Ethnic is a Eurocentric way of saying non-Western. In America since the 1920s it has meant something not part of White American culture: ethnic foods, ethnic beauty, ethnic neighbourhoods, etc.

“Ethnic” comes from the word for Gentile in the Bible. The Jews divided the world into Jews and Gentiles, into the Chosen People and Everyone Else. The Jews called the Gentiles the goyim, “the nations”. In the New Testament, written in Greek, goyim became ethnoi. That became, by way of Church Latin, the English adjective “ethnic”.

By the 1400s “ethnic” applied to anyone who was not Christian or Jew – the heathens and infidels.

By the1920s White Americans were the Chosen People – American exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny and all that. Now Italians, Jews, Poles and others who came from Europe who were not part of White American culture were “ethnic”, formerly known as “alien races”.

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