The Theory of Racial Formation
Table of Contents
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- Conquest (Slavery, Genocide, Colonization, and the Origins of Race)
- Reform (Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Black Anti-colonialism)
- Rebellion (Civil Rights Movement and Revolutionary Black Nationalism)
- Blackness Today (Colorblind Racism, the New Jim Crow, and Black Lives Matter)
- Related Free Sociology Essays
The race is a term of modern reality, which plays an important role in many spheres of social life. Subsequently, many scientists conduct thorough investigations of this issue. However, there is no convergence of mind among scholars about its definition. While scientific discussion at this point continues, it causes instability in society. Currently, there are two main approaches to the definition of “race”. The first one is so-called “objective”. Its followers state that race is defined by specific biologic characteristics of groups of people. Meanwhile, another explanation proposes an understanding of “race” as something illusive. It is believed that race is an artificially created structure used because of ideological purposes.
Both approaches seem to have a rational kernel, but none of them is complete and correct separately. That is why such scientists as Michael Omi and Howard Winant propose an alternative definition of “race” as “an unstable and decentered complex of social meanings, constantly being transformed by political struggle” (10). In addition, scientists claim that race is a unique category, which has its separate remarkable influence on a variety of social processes (Omi and Winant 79). Therefore, they call it “master category” for the population of the USA. Another notion of scientists, which is worth of particular attention is that the attitude to race and its meaning changes through the time according to the wish and interests of definite dominant social groups (Omi, Winant79). This opinion makes it rather interesting to research and analyze the interdependence of race concept and various spheres of social life during different historical periods and to analyze reasons behind the changes in its perception.
Therefore, the aim of this paper is to analyze the impact of race as a category and the outcomes of its influence on the social situations, relations, decisions and further behavioral strategies and conversely. It is also necessary to find out whether the politics of dominance comes out from race segregation and take its roots exactly from this category as the initial one, which started to divide people into definite “classifications”. Such an analysis can give a valuable knowledge on the social process of both the past and the present events and their real purposes.
Conquest (Slavery, Genocide, Colonization, and the Origins of Race)
Previously, there was a widespread position that race as a category had scientific grounds of origin, depending on biological characteristics of people. However, further research revealed the historical facts, which made scientists look at the history of American colonization from the other point of view. Early colonization took place in the seventeenth century. Along with it, genocide was considered as an elimination of the lands for Natives. After this, the founders needed to inhabit the territories with a labor force, which had to give profit from getting gold and silver. According to the historical events, first representatives of such working power were Indians, but as they failed to adapt well enough to the conditions of the old world people, the latter needed to find a replacement for them. That is how Black people got under the scope of White people’s interest. The Africans possessed relevant knowledge on how to cultivate land, were resistant to diseases and had a high working ability (Bloom and Waldo 38). With the creation of more and more colonies, the interest to Negroes as a valuable source grew. That is how enslavement process began. It was based on two main reasons: a wish to control territories and make money out of slave trade.
Shortly after this, the society began to develop approaches to race understanding, which perfectly justified such an ill treatment of Black people. Philosophers and thinkers in the seventeenth and eighteenth century along with the claim of “natural human rights,” expressed their belief that Blacks were significantly less intelligent than the White ones, which automatically made them inferior. Jefferson was among the first to support such an approach. It gave a start to the formation of the concept of “othering” people on the ground of their color. However, in fact, there were documents that proved that mental abilities of Negroes were by no means worse than those of White people. Nevertheless, this information was not in accordance with the colonists’ interest thus it was not taken into account. Therefore, the first concepts of race have an inextricable connection with the needs of the Whites at that time.
Reform (Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Black Anti-colonialism)
During the Reconstruction period of 1865-1877, Republicans adopted acts that protected the rights of the former slaves. However, the next ruling political party nullified these attempts and passed over 100 acts, which officially acknowledged racial segregation of the American society. The so-called Jim Crow acts described slavery as a legal right. Mostly, these acts had poor, if any, ways to protect Black people from different forms of inhumane treatment and violence. With the changing of political power, it was considered to get rid of the laws that encouraged slavery. To achieve this goal, important legal acts were adopted. Among them are Civil rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment.
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The mentioned historical events created the background for further liberalization movement. One of its stages is known as Black Anti-Colonialism – a movement targeted to destroy any existing black-imperialistic streams in the society. With the development of civil rights movement, the Blacks wanted not only freedom from slavery but equity in society, including becoming part of the economic and political power of the country (Du Bois 178). To fight for these rights, Huey Newton and Bobby Seal created the Black Panther Party, which targeted to changed social conditions for Black people. Equal access to employment places, education and a full range of political freedoms are only some of values, which the party fought for during its existence and development. Generally, this historical period shows how politics influences the conditions of people’s life and their perception of “race”.
