Social Constructs

Race is a social construct. When we have a social construct, “we are focusing on its dependence on contingent variables of our social selves rather than any inherent quality that it possesses in itself.” (wiki) That is exactly how we look at race. Race is merely a skin color, an ethnicity, however we look at it as possessing social qualities like behavior, taste, intelligence, etc. For most everyone we use race to make prejudgments about the person we meet. I don’t believe it matters if I think the idea of race is something we should do without because it is always going to exist, it always has. This idea of race is how we make judgments about people, although many times they are misleading and inaccurate, it offers us some kind of categorical control to our unstable lives.

After reading both of the texts, I can see how Equiano’s autobiography might fit in Omi and Winant’s historical narrative about race coming out of the Enlightenment period. From Racial Formation, “Race was conceived as a biological concept, a matter of species.” (p. 63) People saw other races not as other humans or as a common being, but as other species, completely not related to themselves. Similarly, in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Equiano’s reaction to seeing white men for the first time was one of total shock, like seeing an exotic beast. He claimed “the white people looked and acted, as I thought, in so savage a manner” and “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)”. (Chapter 2) Equiano reacts in such manner of shock to the white people that his reaction is comparable to Omi and Winant referring to black people as another species. Both texts offer evidence that each race viewed the other not as a fellow human, but as an alien species in no way related to their own. It is both of these text’s refusal to see other races with a sameness to them that makes them complimentary.

I think the example of Greek Life is a great example of a very large social construct that exists, and a very prevalent one considering we are in college. There is always some hesitation on my part to include my sorority experience on my resume when applying for jobs or internships. Many people have developed negative preconceived notions about those of us involved with Greek Life. The majority of these assumptions are false (we haze, we’re stuck up, elitist, mean) but just as any other social construct proves, unless you are actually a member of that particular defining class you wouldn’t know what it means, just as I wouldn’t know what it means to be a man or Asian. However, some assumptions do hold true which is why social constructs exist in the first place, to give us a little help categorizing all the data/people we come across, and which is why social constructs will continue to exist.


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