Race has been one of the most influential issues in American society since its beginning. The purpose of this essay is to explore how race as a social construction came to be, my own experiences with race, and whether or not we are living in a post-racial United States.
Race as a Social Construction
Throughout American history, race has played a prominent part in the US’s development. This section of the essay explores how race became a social construction. During the beginning of the colonial era, race did not matter as much as wealth, religion, and prestige. After Europeans stopped making the trip over the Atlantic en mass, there was a need for a quick and easy labor force.
The Transatlantic Slave trade provided that labor force and for much cheaper than an indentured servant. Over time slavery and blackness began to be seen as hand in hand. This was the beginning of race as a social construction. As a result, by the time the Declaration of Independence was written, blacks were considered by most of the society as being different and inferior.
The lower and middle class whites who could not afford slaves were given new opportunities for jobs so they went right along with this idea. This improved class relations by giving whites something in common (Race: The Power of an Illusion (The Stories We Tell)).
When it came to Native Americans, the idea of race did not hold as much sway at first. Jefferson wrote that he saw them as darker skinned humans, who just needed to be educated. The people on the frontier viewed that Native Americans had to die, leave, or be assimilated.
During the early to mid 1800s whites continued to expand west in search of more land. Whites told the Native Americans that they needed to take their culture back because it was inherent in them, and then go very far away. The idea of Manifest Destiny and hope of economic gain were the causes of this change.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 was the pinnacle legislation that allowed whites to remove Native Americans by any means (Race: The Power of an Illusion (The Stories We Tell)).
The Mexican-American War was another example of Manifest Destiny and the power of race as a social construction. By the time that whites had expanded this far across the continent, Manifest Destiny was well grounded in American culture. The Mexicans were holding land from the “civilized world.”
National propaganda showing Mexicans as inferior people on American land became widespread. Race was used as a convenient argument to remove Mexicans and obtain land (Race: The Power of an Illusion (The Stories We Tell)).
It seems that race in the US has mainly come into play when the whites stand to make a gain economically or socially. Putting others down for one’s own gains is the nature of a capitalist society like the US. There were many attempts to prove the differences of the races scientifically to justify these actions.
This goal forced scientists to ignore all scientific theory and listen to their personal prejudices. Examples of this were, measuring skull size and attributing those measurements to intellect and morality, and claiming there were different species of humans.
Beneath it all was a basic view that non-whites were inferior and they needed to be “civilized” (Race: The Power of an Illusion (The Stories We Tell)).
How Have I Experienced Race?
For my part, race has never played a role in my views of people. I come from a small town that lacks racial diversity. My school was mostly white with a small Latino population. I don’t bother with race unless it is brought up in discussion at school or among peers. I feel that my view on racial issues is due in part to the environment I grew up in.
In a small town everyone knows everyone including the Latino families. I viewed everyone as equal because I was never taught otherwise. For my part, I have never experienced racial prejudice, stereotypes, or discrimination that was directed at me. I have seen racial prejudice affect my Latino friends in the form of jokes and slurs.
On the other hand, I have dealt with prejudice of a different sort. It has been a result of my religion, views on gay rights, and the way I act and dress. This is because of living in a small town that is so isolated.
An example of this is the strong Christian faith in Steamboat. I, however, am a Pagan. It brings in its own stereotypes that have caused me to not completely enjoy my hometown. The lack of acceptance there makes it hard for an accepting person to want to stay.
Post Racial United States?
The sad truth about the United States is that it is not a post-racial society as it claims to be. There is by far less discrimination of a person based on race; however, there are still prejudices and stereotypes which exist, that make it impossible for the US to be a post-racial society.
The major difference between prejudices today compared to prejudices from the past is that there is much less active racism in the country. The increase in passive racism is the major problem when it comes to race. Passive racism is all about one’s unconscious views of a person based on their race.
An example of this type of racism is if a white person sees someone of a different race on the street, they tend to move away from that person. Passive racism is also the basis for all racial slurs and jokes. Passive racism is much harder to remove.
In fact the only way to remove it from someone is to have them interact with other races or become educated about other races’ history and culture. The threat of passive racism is that it can turn into subtle active racism.
An example of this is the tendency for a white person to hire a white person over a black person if their accomplishments are equal. As a result of all of this, I do not believe that the United States is a post-racial society (Murray SOC 105-001).
I did not feel like there was much information in the video that was new or surprising to me. There were little things that did surprise me because they were little known facts, but all of the information presented in the video did not surprise me in a big way. There was no disbelief on my part. It all pointed to the fact that the United States has had a very hypocritical past when it comes to “freedom for all.”
This video did not influence any of my views on race. I have never let race become a way to judge people. I see people as people. I am open to discussing race and racial issues, but I personally don’t let race affect me in my daily life. This video did, however, give me a new way to define what race is. It is a social construction and as a result has become a means to an end.
Murray SOC 105-001
Race: The Power of an Illusion (The Stories We Tell)