…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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via GIPHY

 

What Was The Need For Race?

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Race is a very puzzling idea for multiple people. Often there is a questioning of why such a concept was created in the first place. Along with who would want to be held responsible for separating humanity rather than bringing us closer together?

The answer of why race was created  and why it’s such an influential word are discussed in the book So You Want to Talk About Race a collection of short essays by writer, speaker, and internet yeller Ijeoma Oluo. The book describes how to have conversations relating to race, and how not to offend people when discussing such a sensitive topic, while giving readers a close look into Oluo’s encounters with issues relating to race throughout her life. The book states “The ultimate goal of racism was the profit and comfort of the white race,specifically, of rich white men. The oppression of people of color was an easy way to get this wealth and power, and racism was a good way to justify it.”(Oluo 32). This statement explains how race was an ideal created specifically for the enhancement of people who were not of color, rather than the lives of everyone.

Oluo’s statement lacks historical background, but the historical information presented in the podcast How Race Was Made by journalist, reporter, and documentary-maker John Biewen proves Olulo’s statement. The podcast describes the actions of a man named Zurara, who was given the task of documenting and writing a bibliography on Prince Henry’s process of  retrieving natives from Sub Saharan Africa in order to enslave them during the year 1444. The podcast describes Zurara’s actions by saying  “he had to basically combine all of the different ethnic groups that Prince Henry was enslaving into one people, and then describing that people as inferior” (Biewen). This statement is an early historical demonstration of people who looked the same being categorized as inferior, while making another group of people look superior.

Through understanding both of these quotes from Oluo’s book and Beiwen’s podcast, it is revealed that race was established only for the mere beneficiary of people who were not of color in society. It is hard to believe a false concept created so long ago that separates our world is still so influential. But ultimately race was created in order to justifiably oppress black and brown people for the benefit of people who were not of color in society.

Works Cited

Oluo, Ijeoma. So you want to talk about race. Seal Press, 2018, New York, NY.

“Seeing White, Part 2”. How Race Was Made. Scene On Radio. from Scene on Radio, 1 March 2017, http://www.sceneonradio.org/episode-32-how-race-was-made-seeing-white-part-2/

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Daily Individual Vs. Structural Racism

Imagine you are in a coffee shop enjoying your morning energy booster, when an unfamiliar person approaches you and asks, “Do you consider yourself a racist?”. Yes, you would be in shock and in state of confusion, but most importantly how would you answer this question? How do you know if you are or aren’t racist? Are you even aware of what being a racist means? Or what is race? These are questions that are well explained in Ijeoma Oluo’s 2018 collection of essays, So You Want to Talk About Raceand in John Biewen and guest Chenjerai Kumanyika’s 2017 podcasts Scene on Radio: Seeing White. These pieces of work dive in to the ideas of racism within complex racial interactions and racism in regard to the individual and the structural system.

Ijeoma Oluo starts us off with the idea of social interactions and the many ways in which people carry out ineffective conversations. In day to day life, people of different backgrounds are not often involved in social conversations regarding race or racial dilemmas such as racial oppression of minority races, but when they do occur they most often wind up badly. Many people who aren’t of color in large part try to avoid these types of conversation because they don’t feel comfortable and most often dismiss the topic by saying “It is not my place.. I don’t really feel comfortable” (Oluo 4). By doing this we are avoiding the uncomfortable conversations and not advancing, we need to step out of our comfort zone in order to learn how to talk to one another without offended and miscommunicating our opinions. Many might disregard people of color complaints on racist experiences by not believing that they are truly racist, but if a non-person of color claims that something is not racist, is it truly their call to say what is racist or not? Oluo simply explains how to know if complex situations are racist or not by providing a simple checklist. The author does an outstanding job of simplifying how as a society we can have more effective conversations and understand race in regards, to racism through day to day interactions.

John Biewen’s Turning the Lensepisode Seeing Whiteperfectly captures the idea that racism does not only occur in daily interactions. It is heavily influenced by outside dominant pressures similarly these pressures could be a form of racial dictatorship. Guest speaker Chenjeri Kumanyika speaks on racism in regard to the overall population perfects, he says that “racism is like a disease and the overwhelming puzzle to solve is who has it”(Kumanyika). Though this form is tinking is incorrect because racism needs to be approached through structural creation sense, in which the question of why many people share this common idea, and who is the influencer. In the second episode How Was Race Madethe idea that “race isn’t real biologically but is real in the way society has been structured and the effects of race as a social contract”(Biewen) is introduced. Society is organized and structured in a way that makes race one of the leading components of action.

Race was made a part of the hegemony of this country, whether we like it or not and it’s one of the reasons why individual racism is prominent today. Racism is silenced in not only daily conversation, but in politics and individuals such as; Ijeoma Oluo, John Biewen and Chenjeri Kumanyika. They are bringing awareness through their work until racism is declared in the world. I chose these two pieces of work to demonstrate the two ideas of racism in an individual level and racism in a structural level. These two ideas at times can contradict themselves. When further analyzed from an outside perspective it can be observed that Structural and racial formation are the causes of individual daily interactive racism.

 

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Works 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. http://www.sceneonradio.org/episode-31-turning-the-lens-seeing-white-part-1/

Biewen, John, Host. “How Race Was Made” Seeing White, Scene on Radio, 1 Mar 2017. http://www.sceneonradio.org/episode-32-how-race-was-made-seeing-white-part-2/

 

 

 

 

 

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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