalities.
    In the U.S., it is being debated whether people can identify as American if they do not speak English, and whether states like California, Nevada, and Florida can make Spanish their official language.
    Amongst Gael-Celtic people, it is debated whether Celts should feel a duty to reviving the Gaelic language. This act is seen as an ethnic loyalty, but to some it is also an act of Irish and Scottish nationalism. Sometimes there is conflict between Scot-Gaelic speakers and Irish-Gaelic speakers as to whose language is more accurate, older, original, and superior. This sometimes ends up in heated debates as to whose nation is superior, and whose ethnic sub-group is superior.
    However, it is luckily a general agreement amongst Celts that all Gaelic speakers, and all Celtic countries and nationalities are of equal worth. This is in part due to how blended these groups are and all the commonalities they share that identify them as an ethnic group in the first place.

  8. "Nation" does not necessarily mean "Country". It means that there is a group of people sharing the same broader culture, political territory, and same legitimate government (if they are so lucky).
    There are nations that belong to different countries (such as the Kurdic groups present in Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria), and there are countries that have many nations (such as the 52 different indigenous groups, or “First Nations”, in Mexico).

  9. Just wanted to clear something up:

    When I say "arbitrarily assigned", I do not mean that literally anybody could be called Black, White, or Hispanic (Hispanic people generally prefer to be called by their ethnic name, Latino/Latina). Although, many times people of "Asian" or "Hispanic" descent will be confused as either White or Black/"Colored". Sometimes they prefer to group each other together as "people of color", to distinguish themselves from white privilege, but this fails to acknowledge the privileges "white passing" people have over "black" people, and it fails to acknowledge the privileges African-American people have over Latino or "Asian" people who don't speak English in America.

    When I say "arbitrarily assigned", what I mean is that race is a social construct is used to justify these social stratifications, hierarchies, and inequalities.
    There is no ethnic nor biological evidence that there is any other race than the human race as a species. The only way in which race exists in reality, is as a political and demographic identifier that assigns privilege, much the same way that gender does (as opposed to biological sex)... but that's a whole other discussion.

    In short, race is something people made up to justify colonialism, imperialism, slavery, and exploitation. It is not defined by any accurate understandings of biology or culture.

  10. In kyrgyz language malay means servant and han means king, this words are curious coincidence.