Negative Impact of Social Constructs

We know now that, contrary to what scholars of the Enlightenment believed, race is not a “biological concept, a matter of species” (Omi and Winant, 63). In fact, due to technological and scientific advancement, this idea is absurd. Scientific evidence shows that a person is more biologically similar to someone of a different race (if we assume that race is based on skin color) than someone of their own. So, in theory, race should not impact our daily lives. So why does it?
Race is a social construct, an idea created to categorize and interpret people upon sight. Omi and Winant explain in Racial Formation that “race is a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies” (55). The ideas surrounding race may change depending on the social and political norms of the time. For example, in the Enlightenment, the ideas surrounding race were determined by “science” like phrenology and eugenics. Before that, in Equiano’s time in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olauda Equiano, racial lines were formed based on religion and economics. The Europeans saw Africans as savages that could be civilized and used as free labor. Equiano saw the situation differently, saying, “The white people looked and acted, as I thought, in so savage a manner; for I had never seen among any people such instances of brutal cruelty… not only shown towards us blacks, but also to some of the whites themselves” (Ch.2). His narrative flips the Europeans’ viewpoint on its head. But since the Europeans had power in the form of firearms, it was their view that ultimately dominated and set the tone for the next several hundred years.
It is easy now to look back to Equiano’s days and see the brutality inflicted on the Africans. We can congratulate ourselves on our progress; indeed, slavery was abolished and blacks have gained the same privileges as whites. However, the social construction of race is still prevalent. Comedians such as Louis C.K. and Stephen Colbert have brought these issues to the public’s attention. In one of his stand up specials, Louis C.K. says, “I’m not saying that white people are better, I’m saying that being white is clearly better; who could even argue?” Colbert challenges white fear of blacks when only .009% of African Americans were arrested (not convicted) for murder in 2011 (links at the end of the post). These men use their comedy to shed light on the ignorance of our society when it comes to racial lines. We all know that there is no biological differences between the races—we are all human—but we are refusing to acknowledge that this implies that there is no difference between races in terms of character, intelligence, or abilities. I think it is impossible to completely rid ourselves of the idea of race. When we see another person, we immediately take notice of their skin color. However, I think we can move past the negative connotations and generalizations when we process that information.
Growing up with dancing, a social construct I was often faced with was the idea that all ballerinas have an eating disorder. I clearly remember watching Dying to Dance in health class; when the protagonist, a dancer, began exhibiting signs of anorexia and bulimia, quite a few heads turned in my direction. The same happened when Black Swan came out. I won’t lie, a couple of the girls I danced with showed signs of the beginnings of anorexia; one girl was sent away until she got better. But in my experience, most dancers are concerned with their health; they eat nutritious food, and they eat a lot. But the dramatization of the anorexic dancer makes it difficult for the public to see that.

Stephen Colbert


One thought on “Negative Impact of Social Constructs

  1. I enjoyed reading this! I especially liked the way that you tied in opinions from popular comedians. You did everything that the assignment asked so you’ve earned an S.

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