Ethnicity refers to shared cultural traditions and history of a group or population. The collection of people who share an ethnicity is often called an ethnic group. An ethnic group shares a common culture that is reflected in language or dialect, religion, customs, clothing, food, and music, literature, or art. Ethnic groups are often associated with nationality, geographic region, or country of origin. For example, in the United States, African Americans, Italian Americans, and Mexican Americans are examples of ethnic groups. Other countries would have different ethnic groups, based on different cultural traditions, such as religion or language.
The term race and ethnicity are often confused, but these terms are not identical. Race is based on meanings given to biological features, particularly skin color, as well as other physical traits as hair and eyes. Ethnicity is based on a shared culture and claimed identity associated with a sense of belonging and pride. As scholars have noted, ethnicity and race are dynamic, historically derived and institutionalized ideas and practices.
Economic power tends to be unequally distributed among ethnic groups. The dominant ethnic groups have power, also termed privilege, whereas nondominant groups often experience oppression or discrimination. Power—or the ability to get what one wants—is held by the majority group when they establish a system based on their own cultural values. Less powerful groups, such as ethnic minorities, occupy a lower status in society because of power relations.
Ethnicity is important in sport and exercise psychology because it impacts sport and physical activity patterns. Sport participation among ethnic groups varies by group, tradition, and rituals. In general, ethnic minorities have experienced a long history of being excluded from participation and leadership from organized sport, competition, and physical activity programs. Today, a few popular sports have a higher percentage of ethnic minorities, but in many sports, ethnic minorities are almost completely absent. Even when participation rates are high, ethnic minorities have been excluded from positions of power in sport, including coaching and management at the youth, collegiate, and professional levels.
Research within sport psychology indicates that negative stereotypes related to ethnicity and other social categorizations are common in sport and lead to performance decrements. Stereotype threat, which has been found to occur in sport, refers to being at risk for confirming a negative stereotype of one’s group. Stereotype threat has been found to lower the performance of African Americans in academic situations because of the negative stereotype that African Americans are less intelligent then other groups. For example, members of a racial or ethnic group believed to be academically inferior score much lower on tests when reminded of their race or ethnicity beforehand.
Scholars have suggested that sport psychology professionals are often oblivious to their own beliefs about athletes from different ethnic groups. In fact, sport psychology professionals’ beliefs often are based on a Eurocentric worldview due to the lack of research and discussion related to cultural diversity in sport psychology. Furthermore, cultural diversity training in sport psychology is almost completely absent, which likely contributes to many professionals’ lack of understanding of ethnicity. To expand our worldview, sport and exercise psychology professionals need to conduct more research on ethnicity. Those practicing in sport psychology are encouraged to be aware of their own biases related to ethnicity and to develop appropriate skills to work with members of ethnic minorities.
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