How were ethnic groups created?

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and why are there so many ethnic groups?

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Ethnic groups are a social construct. So basically we just decided to classify ourselves like that, creating in groups and out groups. It’s all about *perceived* distinctiveness. People in one ethnic group perceive themselves as different from another ethnic group.

Why are there so many? Because we made that many.

History. That’s the answer to both questions, btw.

Sometimes, when you’re a civilisation, you encounter another, separate civilisation. They probably speak a different language. They probably have a different culture. They almost certainly have ambitions that are incompatible with your own, such as wanting to invade you. At some point, you’re going to need to tell someone about this civilisation, so you’ll need to give them a name. You’re also probably going to want to start discriminating against them at some point – these are your political rivals, possibly even enemies, after all. And if you’re more powerful than them, well, why not enslave them? Your job is to improve the lives of your people, not *everyone*, so why not use those smelly foreigners as cheap labour?

Congratulations, by doing things like this, you’ve invented an ethnicity! Or really, history has invented an ethnicity, and you’ve just used that ethnicity (the social construct, not the group) to accomplish certain things.

There are a lot of ethnic groups because there have been a lot of points in history where one group of people has needed to be able to refer to another group of people within the context of them being a different group of people. These interactions are not always negative ones – they can be positive too, like “Oh, those Phoenicians have got some lovely dyes, we should go buy some”, or neutral, like “Did you hear what happened to the Judeans? Got invaded, poor sods”.

Humans living in a geographic area with shared experiences like history, language, culture etc decide that they are closer to each other than to other humans living across the river who somehow have different experiences. And presto, you have an ethnic group.