Rebellion (Civil Rights Movement and Revolutionary Black Nationalism)
Black Anti-colonialism movement became one of the determinant factors that led to essential success in the struggle for civil rights. According to the historians, Truman’s decision to develop and support civil rights movement for colored people was largely taken due to the background of anti-colonialism movement (Bloom, 21). The President’s change of political view on race was hardly expectable, as initially he was not inclined to support this direction. However, the changing political circumstances dictated the new rules. What is interesting, the key to success in changing of racial relations laid in progressive needs of that time (Bloom, 21). It was just a fortunate coincidence of historical events: the ruling party needed more support and the Black needed to extend their ability to influence inside the country. In such a way, an insurgence practice just used the favor of the moment. The development of Black Nationalism was the next logical and important step for the formation of the democratic American society.
Different scientists and scholars expressed their opinions about the impact of enslavement and its phenomenon on current psychological, biological distinctive features of the Afro-Americans. Meanwhile, the Black people were determined to continue protecting their rights and freedoms, which led to the creation of “Black Power” – a political movement targeted to spread a new understanding of racial consciousness and overcome any demonstration of racism or ideas of racial dominance.
Blackness Today (Colorblind Racism, the New Jim Crow, and Black Lives Matter)
Officially, current racial politics is announced to be colorblind. It means that any variants of discrimination based on the color of skin or race are unacceptable and legally forbidden. At the same time, there is a widespread War on Drug in the American society. Moreover, the main “enemies” in this war are Blacks. There is a steady stereotype that the problems with drug spreading are a cause of blacks’ illegal activities. Unfortunately, there are numerous court decisions, which ruled innocent black people for affairs with drugs. Statistics shows that most of the drug-related crimes are associated with African-Americans. This situation raises a question about the actual “colorblindness” in the American system of justice (Alexander 94). Unfortunately, the answer is not pleasant. Though officially it is not accepted, in fact, the court encourages police officers to pay particular attention and “do their best” to find connections between the Black neighborhoods and outskirts of the states and drug transferring. Again, with such actions, authorities create a negative image of Afro-Americans thus forming a particular attitude of public perception of this social group. What is more, the real facts prove that the White youth is engaged in drug crimes more often than the Blacks are. However, the society is reluctant to admit the fact and inclines to the idea that “drug sin” is a matter of the Blacks. This fact gives the authority more room to imprison, kill, discriminate and violate African-Americans without the legal or social implications.
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As a reaction to this situation, the Black Lives Matter Movement was created to enlighten all the howling cases of injustice and discrimination regarding Afro-Americans. As it is clear from the title of the movement itself, the main purpose is to pay attention of the public to the highest value of modern humane society – life and dignity, which are though being neglected relatively to some races. The role of this social movement is remarkable in the context of the political situation in the USA and public opinion worldwide. For its short period of existence, Black Lives Matter managed to gather thousands of followers and got essential attention from the officials who claim to support the values exhibited by the movement.
As it was claimed at the beginning, there is a theory according to which race is a master category in the social structure. It does not mean that it is dominant, a sole determinant of social relations and the way of development but a separate, essential and meaningful factor. The main historical periods and events during the interaction between different racial groups gave the opportunity to observe interdependence between the formation of social relations and the general direction of development and race perception. As it turns out from the analysis of the events, the racial classification was initially started as an attempt to “make up” people, divide them into classes for further dominance of the stronger over the weaker. The period of colonialism was based on the initial reasons for enslavement and the ways used by the society to mask it, relying on the illusive fact of low intelligence of the Black people. Further historical events showed the role of “race” perception for the political life of the country. As it becomes evident, the politicians throughout the history had to take one of the positions regarding this issue and direct their program in accordance with it. Subsequently, it was a point of national importance. Moreover, the history of the Whites and the Blacks’ cohabitation is a constant process of struggling for the power and ability to take decisions. Moreover, the Black people, despite all the stereotypes, do not have lower intellectual abilities and do not commit more crimes than the White ones. In fact, these people are possible competitors for power and control for the Whites. Thus, it might be one of the reasons why political powers attempt to create an image of “indigenous” “second-sort creatures” of the Black people.
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In addition, the theory of racial formation claims that race is a dynamic category, which is in the middle of “objective” and “illusive” theories. In practice, it also turned out to have its evidence. Although Blacks as a race was treated ill from the very beginning, social changes influenced this category, too. Even though there are cases of injustice and hidden ways of racial discrimination in the USA, modern processes of democratization, freedom and equity make it much easier for the Black people to protect their rights with the help of mass media’s attention and support of the world’s community.
All in all, the most important aspect is that race itself is a complex extensive category, which includes cultural, biological, social, and political aspects. Moreover, the factor of race is often a tool targeted to divide people and create an atmosphere of dominance. However, there are no reasonable points in doing so, and it is used as a way to suppress weaker groups of people.