Equiano’s powerful story is extremely relevant to Omi and Winant’s work. While Omi and Winant explain the development of race and racism, Equaino gives an example of it. His account is, of course, taking place in the early years of racism, but goes along the lines of what Omi and Winant argue. His example gives a good picture of how blacks were treated duringf this evolution.
I would have to say that race is a social construct. We as humans have consciously (now, mostly subconsciously) decided to categorize people based on their skin color. We do not base it on eye color, height, face shape or any other physical characteristic, but we do on color. As Omi and Winant put it, “As a result of prior efforts and struggles, we have now reached the point of fairly general agreement that race is not a biologically given but rather a socially constructed way of differentiating human beings.” (Omi and Winant, 65). As Equaino explains his journey, his portrayal of how he was treated by whites right from the beginning shows that race is definitely a social construct. The whites did not come to Africa to obtain other white people; they came to get black people. Equiano says, “Every circumstance I met with, severed only to render my state more painful, and heightened my apprehensions and my opinion of the cruelty of the whites.” This is very interesting because it not only tells that whites treated blacks this way based on a social construct, but also that blacks didn’t treat whites like that. Equiano formed his opinion after having interactions with them.
Race can be, fortunately, used as a very good quality in a person. It promotes individuality and a certain uniqueness about someone. It gives a person a sense of identity, and gives them something to embrace. As Omi and Winant write, “the attempt to banish the concept as an archaism is at best counterintuitive.” (Omi and Winant, 55). Basically, trying to take away race would be trying to take someone’s identity. The problem we have is that we take race too far, and use it negatively instead of positively. Being different is a good thing, and for some people race and racial identity is a really big part of how they stand out in a crowd (in a good way!).
I have been fortunate enough to come in contact with many other cultures and live abroad through traveling a lot. When I lived in Germany for a year, I made many German friends who had never met an American before. This was the biggest social construct I’ve personally been categorized into in my life: being an American. They assumed all of the stereotypes were parts of my life, and they quickly judged me whenever I had an opinion or stood out in some way. I always had to watch myself and make sure I was not making a fool out of myself, because anything I did strange or wrong gave not just me, but Americans a bad name. It was very interesting going through this experience, and it’s both awesome and intimidating to know that in their eyes, I will always be “the American”. That classification comes with sooo many expectations and assumptions.