Ethnic, according to Merriam Webster, is:
1. A heathen
2. a: of or relating to large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background
b: being a member of a specified ethnic group
c: of, relating to, or characteristic of ethnics.
Ethnic, according to conventional use, is:
1. Anything or anyone not white.
If you are a student of ethnic studies at the University of Utah, you are learn of the cultures and practices of Asian Americas, black Americans, Mexican Americans, and native Americans.
If ethnic food disagrees with you, you’re unlikely to want to eat at a Chinese or Indian restaurant, but you know a great little Italian place around the corner.
If you are black, your hair, as it grows out of your head, before you stick on a weave, is “ethnic hair”. And anyway, I’m not being racist or anything, but it makes you look poor, like a cancer patient and unsuitable for TV.
If you are a BBC reporter explaining what the National House of Traditional Leaders is in South Africa’s democracy, you say it “advises the government on traditional customs of ethnic groups”, because only black South Africans belong to an ethnic group.
“Ethnic”, as currently used, places white at the centre. White is normal, safe, acceptable—and everything else is foreign, weird, different…ethnic.
Ethnic people would do well to remember that the assumptions by which the English language operates are the enemy. “Tribal” groups, too, especially those involved in ethnic clashes in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, would do well to remember the same.