Equiano

I do think that race is a social construct because it is how we categorize people without even knowing it. When you first see someone you perceive them as a certain race or ethnicity, which is only bad if used with ill intentions. In Racial Formation racial formation is described as “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed…we argue that racial formation is a process of historically situated projects in which human bodies and social structures are represented and organized” (pg. 55-56) I still believe that it is similar to this still today in our society. We organize and represent our different ethnicities and race based on social construct.

I believe that race in some ways is necessary to our society because it lets people celebrate their culture and be proud of their heritage. They are able to express themselves and their peoples’ past. Race is only bad if we as a society make it that way. You can see somebody as an ethnicity and that’s if fine but if you judge what type of person they are or act poorly towards them for no reason without knowing them personally then you are making race a bad thing. If it is something that we can celebrate and not degrade it will make us better as a whole because we will become more open to other cultures and people in general.

In Equiano’s “Interesting Narrative” I found that he almost started to assimilate himself with his masters. When he says “I passed about two months; and I now began to think I was to be adopted into the family, and was beginning to be reconciled to my situation, and to forget by degrees my misfortunes” (Chapter 2.) He started to think that he would become part of the family but then he was sent away like he was nothing, this was directly contrasting the feelings that Equiano had before. He identified himself to be one of them because of how they acted towards him.

I found in my life the social construct that people from the north are expected to act or dress a certain way. And the same goes for people in the south that they like to do certain things and are completely different. When in my experiences I have found these things to be false, but people seem to still think this way about people without even meeting them, its just how it goes in today’s society.

https://engl382fall2013.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/omi-and-winant-racial-formation.pdf

https://engl382fall2013.wordpress.com/readings/00-previous-readings/0922-equiano-interesting-narrative/

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.

 

Sources:

• (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/

Racial Formation, Social Construction, and You

Any discussion about race inevitably gets emotional and often heated, given how loaded a term “race” has become. But I think that this is a very bad thing, even when the anger is directed against racism. Race may indeed be socially constructed – in fact, it is by definition – but that does not make it a bad thing… necessarily.

Race, unfortunately, has been used to separate people for probably all of human history. While it wasn’t always bad, I think it’s safe to say it usually was. From slavery to segregation to antisemitism, race has put dangerous and often violent lines between people for a long time. But some people take great pride in their race, seeing it as an extension of who they are, as where they came from usually shapes their entire culture.

Equiano (or Gustavus Vassa) immediately brings up an interesting point in the second chapter of his “Interesting Narrative.” He mentions having slaves (or more accurately, his family had slaves), and he doesn’t take time pointing out race. It isn’t until white people show up in his narrative that race becomes a part of his story, and yet slavery – something we so often associate with racism – was present in his story before race became an issue. While I can’t say that Equiano would agree, it seems to me personally, after reading this Narrative, that race (socially constructed or otherwise) is not to blame for slavery’s prevalence, even in the New World.

If racism truly were the reason that white people enslaved so many africans, slavery surely wouldn’t exist in regions inhabited by only one race. This, of course, is not the case, both in Equiano’s own experience and in many, many other areas of the world.

Slavery existed in areas without even two different races, which brings me to my next point: race is, by definition, socially constructed. It is simply a way to group large populations of people together in order to more easily define them. This means that anything can be a definer of race, from skin color to spoken language to religion to hair color. Omi and Winant challenge this idea slightly while still largely supporting it. They claim race is not completely illusionary, but that it is still a product of society.

Omi and Wanant say at one point, “But a deeper difficulty, we believe, is inherent in the very formulation of this schema, in its way of posing race as a problem, a misconception left over from the past, and suitable now only for the dustbin of history,” which is the most significant argument in the entire work in my opinion.

I find myself agreeing very much with Omi and Wanant here. While race certainly can be a bad thing (when it is used to stereotype someone), it can also be used by people to help find their own identities. For example, I identify quite strongly with my Italian roots. I find this association with a race to be helpful as a way of figuring out who I am, regardless of any stereotypes that may follow.

Granted, not many people these days can even name many Italian stereotypes (one of them is that all Italians are greasy, creepy perverts [see: Sylvio Berlusconi]), but even more minor groups that I associate myself have negative stereotypes these days. As an atheist, many people (usually in the South) constantly assume that I am an amoral, violent, evil, hell-bound sinner without remorse or compassion. This is clearly a socially constructed stereotype, as statistically, atheists are actually far less likely to be violent criminals than members of most religions. Religion’s powerful grip on society causes these kinds of opinion to be spread around without any evidence – very much in the same way racist views are constructed. But it’s not always bad: being hated by someone you disagree with means you’re living the way you want to, and no socially constructed bigotry should be able to take that away.

