What The Difference Between Race, Ethniciy, and Nationality Means For Black Liberation

What The Difference Between Race, Ethniciy, and Nationality Means For Black Liberation

The subject of race, ethnicity, and nationality has been a part of the Black Conscious debate for as long as I can remember being in the community.

Its an important question – one that forces us to think about to whom or where our allegiance belongs.

However, the problem in the Black Conscious community is that some make strong assertions about their nationality and their race without understanding what those concepts actually mean.

So before we can discuss debate the issue with integrity, we must clarify the difference between race, ethnicity, and nationality. These terms that have all been taken to mean the same thing when, in reality, they dont.

What Is Race?

Have you ever heard someone describe race as a ‘social construct’? Their argument is that race is a concept created by humans to segregate society and that race has no basis in genetics.

This argument is as silly as saying that there is only one race of cats, and that labeling one cat a ‘lion’, another a ‘tiger’ and a third a ‘panther’ is creating a false construct between the three!

The fact is, each race is different and uniquely adapted to their native environments.

There are 4 main races in existence today

The African Race

What The Difference Between Race, Ethniciy, and Nationality Means For Black Liberation
The African race is characterized mainly by Type 3 to Type 4 hair. Africans are the first people on the planet, so it is not unlikely that other types exist within the Diaspora naturally.

What The Difference Between Race, Ethniciy, and Nationality Means For Black Liberation

Each strand of African hair type grows in a tiny, spring-like helix shape – a direct adaptation to both heat and sunlight.

What The Difference Between Race, Ethniciy, and Nationality Means For Black Liberation

Our skin is rich with pigment melanin. Melanin is produced within the skin in cells called melanocytes and it is the main determinant of the skin color of darker-skinned humans. 

Melanin protects Africans from the negative effects of prolonged exposure to the sun while giving us the ability to synthesize that sunlight into Vitamin D. (Source)

Africans have adapted to the presence of malaria in our environment (Africa) by developing genes that create sickle shaped blood cells.

What The Difference Between Race, Ethniciy, and Nationality Means For Black Liberation
Map of the HbS sickle cell gene prevalence.

These cells offer resistance to malarial infection and are prevalent amongst – if not unique to – the African race.

…individuals who are carriers for the sickle cell disease …have some protective advantage against malaria. As a result, the frequencies of sickle cell carriers are high in malaria-endemic areas.

CDC’s birth cohort studies (Asembo Bay Cohort Project in western Kenya ) conducted in collaboration with the Kenya Medical Research Institute… determined that the sickle cell trait provides 60% protection against overall mortality. – The Centers For Disease Control

Physical differences between the races can also account for the fact that Black athletes dominate sports that require running, sprinting or jumping.


  • Sixty percent of all National Football League players are Black, as are 75 percent of all professional basketball players.
  • At the 1988 Olympics, East Africans won the gold in the 800m, 1,500m, 3,000m steeplechase, 5,000m, 10,000m and the marathon.
  • In the 1988 World Cross-Country Championships the first 10 finishers were all from Kenya or Ethiopia. Kenyans have won the last seven World Championships.
  • In the 1984 Olympics Kenyans won the 800m, 1,500m, 3,000m steeplechase and the 5,000m. Based on population percentages, the likelihood of this happening by chance is 1 in 1,600,000,000.
  • In 1960, the Ethiopian entrant in the marathon, Abebe Bikila, had virtually no training and did not even run in shoes. He won a gold medal and set a world record.

We dont even need to mention Serena Williams, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Gabby Douglass. Only natural ability can account for success like this.

What The Difference Between Race, Ethniciy, and Nationality Means For Black Liberation

Physical differences can also account for poor performance in swim related sports. African races tend to have lower bone densities than other races (source).

The information above came in part from the following books. If you want to gain a better understanding of what makes us unique, add them to your bookshelf!

The Caucasian Race

What The Difference Between Race, Ethniciy, and Nationality Means For Black Liberation

Just as the African race adapted to the heat and light of our homeland, so too did Caucasians adapt to the lack of light, cold, and dietary changes.

