Overcoming the Constructs of Race

Equiano’s wonderment at the sight of white men might have been better described as curiouosity rather than horror had their first actions he witnessed not been their immediately capturing and enslaving him.  Their cruel treatment-starving him and the other Africans, chaining them, whipping them- made them magical, monstrous cannibals in his eyes.  “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; and this not only shown towards us blacks, but also to some of the whites themselves,” (Equiano). The color of their skin was tertiary in his judgment of them.  Europeans, upon discovering people of other colors and customs, asserted their dominance as a right of their whiteness.  They conquered, used and enslaved these peoples they viewed as lesser than themselves, purely because they were different.  Equiano’s experience would seem to prove that race is purely a construct, and that his judgment of white people was based on the evil in their actions.  Omi and Winant would agree, going on to state how European Christians in this period would conquer other peoples based on religion or geography as well; anyone who they could reason different by “othering.”  This enslavement of “lesser” peoples contributed to the cultural zeitgeist of race we have in place today.  “The conquest, therefore, was the first- and, given the dramatic nature of the case, perhaps the greatest- racial formation project,” (Omi and Winant).  Race is not something measurable by DNA, or blight of sins, or intellectual inferiority.  It has everything to do with evolution to acclimate to certain geographic reasons.  Today, with the comforts of modern technology, it means less than ever.  But, after the hundreds of years of enslavement and segregation of non-white persons-both in America and otherwise- we have inexorably linked race and culture.  These ideas of race being a determiner of who a person should be was invented by the idiocy of, frankly, lesser evolved peoples.  I think our society is steadily progressing (with several recurring issues occasionally impeding progress) as far as breaking down racial barriers.  And, hopefully, in another hundred or two hundred years, our descendants might not even notice race.  I would rather my great grandchildren judge people by the content of their hearts and the merit of their actions than associate any quality to them solely based on their outward appearance, especially their skin tone.  American culture in particular places stigma on speaking or acting a certain way if you’re a certain race (skin color) or if you’re gay (besides the obvious of being attracted to members of the same sex).  But anything outside those very descriptors doesn’t describe a person, it describes a group, and therefore perpetuates this moronic concept of “race.”  If a man wears bright colors, or has a lisp, or carries himself in an “effeminate manner”, he isn’t necessarily homosexual.  These are prejudiced qualities we immediately associate with the social construct of “gay.”  Like “black”, we dub people a certain way because of a trait that isn’t inherent to that.  This may be a social construct due to the misogynistic views of gender roles of our patriarchs, the very same patriarchs that constructed the concept of “race.”  Slowly, we are progressing away from the stigma of evil attached to homosexuality too.  There was a pastor that spoke in protest of gay marriage, and read several arguments-many based on religious “doctrine”- condemning the practice.  Then, at the end, he revealed that this was actually a speech given nearly 150 years ago to explain why slavery should remain in practice.  It’s the same social construct, and if anyone ever wants to be truly equal, we must cease to think of people as black or gay, but as people.  This “othering”, even self- “othering” where people separate themselves-whether they have good intentions in it (Pride, celebrating differences)-is detrimental to the advancement of true equality.  The debate over the “n-word” comes to mind.  The reason this is such a hurtful word is because of the history it carries, and the power we, in society, grant it. The second people choose not to be effected by it is the second it loses its power and becomes another word with no meaning.  One of the many ways we could break down the social construct of race is by depowering the word, which means we can’t be afraid of it.  But it would require everyone to reach that same understanding.  I long for the day when the question “What does it mean to be black in America?” has the same answer as, “What does it mean to be in America?”  To need “black” to be part of an identity is to perpetuate “race” and keep the construct intact.  Lots of people are proud of their heritage and what their ancestors, and, to some extent, they, overcame to become who they are.  What I propose is that, at some point, let’s stop needing to overcome, stop needing to distinguish ourselves by this invented notion of what it means to have a skin-tone darker than some, and just be who we are.  Only then can we achieve equality in its truest form.

Equiano: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1h320t.html

Omi and Winant: https://engl382fall2013.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/omi-and-winant-racial-formation.pdf

And for the aforementioned video featuring the pastor: http://www.uproxx.com/webculture/2012/10/pastor-gives-gay-rights-speech-with-amazing-twist-ending/

Written by: Hunter Bolton


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