Revised post: Equiano and Racial Formation

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Richard Derderian

 

September 19, 2013

 

ENGL 382:  The Enlightenment

 

Group #2 Assignment:  Equiano and Racial Formation

 

The idea of race takes many forms, some are more pertinent than others, but all are relevant.  As far as race being a social construct, I believe that it is a construct that begins from when we are born and develops as we grow up.  In most modern cases, children are brought into the world and raised by parents through whom the child develops an identity.  Race comes into play here in the respect that the child identifies with his or her parent’s physical make-up, relating it to their own and their sibling’s.  When one is raised in a family they build their social foundation based on what their parents teach them from a young age.  Children learn a language from their parents.  They pick up dialogue, eating habits, manners, and many other mannerisms from their parents.  In Equiano’s Interesting Narrative, he speaks of relating to other slaves because they share the same culture as him.  From the following quote we can deduct that these people were raised in a similar environment around people that shared the same culture, a culture that the slaves in the narrative preserve. “The language of these people resembled ours so nearly, that we understood each other perfectly. They had also the very same customs as we.” (Interesting Narrative)  It is from this notion that we can see how cultural differences can lead to the many societal “clicks” that we see today.  We as people are usually scared of things that we don’t understand, the same can applied here in the respect of culture.  When we see people doing things differently than us, we tend to gravitate away from that group of people.  This can be further understood from the following.

 

The idea of race in our society has molded the way we interact with one another every day.  It’s perplexing to think that in some cases we choose whether or not to talk to someone based on the way they look and the color of their skin.  Whether you choose to admit it or not, the idea of race in our society is a very real thing and has had and continues to have social consequences in the world we live in every day.  I think the idea of race is something we should do away with, but unfortunately, in the world we live in there will always be people who will judge someone base on the way the look.  If we were to do away with the idea of our race in our society, I think it would be best to follow this exert from Omi and Winant’s Racial Formation in The United States:  “We may notice someone’s race, but we cannot act upon that awareness.  We must act in a “color-blind” fashion (Pg. 57 Omi and Winant).   If we were to do away with the idea of race in this country, this is how I believe it would have to be done.  It would be impractical to think that it could be done this way, but it would be a beautiful think if we could do it.

We are faced with a lot of difficult situations in our lives, and dealing with race is no different.  Whether it has to do with someone’s culture and life practices, or the color of one’s skin, we as a people have to learn how to put these differences aside and coexist with one another.  From this perspective, race isn’t just about someone’s physical qualities, but cultural qualities as well.  We have to consider both of these before we say something, otherwise, we won’t even know the harm that we’re causing them.  Just because one person of a particular race believes one thing or follows another doesn’t mean that the entire group of people believes that.  To form a world in which we can all live in harmony, racial issues be damned, we have to be considerate of all the facets of race.   We can gain perspective on both facets through the texts of Equiano and Omi and Winant so we can be better prepared to face issues of race in our lives.

 

There are so many social constructs out there, but I think the notion that all men who are in theater productions are gay is an interesting one.  A lot of people, especially men not involved in theater, often assume that guys that guys that do theater are flamboyant, superficial, and couldn’t catch a football to save their life.  Guys who aren’t involved in theater typically think this because they are insecure about themselves and their own sexuality.  These guys also think that way because they are afraid of being judged by their like-minded friends which creates this perpetuating fear of doing anything that seems out of the norm.  I myself played football and sang in a chorus that performed musicals twice a year and having a perspective from both sides really helped provide some insight into the way people think.  Maybe someday we will see the day when every man can be secure enough with himself to put himself out there and not be afraid to be labeled as gay by people too ignorant to attempt to understand what people enjoy doing, even if it is different than what they enjoy.

 

Works Cited:

 

1.)    Omi and Winant’s Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s:

 

https://engl382fall2013.wordpress.com/readings/0917-omi-and-winant-racial-formation/

 

2.)    Equiano’s Interesting Narrative:

 

https://engl382fall2013.wordpress.com/readings/0922-equiano-interesting-narrative/

Racial Formation – R Yetter

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.

Race: The Social Construct.

Race is a social construct. Our human brains work to sort information in neat categories. Thus, since we observe differences in skin color, we tend to subconsciously categorize based on those differences. A good example of this is present in Equiano’s “Interesting Narrative”. In Equiano’s story, he grows up in Africa, never before seeing white people but immediately after meeting them he begins to categorize them based on his social observations of them. He 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. The whites that he was captured by are no means a unanimous example of how all whites were during the enlightenment, but because of their behavior, Equiano begins to form racial opinions of difference based on skin color.

