Racial Formation in the United States

When Reading Racial Formation in the United States by Michael Omi and Howard Winant I thought that it was really interesting that it is so hard to define where and how racism played a role.  I loved the idea that America is not color blind but rather color conscious. It made me realize that although many believe that we are working towards a better America, and we are, there are many reasons why we are not there.  Many aspects play into the consciousness of the American mind when it comes to race.

 (Preface 1986 Edition) The writing of the book made the authors reconsider their beliefs, their politics, and their lives.  They had to look at all human attributes.

(Preface 1984 Edition)The authors wanted to establish what the concept of race was. They wanted to talk about how race are created and changed.  It was not only the understanding of the concept of race that the authors wanted to focus on, they wanted to also deal with the issues and the understanding and comprehension of the issues linked with the concept of race itself was a main goal.

(Introduction)The United States was said to be color blind but when looking in retrospect the US has in fact been very “color-conscious.” There are three main topics addressed in the book as a whole. The theory of race in the  United States is examined and critiqued, they “advance an alternative conception, based in the concept of racial formation.” Then they take the information and apply it to history and politics of postwar United States. The work of the book is to overcome the limitations set by race in the American life. Three concepts shaped their theoretical orientation. 1. Look at the significance of the new social movements in the 1960’s. 2. They wanted to locate race at the center of the American political history. And the third concern was to propose an “expanded” model of the state and state activity.

(Paradigms of Race: Ethnicity, Class, and Nation)There are many assumptions as to where the origins of racism and racial conflict but when you look at the greater scope of things it is impossible to limit to one thing because there are so many factors that play a role.  But overall there are three approaches to race as mentioned earlier in the introduction.  These things are paradigms and serve as guides for research and include policy and political action orientations.  There are three main paradigms, ethnicity, class, and nation, focusing mainly on ethnicity over the last 50 years.

(1 Ethnicity) Race was thought to be brought into question with ethnicity and with biological and hereditary reasons. It was thought that intelligence, temperament, and even sexuality was a characteristic of racial concern.  One major part of ethnicity was assimilation.  One of the main problems faced with assimilation is maintaining ethnic group identities. The essence of creed is also determined as the authors discuss that the “American creed of democracy, equality, and justice hasd entered into conflict with black inequality, segregation, and racial prejudice in general.”  There was a theoretical dominance established that coincided with assimilation.  Assimilation takes place when one enters the political arena for whatever purpose.  People are assimilated based on where or what they came from but can be tied into other groups because of one’s interests.  Assimilation was viewed as great. For example, in the North where blacks were still considered immigrants they could move into the modern and accepted life by the whites with assimilation. It then became a factor and want to change and willingness to accept new lifestyles.  The minorities did refuse to fall into the assigned roles they were expected to assimilate into.  There are some criticisms to the idea of assimilation and ethnicity. If one could not assimilate into a new culture, follow the norms of the society and the rules he or she was being put into, it was not thought to be the fault of the norms. For the norms were accepted. It was thought to be the fault of the values of the society the individual came from.  It was never a fault with the accepted norms.  It was considered to be a fault form “outside” parties.  In addition, there are differences within each ethnicity. For example, there are different languages and religions and thoughts and values and etcetera within the minority of African American. But majority of people refuse to recognize those differences and see them all as one people.  Making ethnicity a hard factor to employ and hard factor to explain.

(2 Class)In order to analyze the class paradigm of race there are three general approaches that serve as a framework for analysis. The approaches look at different parts of the economic paradigm.  Exchange relates to market relations, distribution to systems of stratification, and production goes to processes of class conflict.  When looking at the market relations approach we learn that blacks and whites are separated by choice and together by standards and new expectations. The whites have trouble being close to the blacks and therefore they do what they can to gain capital. They have their own consumption of goods and their own processes to maximize white gain.  There comes  a large separation there because of the attitudes and tendencies to protect and stick with the white race. The inequality however is not installed in all whites.  It is a choice that some make and therefore they separate themselves.  Then there is the stratification theory.  The theory is said to deal with the distribution of resources and politics. The more resources the better off you are and the higher up you are in political standing the better off you are.  Although in theory, the resources and political standing should give you better standing, when it comes to blacks that theory changes.  There is said that there is a class and then there is an underclass for blacks. So even the elite African Americans are not the elites in society because of their race. They have the same jobs but they cannot get as high of jobs and ranks as the whites.  The last theory in the class paradigm is the class conflict theory. Class conflicts parallel heavily with market-based perspectives since both “rely on conceptions of the labor market.”  The theory has two opposing tendencies: divide and rule and exclusionism.  The divide and rule tendency relies heavily on the concept of segmentation. Segmentation shows that minorities have lower wages and less advancement opportunities, but the reason why this is cannot be explained. This is because its based in the deep set roots of racism and bias.  The idea of the split labor market shows that there is a dominant group in the class that seeks to maintain wages and production.  The resulting exclusion comes from “the product of historical accident which produced a correlation between ethnicity and the price of labor.” In conclusion,, the splits are to be seen as political and ideological.

(3 Nation)Nation based theories are mainly stemming from colonialism. This aspect of the paradigm emphasizes the relationships among different aspects of racial oppression.  It even focuses on aspects of the social order.  In order to uproot the colonial beliefs and start a society on a non racial bias is it necessary that there is “national liberation.” To reach that goal there are many aspects.  One being the pan-africanism movement that was started in Africa and it was thought that if the African Americans could establish themselves within the nation they could go back and help bring Africa back up. It linked the exploitation of the blacks with forms of oppression faced in white societies.  Cultural nationalism said that the blacks needed to have a cultural movement and obtain ultimate social and political impact. Key features in the movement was unity and peoplehood with demographic, economic, and political fissures. The main thing accomplished with this movement was a consciousness raising where more people were aware and thought of the conditions for blacks in the conscious mind.  The “National Question” and Marxist Debates were a continuous debate over the national question of racism and the appropriate material and application of nationhood. But without having a Marxist theory of racism and without examination of the US society on Marxist views, one must make theoretical leaps to find the answers to their questions.  Internal Colonialism is based up of geography, cultural domination, super exploitation, and externally based controls. But this seems to leave out cultural domination and autonomy.  Looking at this critically, there colonial view leaves out the minorities from the majority society.  This aspect of the paradigm is based on race, clashing with ethnicity and class approaches.

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