Race as a Social Construct

Race is a social construct. It has been around as long as people have been on the earth. Racial identity is instilled in a person from the time he or she is born. As a person grows up, he takes on the appearance, traditions and mannerisms of the people he grew up around. Race becomes a part of his identity, not only learned from the environment but as a part of his genetic makeup. However, while race has always been used as a way of classifying others according to skin tones and cultural backgrounds, there is a lot more to it.

Omni and Winant stated, “There is a continuous temptation to think of race as an essence, as something fixed, concrete and objective. There is also an opposite temptation: to imagine race as a mere illusion, a purely ideological construct… It is necessary to challenge both of these positions.” Race is not merely a socially constructed illusion, but it is also not entirely void of existence. The difficulty lies in defining exactly what race is. For example, the story of Susie Phipps in “Racial Formation” describes a woman who didn’t fit into any one specific racial classification. While she was legally considered black, she identified with the white community.

In many cultures, certain races are seen as less valuable than others. People of the “less desirable” race can be abused, forced into slavery, and generally thought of as less important than people of other races. In the past, these differences were perceived as negative, but today, the same differences are recognized as positive contributions to modern society. As a group of teenage girls would shun their peers for being different, people throughout history have looked down upon those who look or talk or act differently than themselves. However, just as society grows and evolves, much like a teenager matures into an adult, over time, people begin to realize differences that were originally seen as bad and used to create segregation among peers are not so bad after all.

While race has been a source of negative influence in the past, I don’t believe it’s something we could do without. Race has brought positive and necessary diversity to many situations in modern society. People of different racial and cultural backgrounds work together to create new ideas that otherwise may not have come about.

Another social construct similar to race is age. There are two aspects to the idea of age. First, it is often assumed that younger adults are more valuable than their elders because they are more capable and can better take care of themselves. They don’t require as much hands-on attention and help to get things done, and can contribute more efficiently to society. On the other hand, the elderly are typically respected more for their wisdom and experience more than younger people. Neither of these ideas are entirely correct, nor are they one hundred percent incorrect.

While social constructs such as age and race impact our society in significant ways, there are always underlying issues related that must be studied and evaluated to truly understand how to deal with such important considerations.



• (Omni & Winant) https://engl382fall2013.wordpress.com/readings/00-previous-readings/0917-omi-and-winant-racial-formation/

• (Equaino) https://engl382fall2013.wordpress.com/readings/00-previous-readings/0922-equiano-interesting-narrative/


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