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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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.

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