Professor Mobina Hashmi
October 17, 2018
Reading Response #1
“Racial Formation” by Omi and Winant
This chapter analyzes the theory known as racial formation and how it should constitute a logical examination on race and racism in the United States. The question Omi and Winant address in the chapter deals with “the concept of race, its meaning in contemporary society, and its use (and abuse) in public policy” (Omi & Winant, 1994, p. 53). The authors’ thesis is that race is the combination of social structure and cultural representation. Omi and Winant believe race is an idea that is a large-scale representation of social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of the human species (Omi and Winant, 1994, p. 55). In other words, race should not be a predetermined label based solely on physical appearance or various ideologies.
Omi and Winant define racial formation as the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed (Omi & Winant, 1994, p. 55). In terms of racial formation, society and culture work collectively to produce a variety of criteria one might use to define race. An exclusive examination of one of these components is not concrete enough to comprehend the concept of race. The authors state that racial projects form the nucleus of racial formation. Omi and Winant define a racial project as “an interpretation, representation, or explanation of racial dynamics, and an effort to reorganize and redistribute resources along particular racial lines” (Omi & Winant, 1994, p. 56).
The authors then discuss racial formation in terms of a macro-level social process, the political spectrum it has, and as a micro-level social process. According to Omi and Winant, the macro-level social process within the racial formation concept is phrased as the following: (1) “To interpret the meaning of race is to frame it social structurally (Omi & Winant, 1994, p.56) and (2) “To recognize the racial dimension in racial structure is to interpret the meaning of race” (Omi & Winant, 1994, p. 57). The example Omi and Winant use for the first statement categorizes race as not moral to use for treating people differently from each other. For the example they use to illustrate the second statement, race is seen as an absolute necessity in how people are treated within a racialized social structure.
My thesis about this chapter is that race is a very complicated social construct. Omi and Winant developed their argument in a convincing matter by providing a comprehensive analysis regarding the dynamics of racial projects. They use the examples of how society is prone to use race as an indicator to judge someone’s identity. Omi and Winant say “we expect people to act out their racial identities; indeed we become disoriented when they do not” (Omi & Winant, 1994, p. 59). This statement further supports my thesis because we as a society have been programmed to determine a person’s character and race based solely on their physical attributes. With that said, it still puzzles me to this day when a person might say to someone who identifies as black, African-American, or Caribbean-American, “Funny, you don’t look black” (Omi & Winant, 1994, p. 59). Such a comment might lead to laughter. Omi and Winant attempt to dissect how people aren’t born knowing race, but gain knowledge in a societal and cultural manner.
Omi and Winant address a counter-argument opposing the central argument they make throughout the reading. The counter-argument is that race is a biological concept (Omi & Winant, 1994, p. 63). This has led to a long-term battle to identify race instead as a social concept.
In terms of the reading’s structure, it took me some time to figure out the reasonings for how Omi and Winant wanted to approach their thesis about the concept of race. I totally agree with them when they state that race is a product of both social structure and cultural representation (Omi & Winant, 1994, p. 56). If you were to conduct a survey of ten US college students who are of different racial and ethnic backgrounds asking what they define race as, the responses will most likely vary. This reading further strengthens how I interpret race as something constructed socially, not biologically.