Culture vs. Race

Culture, by definition, is a quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in subjects like the arts, manners and scholarly pursuits. On the other hand, the definition of race is a group of persons related by common descent or heredity. Here is a platform where one can build the point that race itself cannot fully play into social construct in our place and time, but rather culture that holds more sway.

In our day in age, most people will look through a multicolored crowd and hardly pay attention to the difference in skin. Since the days of Darwin, the American Civil War, Black suffrage and the equality movement, our society (for the most part) has accepted and become accustomed to the concept of equality. Color is a not only a helpless trait, but a harmless trait as well. It does not affect one’s thinking or actions. A black person has just as much right and ability to graduate college as a white person, and they do.

However, it is because of our recent history that certain races are more densely centralized in certain places and socioeconomic stances. African-Americans only became acknowledged as equal on a national level in the 1960’s, only about fifty years ago. In the scheme of things, Black equality is a relatively new concept, leaving an entire race caught in circumstances created by an ancient past. More Black people are subjected to a lesser lifestyle because they have only had so much time to grow and prosper since their oppression. That is why the Black race is associated with lack of education, crime and poverty. But this doesn’t mean that there haven’t been millions of Black people rising up to opportunity and striving for a better life out of their dark past. The most obvious and moving example is our own two-term President.

It would be wrong to single out the Black race in this respect. White people share similar traits as a race. White people make up a large percentage of the national poverty. The point is that there are people of every race in every single socioeconomic condition. This means that one cannot use race as a social construct because it cannot be identified with just one social situation. It is widespread, ranging from dirt poor to filthy rich, just like every other race here. What can be used as a social construct instead is culture.

Culture originates from the individual. It pertains to what individual people consider important in life, and those who identify with these values tend to group up and create societies. Although there may be a larger number of people of a certain race than others in a specific group, a cultural group can never be made up of just one race. Take “ghetto”, for example. If an average, random person was asked to picture a “ghetto” style person, they might see this:

Black Racists

When there are plenty of people who identify with a ghetto, gangster style who are white and Asian, just to name two others.

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This is because a particular person, due to their upbringing and interests, ascribe to specific outer ways of expressing themselves. Since skin color no longer has as loud of a voice when expressing one’s character, culture takes over and defines people. The fact that Equiano, in his time, had the means and knowledge to write this narrative shows that he defies his racial stereotype, proving that race cannot restrict people from being any type of person. Yet in his world, skin color is enough to tossed onto a slave ship. At the very end, Equiano asks “Learned you this from your God, who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you?” referring to himself and his company on board being torn away from their families and lives. He is referring to the equal treatment of men, which means that he is not predisposed to a certain lifestyle just because of his skin, that he had God-given rights to be treated as equal. When Omi and Winant talk about race as being different to distinguish between an essence and an illusion, they are yielding to the point that those who see race as an essence are racist, and those who see it as an illusion can see past the color and into one’s true self. They state that “It is necessary to challenge both these positions, to disrupt and reframe the rigid and bipolar manner in which they are posed and debated, and to transcend the presumably irreconcilable relationship between them” (54). This means that our perception of race cannot be through just either essence or illusion, that it is important to try to see through that social construct to the actual person within and make a judgment based on that.

Social construction has affected my life through the concept of beauty. Girls in college believe that someone is considered attractive if they wear the brands that everyone else wears – Nike, Polo, Michael Kors, Tory Burch, Hunter, Patagonia, etc. – and if they don’t they are considered strange and unattractive. If I am having a bad day and just want to wear sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt to campus, I will feel awkward and estranged all day for it. When I’m wearing a Guy Harvey shirt, Nike sneakers and leggings, I feel fine, mixed into the group, and normal. The fact that these feelings control a significant element of my life is disturbing to me, and it seems that social constructs like these determine the social class of many people based on unfair judgment. A girl wearing brand-less clothes could be a smart, hilarious, and fun to hang out with. Yet many people would never give her that chance because of what she wears.

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3 thoughts on “Culture vs. Race

  1. Hey Daria,

    There are two particular things I would like you to do to receive an S:
    1) You discuss Omi and Winant but you do not cite them. Please pull a direct quote from the text. Also, although you discuss Equiano and the Omi/Winant reading, you don’t place them in conversation with each other. Please say how what you pull from Equiano fits in with or challenges Omi and Winant.
    2) You do not discuss something else in your life that is a social construct. Please think of something outside of race that is socially constructed and discuss it.

    Grade: U

    -Trey

  2. Hi Daria,

    Thanks for your response. Determining self-worth through clothing is definitely a social construction that we need to be conscientious of.

    Grade: S

    -Trey

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