Race Is Real

Race, should it even be considered real? According to Ijeoma Oluo’s 2018 publication So You Want to Talk About Race, she addresses the idea of race having no meaning in terms of science, but still “[being] alive”(Oluo 11) in todays economic and societal systems. This ideology is also supported in John Biewen’s podcast series Seeing White, while he talks with REI advocator Suzanne Plihcik.

While talking with Plihcik on his podcast, Biewen plays a clip of her presenting at a Racial Equity Inclusion workshop in Charlotte, North Carolina. She makes the interesting claim “there is more genetic variation within groups that have come to be called races than there is across groups that have come to be called races”(Biewen Seeing White). Plihcik then points at the crowd and states it is statistically more likely that she shares a closer genetic relation to a black man in the crowd than a white woman. This statistic helps shatter what we think we know about how race is categorized in society. It is so common for people to group others based off of appearance alone, and in regards to race skin color plays a crucial part in these groupings. But so what? The varying levels of melanin in skin is an easy thing to sort since color is easy to see. The problem lies when some of these sorted groups are perceived as being less or more “dangerous” than other groups. Plihcik makes the claim that anthropologists have now started to consider race as “anthropological nonsense” (Biewen Seeing White), but this does not mean it doesn’t exist, doesn’t affect the lives of millions of people, and mostly importantly it doesn’t give any justification for race to be a subject brushed under the rug. 

Oluo also addresses this issue of race being a very real reality especially for black and brown people in America. She makes the bold claim that race “was invented to lock people of color into the bottom of [a racially exploitative economic system”(Oluo 12). Thisconnects back to the history shared in Biewen’s podcast where they explained racially discrimination for those not considered white Christians was a westernized concept. Western civilizations purposefully enslaved people with the mindset the were “less human” by the color of their skin and religious affiliation. This has manifested itself into the disadvantages experienced by POC’s today. Not being able to acquire jobs on the basis of their names, being seen are more violent or scary without having committed any crime, which in turn leads to them being targeted.

Both Oluo and Biewen aim to shed some light on how past categorizations of race have affected modern views on the subject. They help us understand how history has influenced the underlying forms of racial oppression and discrimination towards black and brown people in our society, that put millions at a disadvantage for opportunities. 

Work Cited:

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

Biewen, John, host. “Turning the Lens.” Seeing White, Scene on Radio, 15 Feb 2017.

From Big Thoughts to Big Talks: Racial Projects in Action

In casual conversation, many of us tend to avoid complex academic theories and topics that will elicit divergent and heated reactions. So how likely is it that we’ll strike up a conversation about racial formation in the United States? Despite their trickiness, such conversations are essential.

In Racial Formation in the United States (Routledge 1994), Michael Omi and Howard Winant define a racial project as “an interpretation, representation, or explanation of racial dynamics, and an effort to reorganize and redistribute resources along particular Image result for omi and winantracial lines” (Omi and Winant 56). Such a project could be essentializing and racist, or explicitly anti-racist. Racial projects abound in the United States— but we don’t often think of them by that name, or even recognize their presence.

In her book So You Want to Talk About Race (Seal Press 2018), Ijeoma Oluo, without using this language, asks readers to recognize racial projects and undertake one of their own. She asks white people to consider the underlying assumptions and goals of their racial beliefs and asks everyone to engage in meaningful discussions around race Seattle writer Ijeoma Oluo as one step in the process of dismantling systemic racial injustice. Oluo writes, “…if you are white, and you don’t want to feel any of that pain by having these conversations [about race], then you are asking people of color to continue to bear the entire burden of racism alone” (Oluo 51). Here, she points to the burden of emotional labor, time, and energy created by a system that asks people of color to both experience and solve racism. If white people were to take on more of the responsibility of educating ourselves and each other, the crucial resources of time and energy would be more equitably distributed. Although Oluo does not conceive of her work explicitly as a racial project, Omi and Winant’s definition illuminates this aspect of her work.

Just as Omi and Winant’s theory provides insight into Oluo’s strategies, Oluo’s anecdotes and praxis-based arguments show the importance of understanding racial projects in action. Making harmful racial projects visible and refusing to normalize them is essential in the work of dismantling racism. Often, theory can appear intangible and inapplicable to daily life, while pragmatic strategies that lack theory can be misguided and therefore unsuccessful. Reading Omi & Winant and Oluo in conversation with each other reveals how a symbiotic relationship between the theory of racial formation and the everyday work of creating meaningful conversations about race enriches both projects.

Works Cited

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

Omi, Michael and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States from the 1960s to the 1990s. Routledge, 1994.

B1.