…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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Everyday Interactions of Whiteness

While the image above speaks for itself, I am here to merely stating my opinion in hopes to educate and inform a wider audience. As an American Studies major, I’ve read many texts that revolve around race. However, Ijeoma Oluo’s collection of essays in So You Want to Talk About Race, and John Biewen and Chenjerai Kumanyika’s Scene on Radio: Seeing White podcasts are by far one of the more thought provoking texts that I’ve come across. Both texts discuss a great deal about whiteness and provide different perspectives.

In the John Biewen’s 2017 Turning the Lens episode of the Seeing White podcasts, co-host Chenjerai Kumanyika states that institutionalized whiteness is not exclusive to overt and explicit bigotry, and is evident in mundane situations and “just in the everyday – well here I go – everyday interactions”. Whiteness is not only prevalent in institutional structures, it is also transparent in our interactions with one another and with our surroundings. I thought this statement was revealing because we are quick to notice clear-cut forms of whiteness, but we never really stop to think about how it perpetrates at a micro-level through our daily interactions.

Ijeoma Oluo expresses that in everyday interactions, white people have privilege that people of color do not have, which is evident when she discusses how white individuals are “not regularly followed by store personnel and therefore would be unaware of the impact it would have on [a person of color]” (Oluo 16). There is an inherit privilege if you are white, and that this privilege allows white people to go through out their day. This was compelling specifically because of the word “regularly”. Using the word “regularly” is significant as it indicates that this is an esoteric and repeated experience that POC face.

The excerpt from Oluo is an example of the “everyday interactions” Kumanyika discusses. I thought these two ideas were interesting because they reflect each other in the sense of cause and effect. It is interactions like a POC “regularly being followed” that uphold whiteness in society; white privilege allows these kinds of interactions. Even though it may not be at an institutional level, small exchanges like Oluo’s are what many people of color confront and what many individuals fail to acknowledge.

Structural or not, white privilege allows for whiteness in everyday interactions. Whiteness in everyday interactions reinforce the idea that whiteness is explicit at both the structural/institutional and at the mundane level of our own interactions.

 

Works Cited

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk about Race. New York, NY : Seal Press, 2018., 2018. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat00326a&AN=dico.1767489&site=eds-live&scope=site.

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/

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