…But What Happens Next?

 

Elementary school taught me the five categories of race. Middle School introduced me to memes and taught me how to joke “That’s Racist!” to my friends. High School taught me that institutional power is an essential part of racism. And college is teaching me how to unpack the very notion of race as a “social construct,” thanks to writers such as Ijeoma Oluo and Chenjerai Kumanyika. These writers explore the confusing thing we call race.

Race is no easy topic of discussion. In our current society, many wonder why “social justice warriors” make such a fuss about it. I mean, why do we keep talking about something that is fake right?

Ijeoma Oluo’s book So You Want to Talk About Race, published in 2018, dives deeper into the idea of race as a social construct. Through her own narrative, Oluo says, “out of a social construct created to brutalize and oppress, we’ve managed to create a lot of beauty.” (21) Race is a system of power that imposes pain, but it also informs Oluo’s identity as a Black woman. And so the question is not whether we can simply be color blind and all get along in the future, but whether we can see race as an architect of both our society at large and personal lives too.

Chenjerai Kumanyika assistant professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers, and contributor of the “Seeing White” podcast, also builds upon the idea of the systematic power of racism. He also addresses how the word appears in our vernacular. Kumanyika says, “It’s not about just attitudes, like your distant cousin who’s a bigot. Right? But we also do use the term racist for that too” (Kumanyika). Throughout the podcast, Kumanyika expresses his confusion in having to grapple with an understanding of racism at the macro level in our institutions, and micro level in interactions between people. Hence, it is easy to throw the word “racist” around and create tension and confusion but no progress.

In their work, Both Oluo and Kumanyika acknowledge that race is systematic, ingrained into the institutions that organize our society. But they also paint a clearer picture into what we as individuals make of race outside of the system, and how race can simultaneously bridge and separate people.

While race is not scientific fact, it is still real socially, and very much “alive” (Oluo 12).  After 13 years of schooling, I now understand how race is a social construct, but what happens next? What conversations are there to be had after acknowledging the complex and confusing versatility of race?

Works Cited:

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. New York, Hachette Book Group, 2018

Kumanyika, Chenjerai. How Race Was Made (Seeing White Part 2). Scene On Radio, Mar. 1, 2017. http://www.sceneonradio.org/episode-32-how-race-was-made-seeing-white-part-2/

 

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For White People: The Dangers and Importance of Saying “I”

Part of the reason I dread holidays so much is I know I will face the same conversations with my extended family as I do every year.  At this point, I’ve got my script in the back of head ready so that I can whip out the usual responses to the usual questions involving my major, my relationships status, and my professional goals.  Two of the texts we analyzed so far in the course, Ijeoma Oluo’s 2018 book So You Want to Talk About Race and John Biewen’s 2017 podcast episode “Turning the Lens,” have brought my attention to a whole different area of conversation I haven’t had to come into contact with so much.  These texts help provide strategies for conversations about race, as well as providing information on the structures and concepts that hide underneath the things that people say.

In Oluo’s chapter “What if I talk about race wrong?” she writes various strategies and tips to keep in mind while engaging in conversations about race, which can be difficult but are also important to have.  One of her tips reads: “If you are white, watch how many times you say ‘I’ and ‘me’” (Oluo 47).  A lot of racism extends beyond the individual, manifesting in the larger structures and institutions that we engage in.  When a white person makes a conversation about race too much about their personal feelings, they are diminishing the role that race plays in the lives of others.  Yes, white people experience problems.  But people of color can experience the same problems in addition to having them be impacted by race.

 

John Biewen’s “Turning the Lens” episode is a part of his larger podcast titled Seeing White.  In this text, before discussing how institutional racism is prominent everywhere, Biewen mentions how “…white people ourselves are not very good at seeing whiteness” (Biewen).  It is easy, particularly for those who live in predominantly white areas or schools, to look at people of other ethnicities and backgrounds and the social problems they face as a result of their difference.  What Biewen helps highlight, however, is that the privileges of being white are what needs to be recognized as well.  It is whiteness as a kind of property (as we learn in my American Studies major) that is the code for hundreds of years of racial formations that have been created.

 

And so in connecting both Oluo and Biewen’s ideas, it’s important to recognize that racism has been constructed into many aspect of our lives.  When discussing race, it is important for white people to use personal pronouns carefully as to not try to diminish the significance or extremity of racism but while still recognizing moments when personal privileges are making an impact on individual treatment.

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Works Cited

Biewen, John. “Turning the Lens.” Seeing White. 2017. Podcast.

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2018.

Acknowledging Race and Racial Formation in a Multicultural Society

In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. memorably said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In the United States where issues of race and racism is prevalent, the injustice Dr. King speaks of is occurring.

Michael Omi and Howard Winant, in their book, Racial Formation in the United States (Routledge 1994), contributes to the discussion with their definition of racial formation. They define it as, “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed” (Omi and Winant 55). They further this discussion by acknowledging the history behind race and racial projects, as well as linking that to how society has evolved into the power structure that is current. This essentially is the foundational structure for understanding how categories of race came to be and how racism, the side product of these categories was birthed in the United States. The combination of these two is precisely stated as, “to recognize the racial dimension in social structure is to interpret the meaning of race,” (Omi and Winant 57). Race and Racism are not scientific, but the social and political impacts and realness they hold make it undeniably important to understand and speak on in our society. The history of race in America is one of wars, conquest, and categorizing. That has lead to racial formation and race relations creating issues of racism that must be brought into dialogue.

In the book, “So you want to talk about race (Seal Press 2018), Ijeoma Oluo adds to the conversation about race and racial formation through her definition of racism and the steps useful in having these conversations. Oluo defines racism as, “racism is any prejudice against someone because of their race, when those views are reinforced by systems of power” (26). The important point to note in her definition is systems of power reinforces racially held prejudice. Yes, individuals can be racist and that is a conversation to have, but more importantly, looking at the systems of power that gives them the tools to reinforce racism over generations and in detrimental aspects of other lives is most critical. Secondly, Oluo gives useful advice for when speaking about race. One of the most important advice was “do your research” (46). This means that before entering a conversation on race, read, learn, and gain knowledge to know what you are talking about. With conversations on such a sensitive and real issue, doing the research can be the difference between productive or non effective conversations.

 

Ijeoma Oluo and Omi and Winant arguments and points parallel each other and act as building blocks for the conversation on race, racial formation, and racism. Both definitions of race and racism focus on the history behind the issue as well as acknowledging the systems of power that cause the perpetuation of the oppression. Oluo’s ideas are useful because it gives people the tools needed to have resourceful and progressive conversation about race. Omi and Winant’s ideas are useful in providing the history of racial formation and giving readers the tools to understand how race and racism developed in the United States. The combination of both works creates dialogue on the pressing and important issue or race as well as providing humans foundation blocks for having the uncomfortable conversation about race, racial formation, and racism in our society.

 

Works Cited

King, Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” 16 Apr. 1963.

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

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

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