America and Race- the never ending relationship

Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s “Racial Formation in the United States From the 1960s to the 1990s” is a dense reading on their research for race and ethnicity in America. Omi and Winant explains the racial formation process in America through different theories (e.g. ethnicity theory, class and nation-based theories, etc.). In their research, they mentions about the “color-blind” society from 1960s to 1980s:

“It was a period of racial upsurge, failed consolidation, and reaction which, we believe, demonstrated the centrality of race in shaping American politics and culture” (Omi and Winant, 1994: 5)

Throughout different illustrative examples in the book, both authors point out that as much desirable as it sounds, a “color-blind” society is not possible. Indeed, they suggest that America should not ignore race but notice it. By noticing race, it is then given the amount of recognition it deserves (159). Because of some races are seen to be more privilege than others, the old-fashioned racism still exists. But, the authors point out that by recognizing race, people can start to challenge racism. In my opinion, this sounds possible, but not always plausible.

It is important to distinguish between Race and Ethnicity. A main difference is that race cannot be altered but ethnicity can. Ethnicity is culturally influenced, and could be geographically based. For instance, a Vietnamese child that was born and raised in a Western country may or may not speak or believe the same things his friend, who was born and raised in Vietnam, does. Race is a about the biological features like skin tone, eyes colors, etc.. So the kid that was born and raised in a country different from his motherland might be regarded as more Westernized, but in those Western country, the kid is still regarded as Asian.

Because racial features cannot be changed, the difference in biological features set apart the different races. America is a melting pot with different racial groups and ethnicities living together. However, it is not hard to see the separation between the races. This map shows how people prefer to live with people who look like them. It is not hard to find an exclusive African-American, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, or Caucasian neighborhoods. The video below also shows that racial separation brings forth different issues:

And this video shows how racist behaviors are wired into the daily life:

Racist behaviors might or might not be intended. Nowadays, with so much information to process, people rely on stereotypes to get them through different life scenarios. This is the reason why recognizing race to confront racism is possible but plausible. Because racial stereotypes are very difficult to overcome. As much as people would like to think as themselves as rational individuals, they act irrationally anyways. Moreover, more and more American have mix-racial children. Could this be the end for racism? Far from it. The legal system as illustrated in the book does not always make the process easy. This article also points out how authority census on race is very restricted.

In conclusion, unless there is a breakthrough in the legal structure to accommodate the racial diversity of America, racial segregation, racist behaviors, or different racial issues will pertain every aspect of life for America. Once again, Omi and Winant are right to highlight that, “race will always be at the center of the American experience” (5).


5 thoughts on “America and Race- the never ending relationship

  1. TFallonIII

    First, I just want to say I love that second video you posted. I also agree with most of the points you made.

    I guess I will start with what you wrote at the end regarding legal structure. I agree completely that things have to be changed. There have been inequalities from the beginning when European settlers came to the Americas. I believe like Omi and Winant said that “the centuries of racial dictatorship had very large consequences.” (Omi and Winant, 1994: 66) The authors discuss how the racial dictatorship defined “American” identity as white, organized the color line rendering it the fundamental division in U.S. society, and how it consolidated the oppositional racial consciousness and organization. I still think you see these problems today. Although improved, I think one could still argue that the U.S. is still a racial dictatorship.

    Also, as far as colorblind societies go, like we discussed in class, is fraudulent thinking. Americans or any person in general will never be able to rise above their color consciousness. It is built into society. It is one of the first traits you notice about a person. A lot of people identify themselves by race. Like you pointed out, by noticing race and racism, it allows society to notice the injustices instead of ignoring them.

    The America as a “melting pot” statement has always kind of bugged me. Yes, this country is made up of many different types of people, but we separate ourselves from each other. You can see it in neighborhoods, schools, wherever. Walk into a lunchroom at your local high school and you will see black kids eating with other black kids, and white kids eating with other white kids. You see this with neighborhoods like Chinatown or Little Italy. There needs to be more interaction between races and less separation. That is why I believe things like sports, which bring many different races together, are so good for society.

    1. Kim A. Knight

      Nice response. I think that the “melting pot” analogy is also problematic in that the assumption is that all difference / variety gets combined, resulting in an expectation of “assimilation.”

  2. scrowe1

    Race is a really tricky topic to talk about, especially in America. The roots of race are so deep in our history, that the ability to combat it has proved rather challenging. I think plenty of American’s, including myself, want to see more awareness brought to the issue. There is no reason/excuse why an individual cannot be educated on the wrongness of racism. But is that all we can do? Just let someone know what it is, why it’s happening, and better measures to approach it? After all, we are allowed to make our own conclusions. We cannot force someone to be a certain way when we preach the freedom of choice. Laws are the next best option because they force one to be/act a specific way. Just as Omi and Winant said, “race will always be at the center of the American experience,” but always doesn’t have to be, does it?

  3. Kim A. Knight

    Good job parsing the Omi and Winant. I would have loved to have seen you connect the videos a bit more explicitly to your ideas, rather than assuming that they speak for themselves. What did you think of them? Why are they noteworthy? Are there points that you find problematic?


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