Race, Racism, and Social Construction

(Excerpted from the upcoming text, tentatively titled, White Supremacy and the Post Racial Color Blind Era: Exploring Visible and Invisible Whiteness and Racism in America — An Unbook Look)

exts, studies, and discussions surrounding Race and Racism were already popular, principally in Academia within Sociology circles, with the idea of Race and Racism existing as social constructs. While history teaches that Race and Racism were undoubtedly constructed, many popular interpretations for their existences only added to the hundreds of convoluted narratives and characterizations of Race and Racism being formulated and presented in reference books and academic studies on the subjects. Moreover, the “social construct” of Race and Racism only provided cursory information concerning the root causes for either construction, and the term, social, also added both a pretense of legitimacy and plausible deniability for white people engaging as advocates or opponents in debate, even as Black people were literally living through all of the racialized inconsistencies and realities of its construction during the era and before.

In an article entitled, “The Social Construction of Whiteness, Racism by Intent, Racism by Consequence,” Teresa J. Guess wrote:

“…the sociology of race relations has historically failed to take into account both sides of the black/white binary paradigm when addressing racial inequality.” [58]

She admitted that within pedagogy of Sociology, there is “less scholarship” about “whiteness as the norm,” and how that lack of scholarship translates into the sustenance of privilege “beyond that which is accorded marginalized others.”[59] She further stated that the “conventional theoretical approaches” regarding Race in America “failed to take into account the historical conscience collective of whiteness as social norm.”[60] Indeed, a color blinded consciousness was built upon white individualism rather than white as a collective or group.

Quoting Berger & Lackmann’s 1966 thesis, Guess acknowledged the notion of reality itself being “socially defined,” that Race and whiteness could be considered the “conceptual machineries of universal maintenance for American Race relations, and “is related to the power possessed by those who operate them.” This, according to Guess, created a “tacit” legitimacy and justification — the “institutional order of American Race Relations.” [61] In this acknowledgement of a socially defined reality Guess asked the question:

As American citizens and as social scientists, has the time come for us to confront the material origins and dynamics of “race” and whiteness in American culture and society?[62]

It was as though Guess was acknowledging a reality that was in itself constructed, the reality of Whiteness and Race. Although there was already enough historical and scientific evidence available to refute the existence of Race as biologically factual, its paradoxical reality in the United States was never outwardly refuted and dismissed out of hand during any period. Instead, the subject of Race was and continues to be debated as intellectual fodder for its possible scientific, philosophical, cultural, or social origins, than as a way to confront the issues surrounding it with the seriousness that a diabolical, ideological, existential, structural, and institutional construction would extract.

Yet, the term, “social” offered an unpretentious impression of the possible socialization of any individual into a negatively racialized mindset, including the very Black people languishing within the structural, institutional bounds of Racism. The social existence of both Race and the system of Racism meant that the cultural and behavioral experiences that applied to white people against Black people in the United States, could also apply to any culture including and especially Black, and not the existential, ideological beliefs of superiority and behavior which are the very essence of white America’s power dynamic in the country. Put bluntly, the entire existence of White America’s dominance in the U.S. remains dependent on the sustenance and maintenance of more than just a socially constructed idea of behavior based on Race that just happened into cultural existence by people who identify as white, or that it was simply a social phenomenon that could happen in Black culture toward white. A valid argument to be sure in the abstract, and completely necessary to ensure that the offensiveness of the ideology created by Whiteness held agency and equivalency with Blackness in that its offensiveness could be shared. and by proxy, the term, “Racist,” itself, could be shared with Black people.

Because many Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z people, all those born after 1968, may not have understood the concept of Whiteness or of individualism as it was expressed prior to 1968, there may be no impression available with regard to the terms, “White Supremacist,” or “White Nationalist,” especially the way they expressed today in mainstream vernacular. While sociologists and philosophers will undoubtedly continue to argue over the finer points of the social construction of Race and Racism, the fact of the matter is, the reality of Whiteness or Race in scientific, social or cultural terms bears nothing of any true significance to claims as to the fallaciousness of either or both, especially when there are those living within the unambiguous authenticity of its existence and the sheer destruction that Race, Racism and White Supremacy caused for hundreds of years.

In “The Heart of Whiteness — Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege,” Robert Jensen wrote, “Race is a fiction that we must never accept. Race is a fact we must never forget.[63] The dichotomy in the statement is as cloudy as the debates which rage about the biology and/or sociology of Race and Racism and their purposeful construction. Moreover, this push-pull, paradoxical existence and non-existence of Race and Racism continues to provide plenty liberal, sociopolitical and cultural proponents of color blindness the endless opportunity to debate it ad nauseum, while the reality of its genuine existence for Black people remains in place and secure.

Notes and Sources:

[58] Teresa J. Guess (2006). Critical Sociology, Volume 32, Issue 4. Koninklijke Brill:Leiden NV, pp. 649–673

[59] Ibid. at p. 649.

[60] Ibid. at p. 650.

[61] Ibid. at p. 656, quoting Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann (1966) The Social Construction of Reality, New York, NY: Anchor Books Doubleday

[62] Ibid. at p. 658.

[63]Robert Jensen (2005). The Heart of Whiteness — Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege, p. 14. San Francisco: City Lights

Anti-Racism Essayist & Educator offering discussions about Race, Racism, White Supremacy and the language used, from perspectives not ordinarily considered

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