…[European] populations, which represented early farmers, had previously received a lot of vitamin D from their food, such as vitamin D-rich fish and animal livers, when they were hunter-gatherers. But after the advent of farming, when grains such as wheat and barley became a major part of their dinner plates, early Europeans needed to synthesize a larger amount of vitamin D in their skins. That’s when lightening up became very advantageous.

The study “provides evidence that loss of regular dietary vitamin D as a result of the transition to a more strongly agricultural lifestyle may have triggered” the evolution of lighter skin, says Nina Jablonski, a leading skin color researcher at Pennsylvania State University, University Park. – ScienceMag

In the colder Northern climates, Type 3 and 4 hair types were a disadvantage. Thus, ancient African migrants adapted with type 1 hair. The straight, round strands characteristic of white hair is better aclimatized to cold weather and lacks – to varying extents – the eumelanin and pheomelanin that makes hair dark.

The Mongoloid Race

What The Difference Between Race, Ethniciy, and Nationality Means For Black Liberation

The Mongoloid – or ‘Asian’ – races have some unique characteristics that other races do not possess. For instance, Koreans often have no odor-producing glands in their arm-pits at all and Japanese have very few. Nineteenth-century Japanese found Europeans so foul-smelling that even today, a common Japanese expression for anything Western means “stinking of butter.

Asians also prominently possess the epicanthic fold – the skin fold of the upper eyelid covering the inner angle of the eye. 35,000 years ago, a dormant gene was activated that gave Asians some degree of adaptability in their environment, although scientists still arent sure what advantage was gained.

The Australoid Race

What The Difference Between Race, Ethniciy, and Nationality Means For Black Liberation

The Australoid race is indigenous to South and Southeast Asia and Oceania, with indicators pointing towards a presence in the early Americas. (Its for that reason that we have excluded the ‘Native American’ race. As new evidence emerges for classification of Native Americans as a race onto themselves, we will update this article. Feel free to comment with any research you find!)

The Australoid type was held to have been common among Aboriginal Australians, Melanesians, the populations grouped as “Negrito” (the Andamanese, the Semang and Batek people, the Maniq people, the Aeta people, the Ati people, and various other ethnic groups in the Philippines), as well as certain tribes of India (including the Vedda of Sri Lanka, and a number of tribal populations in the interior of the Indian subcontinent). There is a long-standing hypothesis which derives Dravidians from an originally Australoid stock. – Wikipedia

The Australoid people seem to possess a blend of African and Asian characteristics that vary across Oceania and the Indian Oceans.

What Is Your Race?

Your race is determined by the majority of the genotypical and phenotypical markers within your blood. The best way to find out is by taking a genetic test.

Humans are messy. We have sex with other races for better or worse. Slavery, sexual selection, and forced migration have created a rainbow of mixtures that make it almost impossible to be 100% anything.

The best way to find out what races make up who you are is with a fast, simple genetic test (from companies that dont steal and experiment on your DNA). Here are three very affordable ones to start with.

What Is Ethnicity?

The term ethnicity is defined as “the fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition”.

Unlike race, your ethnicity can change given a long enough period of time. For instance, a member of the Akan people of Ghana can become assimilated into French society, adopt French customs, and adopt French cultural traditions.

Likewise, an Akan who does not assimilate would still be considered “Akan” whether they are in South Africa, or in Atlanta, Georgia. This person can be classified by their ethnic group, regardless of what country they decide to settle in.

In Rwanda, the terms Hutu and Tutsi were not racial classifications (both are African races), but signs of social distinction. A person could become a Tutsi or a Hutu based on their social and economic standing. Tutsis who lost their cattle sometimes would be considered Hutu, and Hutu who came up on some cattle could become Tutsi.

While there is just one African race, there are hundreds of African ethnic groups. To illustrate the point, you can find a list of these groups below.

This list is far from complete. If you notice a group is missing, please add them in the comments below!