In Omni and Winant’s “Racial Formation”, they define race as “a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies”. This definition highlights the fact that race is nothing more than something created by social and political circumstances throughout time. In other words we made something out of nothing. Race is a man-made thing and categorizing people based on skin color is often racist, unfair, or at the least discriminatory.  Even so, I do not think that race is something that we can get rid of from our society, nor do I think that it would be a good idea even if it was possible. Instead of deeming social, cultural, or racial, differences as “weird” or “bad” we should embrace and celebrate our differences. Instead of saying that race is only skin deep and that inside we are all the same, we should acknowledge whatever differences there may or may not be, embrace them and use them to create a sense of self-worth and uniqueness without gaining the mentality of being better or worse than the next person.

A social construct in my life is one that pertains to English majors. As an English major, people always thing that I am supposed to be able to spell everything correctly. Sometimes friends will ask me how to spell a particular word and I reply “I am not sure, google it” and they respond with “aren’t you an english major? You should know how to spell yadayada yada”. I hate it. Also I hate when people expect english majors to have read every book. I like to write, read, and all that but at the end of the day I’m just a regular guy. I’m sure all of us English majors are regular people. The rest of the world needs to shed their socially constructed nonage about our people!

Sources:

https://engl382fall2013.wordpress.com/readings/00-previous-readings/0922-equiano-interesting-narrative/

https://engl382fall2013.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/omi-and-winant-racial-formation.pdf

Equiano Seeing White People Doesn’t Necessarily Challenge Omi and Winant

I believe that in several ways Equiano’s narrative confirms Omi and Winant’s claims about racial formation.  One particular example that stands out to me from Equiano’s Intersting Narrative is when he first encounters white people, believing that he “had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill [him]” based on “[t]heir complexions … [which differed] so much from ours, their long hair, and the language they spoke” (Equiano).  Although Equiano had never before known white people existed, when he first encounters them he instantly recognizes their difference.  A person who does not carefully read Omi and Winant and interprets their message to mean that race is socially constructed and therefore should not be visible in the absence of these constructs might believe that this passage actually challenges Omi and Winant’s conclusions, since Equiano clearly recognizes white people as being different from himself based on appearance and behavior despite having never known that white people existed.  A more careful reading, however, reveals that this passage is in line with Omi and Winant’s theory.  Although it might be easy to assume that because race is a social construct it is imaginary, Omi and Winant caution against this “temptation … to imagine race as a mere illusion, a purely ideological construct which some ideal non-racist social order would eliminate,” and argue that, in order to understand how race operates as a social construct, it is necessary to challenge this position (Omi and Winant, 54).  Equiano’s encounter with the whites seems to confirm Omi and Winant’s conclusion that even though racial lines are arbitrarily drawn by society, at the same time race is not something that is a mere illusion.

I do believe that race is a social construct, but like Omi and Winant, I also believe that it is unrealistic and not very useful to think of race as an illusion that we should be working toward eliminating.  As human beings, I think that to an extent we are always going to notice and be aware of our differences from other human beings as a way to situate ourselves within society.  I do not think this has to be a negative thing.  I believe that attempting to find a way to remove the essentialism that defines racism from our society while maintaining and celebrating our differences, preaching tolerance and working toward equality of opportunity is a more realistic and noble goal than simply attempting to pretend that all people are the same and ignoring differences, which can leave some people disadvantaged who were disadvantaged historically.  Although I’m not sure race is necessary to our society, I do not see anything to be gained from attempting to do without it.

One of the major social constructs that I come into contact with so often that I can barely even notice it (MATRIX!!) is the idea that gender identity necessarily derives from biological sex.  It’s hard to get out of the habit of assuming that men are supposed to act masculine and non-emotional for biological reasons while women are supposed to be caregivers and less worried about providing for the family, but once you start to think outside of that particular box it becomes obvious pretty quickly that no one truly lives up to the ideals of their gender and it can even be harmful to attempt to do so.  I believe this social construct is the result of a lot of factors.  In particular, I think patriarchal societal structures probably have a lot to do with maintaining these gender roles.  I also think these gender roles may have derived from the simple need humans might have had long ago to be able to easily differentiate who it would be possible to mate with.  It also might have also helped that the potential mate brought different things to the table than the person who was attempting to mate with them.  Over time, I assume these probably necessary but also probably more fluid patterns were solidified in order to maintain a social order that was beneficial to males, i.e. patriarchy.  Just a guess, though.