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Race and Racial Formation

This paper considers the assertion, "The United States is not, has never been, and will probably never be a "color-blind" society," and argues that this assertion is very likely to be correct. The argument will be based largely on the theoretical analysis of the concepts of race and racial formation offered by Omi and Winant (1994) and will be supported by evidence derived from historical studies and the media.

Omi and Winant propose essentially that "race" is not an objective description of physical or biological traits possessed by individuals because of their genetic inheritance. Instead, it is a psychological construct that is projected onto persons for complex socio-political reasons. Their specific formulation follows:

There is a continuous temptation to think of race as an essence, as something fixed, concrete, and objective. And then there is also an opposite temptation to imagine race as a mere illusion, a purely ideological construct which some ideal non-racist social order would eliminate. . . . The effort must be made to understand race as an unstable and "decentered" complex of social meanings constantly being transformed by political struggle. . . . let us propose a definition: race is a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies. Although the concept of race invokes biologically based human characteristics . . . selection of these particular human features for purposes of racial signification is always and necessarily a social and historical process (Omi and Winant, 1994, pp. 54-55).

Omi and Winant ask whether simply dispensing with the concept of race might be possible, and they answer by explaining the problem with doing so:

It is rather difficult to jettison widely held beliefs, beliefs which are moreover central to everyone's identity and understanding of the social world. . . . despite its uncertainties and contradictions, ...

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Race and Racial Formation. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 23:34, May 24, 2020, from