Judging by Omi and Winant’s timeline in Racial Formation in the United States, it appears Equiano’s narrative fits into a sort of transitional state of the definition of racism during the Enlightenment. Equiano’s encounters would take place toward the middle of the 18th century. Omi and Winant assert that “the problem posed by race during the late 18th century was markedly different than [before]” (63). While problems with race beforehand are defined as centering on “conquest” and religious dominance, the issue of race was progressing into new territory during Equiano’s time. Omi and Winant contend that racial treatment later focused on efforts in trade and “nation-building.” The racist treatment of people like Equiano helped push the commercial efforts of the time through slavery. Slavery, and simultaneously racism, grew into an enterprise. Equiano states he was sold by the merchants “after their usual manner,” implying a sort of production line process of racial treatment (Equiano). There are no religious or political dominance overtones of Omi and Winant’s definition of Enlightenment racial thought, only the burning desire for cold, hard cash that evolved in the 18th century.
I believe race is, indeed, a social construct. Biologically, there is no difference in people between the racial divides. At our cores, we are simply human beings adapted to different environments and from different ethnicities, none of which can be attributed to groups of a single color. At the cellular level, we are in essence the same.
While I think race has no place in a biological viewpoint, it is an important social construct. Human beings categorize everything. We our organizational skills to group people. We implicitly base a great deal of our social decisions on race. Having race as a cue helps us find others who are like us—similar culture, religious background, social setting. We shouldn’t use this categorization to turn “different” people away in hatred; rather, just use it to enhance relationships with people who have similar backgrounds. Even at the most basic level, though, these cues can be inaccurate and should not be used to determine fundamental characteristics of individuals—don’t judge someone’s morals because of race. Briefly, race can be used as a loose guideline for social connections, but don’t make any serious judgments based on it.
One common social construct I see is the assumption that all college students are politically liberal. Whenever I hear someone refer to our student body’s political leanings, they treat it like we all hold the same beliefs and are collectively conspiring against the politically conservative. While this may be true about a great portion of college students, it certainly doesn’t describe all. It is a social construct because we do not necessarily all share the same belief, but society has noticed a trend and generalized. All it takes is a single similarity, and a group can designate an oppositional “other.” Even when there is, in fact, no common characteristic, the illusion grows and becomes a concrete truth in people’s minds.
Omi and Winant’s Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s:
Equiano’s Interesting Narrative: