Defining Race and the Role of Human Equality in a Multicultural Society

Image credit: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

The changing face of racism makes it an elusive concept to address in modern conversations. While outright racism exists, it is the system of institutional racism that is the most insidious. The photo above depicts Irish protesters. Their protest signs demonstrate their disapproval of the Irish police force and its reluctance to address black victims of violence.

Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race frames racial oppression in the context of society and describes conversational tools to address the topic of race. Published in 2018, the book provides instruction for genuine alliance with people of color. Oluo states that racism is rarely an individual attribute, but rather an institutional force that continues to oppress people of color (27). This idea is useful, as, I believe, it diverges from the average white person’s perception of racism. When a white person hears the word “racist,” images of “unabashed racism,” such as swastikas or the Ku Klux Klan, may come to mind (Oluo, 27). Framing race as a societal problem, however, points the finger at institutional support in terms of allowing racism to flourish. This idea also permits the opportunity to fight these oppressive systems (Oluo, 36).

Multiculturalism, written Ali Rattansi and published in 2011, is a short introduction to conversations surrounding multiculturalism. Rattansi outlines the role that the strive for human equality has played in the origins of multiculturalism. Following World War II, Rattansi explains, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sparked societal changes towards the idea of race (15). These changes are significant as they set the stage for the progressive social movements of the 1960’s and beyond. These historical moments illustrate that policy changes and social changes are key in changing racist systems.

Image credit: United Nations

Both Oluo’s definition of race as a societal, rather than an individual, issue and Rattansi’s explanation of post-WWII reversals of racist policies reinforce racism as an institutional system of oppression. Just as racism is a “systemic machine,” policy changes and social movements can function to address the injustices of this institutional problem (Oluo, 28). Oluo and Rattansi’s ideas therefore synergize to explain the societal changes that must take place to address institutional racism. These chances include the recognition of the existence of racist systems by white people and the enactment of policy changes that establish human equality.

Works Cited

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. Seal Press, 2018.

Rattansi, Ali. Multiculturalism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2011.

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