Race, as a concept of classification, has certainly become something blurry and distanced. Before, it was a mark, a brand that could be seen clear as day. It was an indicator of ultimate difference. Before, the concept of race was a tool, used to separate humankind, for the benefit of those performing the separation. Today, race classification is still apparent and visible, but the effects of it are less far reaching. Race has evolved to become a positive symbol of the diversity of humans which transcends the divisional thought process of earlier times. Omi and Winant reveal in Racial Formation in the United States that “the categories employed to differentiate among human groups along racial lines reveal themselves, upon serious examination, to be at best imprecise, and at worst completely arbitrary” (55). In this sense, race is a social construct, built around arbitrary categories. They go on further to say that “race is a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies” (55). This statement brings life to the idea that this concept was created by society and not something that wholly exists on its own.
I think Equiano’s Interesting Narrative meshes well with Omi and Winant’s thought processes. While his narrative isn’t necessarily set in heavy socio-political atmosphere, it focuses on the effects of race classification from a first person perspective. This is in the same tract as Omi and Winant, thinking of race as an arbitrary dividing line. Equiano offers some thoughts on the de-humanization of slavery: “Why are parents to lose their children, brothers their sisters, or husbands their wives? Surely, this is a new refinement in cruelty, which, while it has no advantage to atone for it, thus aggravates distress, and adds fresh horrors even to the wretchedness of slavery” (ch. 2). Using race to define people is cruel, because it is oblivious to the fact that humans are the same. They strive for family, as Equiano suggests, which certainly makes racial categories all the more meaningless.
Race is an idea that is not essential to society at all. If such classifications never existed, all humankind would be seen as the same, just differing in language and culture. It is nearly impossible to imagine society without race, though, and that is where some small amount of necessity could come about, if not just to point out that it is an arbitrary classification, just like gender or sexuality.
Along with race, gender, and sexuality, I think there are many more social constructs that affect how society works. I thought of style and fashion as a social construct. I realize the societal effects of fashion are minimal, but it does embody, wholly, the idea of categories that divide humankind. I believe fashion is a social construct because many people are aware of it. The media shows what is in style and fashionable for certain seasons, and the masses of consumers follow the media’s guidelines. Fashion is similar to race in the sense that it is a non-essential to society. People are people no matter the color of skin or cut of jean.
Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 1994. Web.
Equiano, Olaudah. “Equiano’s Autobiography.” Africans in America. PBS. Web. 28 Oct 2013.