Race is obviously a social construct. Other than the few quantifiable environmental advantages that humans do gain from the elements in which we define race (lighter skin for temperate environments, darker skin for tropical and equatorial environments), there are no major biological differences that make one human different from another. We can all still reproduce with each other and produce healthy, fit human babies, and thus we are all the same species. However, even when you define race as a social construct, then you must define why the need to define race arises at all. If we are all the same species, who can breed successfully with each other and produce fit offspring, then why divide ourselves along such arbitrary lines as race? It all comes down to one simple concept, and one that Michael Omi and Howard Winant seem to fail to recognize as well as it should be.
These two authors recognize that humans have always categorized each other be their differences, but that the modern conception of “race” “does not occur until the rise of Europe and the arrival of Europeans in the Americas” (Omi 61). They then go on to cite several examples, such as, “Hostility and suspicion with which Christian Europe viewed the two significant non-Christian others-the Muslims and the Jews-cannot be viewed as more than rehearsal for racial formation, since these antagonisms, for all their bloodletting and chauvinism, were always and everywhere religiously interpreted” (Omi 61). And they are partly right when they say this; they are also partly missing a very crucial point that should not be overlooked. Perhaps the problem is that the modern conception of race is wrong. This idea that the genesis of the concept of “race” lies in the mixing of the mid second century Europeans with the rest of the world simply gives is a canvas on which to paint the anthropological diagram for race, but it does not get at the core idea behind race.
“Race” has always existed in one form or another. Whether is was because of where a man was born, or what religion he was a part of, or what color his skin was, the idea of a “race” is not an isolated idea that sprung only from the differences in skin color. Humans have and will always define themselves in opposition to others who different. it is irrelevant what is different, as long as it is different. This is why divide ourselves on such arbitrary lines like religion and skin color. It is because there is an innate comfort in being surrounded by those who are the same as you. The idea of a “race” has always existed, it just did not manifest in to the widespread categorization by skin color and region he was born until the colonization efforts of the Europeans in the mid second century.
The Equiano article has a wonderful passage that exemplifies this concept particularly well. he writes, “When these people knew we were brother and sister, they indulged us to be together; and the man, to whom I supposed we belonged, lay with us, he in the middle, while she and I held one another by the hands across his breast all night; and thus for a while we forgot our misfortunes, in the joy of being together” (Equiano). The desire to feel togetherness in human beings is almost as strong as the desire to alienate the outsiders. This is why, even though the concept of division along lines such as skin color are beginning to erode, we still have widespread division along even more arbitrary lines. This is why we look at the long haired kid in all black and say, “i don’t like that goth kid, hes different than me”, or when we see the guy in the plaid flannel with cuffed jeans and a mustache and say, “i don’t like that hipster, he’s different than me”. Humans define themselves by division, and race is simply an extension of that idea brought into new circumstances of interaction. It has always existed and for any true progress to be made in the social evolution of man, it needs to disappear in all aspects of human interaction.
Whether or not this is acheivable is anyones guess