In my opinion, one of the most important quotes from the Omi and Winant’s historical narrative is on page 62: “Thus religious debates flared over the attempt to reconcile the various Christian metaphysics with the existence of people who were more ‘different’ than any whom Europe had previously known.” The important detail is the fact that Europeans stumbled across a group of people whom they had never seen anyone like before. Similarly, Equiano is terrified when he sees the white men on the ship for the first time: “I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me. Their complexions, too, differing so much from ours, their long hair, and the language they spoke (which was very different from any I had ever heard), united to confirm me in this belief.“ Equiano was not at all used to seeing white people and naturally identified them as an “other” based on looks, a similar reaction to how white people saw black people as “others” because they looked so different as well.
Now, I am not at all justifying how either race treated each other based upon looks. My main point is that, during this point in time, a very foreign thing was happening in terms of people interacting: they were being introduced to new people that looked entirely different from what they had previously known. To me, it makes sense that any race that sees the other for the first time (or even for the first few years, centuries, etc.) is going to have a hard time not seeing the other race as … “the other.” I can understand why race was a “thing” at that point. The idea of different people with different skin colors was entirely new to everyone, so people really fixated on it and sought to make meaning of it (and white people REALLY, really went the evil route in terms of making meaning of it).
Fast forward to 2013, where all races and ethnicities have been coexisting for years and years. Is race a social construct at this point? Yes, I completely believe it is. The powerful group—in terms of wealth, race, class, anything—will pretty much always attempt to remain on top. Race is just a social construct that exists to continue separating people and enable those in power to remain in power. It’s not even like distinguishing gender—men and women have different sexual organs, I can understand needing to differentiate between those—we’re literally all the same type of human no matter our race.
I just can’t wrap my head around why we still need to classify each other by race. Race is not even an accurate category. If we want to get accurate and stick to our roots—because some people argue that race classification is a necessary aspect of a person’s identity–let’s classify each other by specific ethnicity instead and where our families came from. But race? What’s the point? It’s way too broad.
There are a million other social constructs out there. I think an interesting one concerns stay-at-home dads. Most people assume that stay-at-home dads are passive or unintelligent, because they stay at home while their wife goes to work. People look down upon the stay-at-home dad and assume the wife dominates him and makes him stay at home. I think this mainly stems from other men who are insecure and think the “manly” thing to do is to go to work and make money for the family. It’s also a handy way to keep women in the home and out of the workforce, because men are often too embarrassed to volunteer to stay at home. I hope that eventually we will get to a point where either father or mother can stay at home, and people respect the full-time job of taking care of children.
(I know that is far different than race as a social construct but I wanted to pick a newer social construct rather than a more obvious one.)
Omi and Winant’s Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s:
Equiano’s Interesting Narrative: