top of page

Do You Really Know Your E.N.R.I.C.H?

Updated: Jan 22, 2023

When someone asks, "What is your race, nationality, heritage, or ethnicity?" Are you able to answer? Are you willing to answer? Do you know the answer? Do you know how to respond? And do you know the difference between each? Well, fear no more! We will help you better understand the differences. We will help you consider and frame your identity by providing explicit definitions of each. So now, when someone asks, "What are you?" Or "Where are you from?" Or "What's your ethnicity?" you'll have a clear answer - if you choose to respond.

Let's take a look at the real meanings of some of these words:

Ethnicity is the social group a person belongs to, identifies with, or is identified with by others, based on some or all of the following: culture, language, cuisine, religion, ancestry, geographical connection to a particular place, nationality, and physical features commonly associated with race. Like Race, Ethnicity is also a social construct, a fluid concept; it can be broadly or narrowly construed. For example,

ethnicity can be as broad as Indian or as narrow as Punjabi or Bengali. Someone can also be French and Parisian. Yet another example: people in the Caribbean may be considered West Indian, or more distinct subgroups such as Indo-Trinidadian or Afro-Trinidadian.

Ethnicity indicates a sense of nationhood where people have common patterns in lifestyle and similar customs.

Nationality refers to a person's citizenship in a country, either by birth or naturalization. e.g., American, Brazilian, Greek, or Kenyan. Nationality has evolved in part due to globalization. As dual citizenship rises globally, nationality choices are now more closely linked to (self-perception of) one's ethnicity. Someone who holds both American and Mexican passports may identify their nationality as Mexican instead of American.

Their children, born and raised in the United States, may consider their nationality American. In short, nationality is the legal relationship between a person and a sovereign state. As such, when a person has legal relationships with multiple states, nationality can become a choice - which is frequently based on wanting or not wanting to be an outsider in their place of residence.

Race refers to the concept of grouping people into populations based on various sets of physical characteristics (which usually result from genetic ancestry). So it is a social construct based on a person's ancestry and appearance. e.g., Black, White, Asian, Native American/Indigenous. Societies and governments use it to categorize people, usually hierarchical. At its extremes, when a group of people has been isolated from other groups for generations, it can appear to be a more clearly identifiable race. But this generation's emphasis on globalization has dramatically increased intermarriage, making race more unclassifiable and subjective over time.

The recent escalation of racial mixing has created uncertainty, misunderstanding, and different interpretations of race. So identifying who is predominantly European/Caucasian/White or African/Black or East Asian/South Asian or Native American/Indigenous has, in many cases, become complicated, to say the least.

Unlike the rest of the world, in most cases in American society, race is viewed and projected as singular. Meaning a person chooses or "belongs" to one race; if that person fails to choose, then society, descriptively, usually makes the choice. For example, Barack Obama has racially self-identified as black despite his mother being white/caucasian. He refers to himself as black or African American. And America refers to him as "The first Black President." In many parts of the world, he would be identified as mixed, biracial, or multiracial.

Identity answers the question: "Who are you?" Are you comfortable with you? Are your values in congruence with your life choices? Our level of contentment hinges on how we define ourselves and how closely it reflects what we value.

The problem is, although we have the power to, few of us choose our identity. Instead, we have society project onto us our identity, or we simply internalize our parents' values or values of the culture we come from. (Such as our focus on education, dress, view of marriage/family, etc.). Unfortunately, these values may not be authentic to us, leading to dissatisfaction in both our work and personal lives. How we view a meaningful life is closely linked to our identity.

A person's identity is closely linked to their E.N.R.I.C.H. - Ethnicity, Nationality, Race, Culture, and Heritage. Identity also includes gender, age, sexual orientation, education, marital status, disability, immigration, professional, and socio-economic status. Your identity determines whether you're an outsider at work, at school, at home, in your family, in your friendships, in your city, in your adopted country, or in your chosen country. In essence, you are an outsider if you're "the only…in the room!"

Each person may hold multiple identities, such as a lawyer, mother, or friend. Each role has its own meanings and expectations that are internalized as identity. Identity is always a work-in-process throughout life. Understanding and owning one's identity improves self-esteem. When people are represented to the outside world the way they think they should, and do what they think they should, they are fulfilled and content with life. It's a measure of success.

When someone's identity is misstated or distorted, either by themselves or others, consciously or unconsciously, the mental health impact can be profound - possibly leading to anxiety and/or depression!

Culture is the way of life that consists of the general customs and beliefs of a particular group of people - a group not necessarily differentiated by race, but frequently differentiated by ethnicity. It generally means the learned social aspects of human life in a society. It is, in essence, the symbolic markers of ethnicity…symbolic markers which distinguish one ethnic group or ethnicity from another. Culture is both taught to us and learned organically from others over time. When we migrate, we integrate into our newly adopted society, and develop friendships and close contacts who impact us deeply. Over time, we influence their ways of being - and they influence ours. So Culture can change over time as globalization facilitates greater worldwide assimilation in the form of emigration (leaving one country to move to another), immigration (moving to a new country), and migration (moving back to where you came from). This influx of people from one country to another brings with it new ways of being into that society.

Heritage can sometimes intersect with ethnicity, nationality, race, and culture. It generally refers to the identified ancestors of a person. For example, a child born to naturalized British citizens from Columbia could claim Columbian heritage, even if they don't share the Hispanic/Latino ethnicity (perhaps they can't speak Spanish and know nothing of the culture), and they are British as far as nationality. Another example: someone may have been adopted as a toddler from China by an anglo white American couple, and are visibly racially Asian. Their heritage is Chinese, although their culture, inherently, is not. In many cases, however, heritage is connected to race, ethnicity, and culture.


There is overlap between many of these terms. For example, German can be nationality, ethnicity, and heritage. But Latino/Hispanic is clearly an ethnicity, not a race; Hispanics/Latinos can include people of many races and race mixtures, as well as people of many different nationalities. Hispanics/Latinos can racially identify as black, white, Asian, or indigenous.

Conventional wisdom says a person does not choose their race; it is assigned by society based on physical appearance. However, ethnicity and culture can be self-identified because one can learn a language, customs, and norms, and integrate into a culture to 'belong' to an ethnic group. But this conventional wisdom is changing. Take the example of world-renowned footballer Neymar, who, in an interview in 2010, was asked if he had ever experienced racism. He responded, "Never. Not in the field, nor outside of it, It's not like I'm black, you know?"

His response raised eyebrows, especially here in the United States, as Neymar "appears" black to most Americans. Had he been born and raised in America, that "racial misidentification" would be problematic. But he is Brazilian, where "black" is a color, not a race, and colorism is readily apparent.

All this paints a complicated and mystifying picture, which might leave us contemplating how we should view the idea of ethnicity, nationality, race, identity, culture, and heritage. It isn't straightforward, but one thing is clear: While each is a way to classify or self-classify, it's also increasingly subjective, ambiguous, and requires nuance and the suspension of judgment when identifying each other.

Duane K. Andrews

24 views0 comments


bottom of page