Pan-African Ethnicity List

The following ethnic groups number 5 million people or more:

Central Africa

Luba in Democratic Republic of the Congo (c. 15 million)

Mongo in Democratic Republic of the Congo (c. 15 million)

Kongo in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola and Republic of the Congo (c. 10 million)

Kanuri in Nigeria,Niger,Chad and Cameroon (c. 10 million)

Horn of Africa

Oromo in Ethiopia (c. 30 million)

What The Difference Between Race, Ethniciy, and Nationality Means For Black Liberation
A member of the Oromo ethnic group in Ethiopia

Amhara in Ethiopia (c. 25 million)

Somali in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya (c. 16-19 million)

Tigrayans in Ethiopia (c. 9 million)

Tigrinyas in Eritrea (c. 3 million)

Afar in Eritrea, Djibouti and Ethiopia(c. 4-5 million)

North Africa

Maghrebis in Maghreb (c. 110 million), including Berbers in Mauritania, Morocco (including Western Sahara), Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya (c. 30 million)

Egyptians in Egypt (c. 91 million), including Copts in Egypt and Sudan (c. 15 million) and tribes such as the two largest in North Sinai, the al-Tarbiyeen tribe and the al-Sawarka tribe.

Southeast Africa

Hutu in Rwanda, Burundi, and Democratic Republic of Congo (c. 15 million)

Chewa in Malawi and Zambia (c. 15 million)

Southern Africa

Shona in Zimbabwe and Mozambique (c. 15 million)

Malagasy in Madagascar (24 million)

Zulu in South Africa (c. 10 million)

Xhosa in South Africa (c. 8.1 million)

Xitsonga in South Africa , Mozambique and Zimbabwe (c. 12 million )

Sotho in South Africa and Lesotho (c. 6.4 million)

Tswana in South Africa and Botswana (c. 6 million)

Kalanga in South Africa and Botswana and Zimbabwe (c. 1 million)

West Africa

Ethnic groups of Rivers State in Nigeria

Yoruba in Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone (c. 40 million)

What The Difference Between Race, Ethniciy, and Nationality Means For Black Liberation
Igbo in Nigeria (c.over 40 million)

Hausa in Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Ghana, Cameroon, Chad and Sudan (c. 35 million)

Mande peoples in The Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Liberia, Guinea Bissau, Niger, Mauritania and Chad (c. 30 million)

Akan in Ghana and Ivory Coast (c. 20 million)

Fula in Guinea, Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Niger, Chad, Gambia and Sierra Leone (c. 20 million)

The Americas

Gullah “Geechee” (c. 200,000)

Afro-Brazillian “Pretos” and “Pardos” (c. 97 million)

Jamaican Maroons (c. 100,000)

Marabou Haitians (c. unk)

What Is Nationality?

Nationality is simply the status of belonging to a particular nation. There are currently 156 nationalities.

Of the three characteristics listed here, nationality is the fastest and easiest to change.

In some countries, gaining citizenship – and thus nationality – can be purchased. In Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Lucia, citizenship can be bought from between $100,000 to $150,000. Once paid for, citizenship is issued within three to four months. Citizenship in these islands offers visa-free travel to more than 130 destinations.

Nationality List

What The Difference Between Race, Ethniciy, and Nationality Means For Black Liberation

If you are interested in checking out all 156 nationalities, feel free to do so here.

Race vs Ethnicity vs Nationality

What The Difference Between Race, Ethniciy, and Nationality Means For Black Liberation

As far as we are concerned as Pan-Africans, our race is the only factor that is unchangeable and thus serves as the basis of our unity.

An African will remain an African, even as their ethnicity or nationality changes.

It is important to note that what we call our races may change in the future. But that does not eliminate race as an unchangeable biological feature.

There was a time when Asians were called “Orientals”, there was a time when even Blacks referred to themselves as “Negroes”, and a time when whites were called “Occidentals”.

Again, the names dont matter so much as the fact that your race is what it is.

One can choose a nationality. One can be born into an ethnic group. But your race is yours – from the cradle to the grave.

Unity is the biggest problem we face across the Pan-African diaspora. And if there is one thing that we call all unify around, it is the fact that we share the same genotypical and phenotypical makeup that have made us targets of every other group on the planet.

How do you identify yourself in terms of race and nationality, and why? Leave a comment below ??

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