After reading Equiano’s “Interesting Narrative” and Omi andWinant’s “Racial Formation,” I find that Equiano’s autobiography challenges the work of Omi and Winant. Before I thoroughly explain why I believe this, I will first define what “race” means in the context of my argument. There are many definitions of race as it relates to humankind, ranging from the heavily stigmatized,(as used in relation to the idea of racism), to purely scientific, (as used to group creatures by purely physical features).Omi and Winant note that “despite efforts…the concept of race has defied biological definition,” and that “social sciences have come to reject biologistic notions and regard race as a social concept” (Omi and Winant). For my purposes I choose a definition somewhere in-between the biologistic and social. Here, I define a race as a group of people sharing the same culture.
When describing the culture and manners of his country Equiano writes:
They had been implanted in me with great care, and made an impression on my mind, which time could not erase, and which all the adversity and variety of fortune I have since experienced, served only to rivet and record: for, whether the love of one’s country be real or imaginary, or a lesson of reason, or an instinct of nature, I still look back with pleasure. (Equiano)
Though he was introduced to different environments Equiano feels an affinity towards his homeland. I think that this excerpt from his writing perfectly describes why I believe his work challenges that of Omi and Winant. At the end of “Racial Formation”, the writers conclude that race is defined as “an unstable and “decentered” complex of social meanings constantly being transformed by political struggle” (Omi and Winant). This is a definition that, as I understand it, the writers are using to describe race as it has always existed, (including coming out of the enlightenment period). Though the essay gives historical background information on how racial stereotypes have evolved since Equiano’s time, their ‘idea’ of race is concretely defined. Equiano’s description of the “love of one’s country,” (which in this case, parallels my previously stated definition of race), takes a different perspective on race. A subject painted as highly political and “power-based” by Omi and Winant is viewed as a sort of kinship by Equiano.
With interpretations of Omi, Winant, and Equiano’s ideas of race, as well as personal experience in mind, I admit to believing that race is more than a social construct. Again, I have chosen to define race as a group of people with the same culture. Culture is created through a blend of biological and environmental factors. One can always adopt a new culture if they so choose, but it is common that people who share similar backgrounds, and other attributes such as skin color and accent are part of the same culture. If someone is born into a specific culture it is likely, but not certain that they will retain the culture from which they came. I think that it is important for society to recognize race. Good connotations associated with the words “diversity” and “uniqueness” are a testament to how positive come from recognizing and accepting races. I do not think that race is merely a social construct that can be dissolved. I cannot see an advantage to dissolving races, only altering how race is viewed.
I think that racism and the act of looking down upon people outside of one’s own race has been socially constructed. An example of socially constructed racism would be a comment such as “Asians are smarter than Hispanic people.” The stereotype of Asians being “smarter” than other groups of people is part of socially constructed racism. Though we may feel a natural affinity towards the culture to which we belong, I believe that negative views of other cultures, or stereotypes used to generalize a large group of people are the products of social construction.
Omi and Winant, “Racial Formation”http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~jdowd/omi%20and%20winant%20-%20racial%20formations.pdf
Equiano “Interesting Narrative”https://engl382fall2013.wordpress.com/readings/0922-equiano-interesting-narrative/