…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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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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