Michael Omi And Howard Winant - Racial Formations

Susie Gregory Phipps — distant descendent of 18th c. white planter and black slave

  • Designated "black" on her birth certificate
  • Louisiana law defined "black" as anyone with one-thirtysecond "Negro blood"
  • 1982 - 83: Phipps sued the LA Bureau of Vital Records to have her race changed rom "black" to "white"
    • She lost
    • State attorney general suppoted law claiming need to keep accurate records to facilitate the prevention of genetic disease

What race was Phipps? What does your answer mean in today's context? Does it matter how Phipps is classified? How?

Pg 13: "Race consciousness, and its articulation in theories of race, is largely a modern phenomenon."
*concept of race arose from the European encounter with New World and Sub-Saharan "otherness"

  • Pg 13: "At stake were not only the prospects for conversion, but the type of treatment to be accorded them [New World natives]. The expropriation of property, the denial of political rights, the introduction of slavery and other forms of coercive labor, as well as outright extermination, all presupposed a worldview which distinguished Europeans — children of God, human beings, etc. — from 'others.'"

Pg 13: "Attempts to discern the scientific meaning of race continue to the present day. Although most physical anthropologists and biologists have abandoned the quest for a scientific basis to determine racial categories, controversies have recently flared in the area of genetics and educational psychology."

Why have notions of "race" been so difficult to dislodge from the popular consciousness, especially since scientists themselves have largely abandoned the concept as useless? What interests are served by the perpetuation of the concept of race?

Race as a Social Concept

While race may not have scientific currency, it's reality in the popular imagination is powerful and has real effects; scientists are forced to deal with the social reality of race even if they deny it's scientific validity as an explanation of human difference.

Pg 15: "Race is pre-eminently a sociohistorical concept. Racial categories and the meaning of race are given concrete expression by the specific social relations and historical context in which they are embedded. Racial meanings have varied tremendously over time and between societies."

Pg 15: "In the United States, the black/white color line has historically been rigidly defined and enforced. White is seen as a 'pure' category. Any racial intermixture makes one 'nonwhite.'"

  • See Phipps case, above
  • Hypodescent: system of racial classification in which a person of mixed ancestry is assigned to the group with the lowest status
    • the "one drop" rule — one drop of "black blood" makes you black
      • pollution

What does "pure" mean in this context? "Pure" of what? Is "black" also pure? Is that a concern?

Pg 15: "Brazil… has historically ha less rigid conceptions of race, and thus a variety of "intermediate" racial categories exist. Indeed, as [anthropologist Marvin] Harris notes, 'One of the most striking consequences of the Brazilian system of racial identification is that parents and children and even brothers and sisters are frequently accepted as representatives of quite opposite racial types.'"

Racial Formation
Pg 16: "We use the term racial formation to refer to the process by which social, economic, and political forces determine the content and importance of racial categories, and by which they are in turn shaped into racial meanings."

Process of Racial Formation

--[ determine ]-—>
social, economic, and political forces content and importance of racial categories
<--[ shapes ]--

Pg 17: "Races do not emerge full-blown. They are the rsults of diverse historical processes and are continually subject to challenge over their definition and meaning."

Can you think of examples where the "definition and meaning" of a racial designation was or is challenged? How are they challenged? How are such challenges resolved, if they are?


Pg 18: "We use the term racialization to signify the extension of racial meaning to a peviously uclassified relatinship, social practice or group…. Racial identity… emerges from he struggles of competing political projects and ideas seeking to articulate similar elements differently."

What does that mean?

Pg 19: "[R]ace overflows the boundaries of skin color, super-exploitation, social stratification, discrimination and prejudice, cultural domination and cultural resistance, [and] state policy…

Pg 19: "[T]here is a continuous temptation to think of race as an essence, as something fixed, concrete and objective…. And there is also an opposite temptation: to see it as mere illusion, which an ideal social order would eliminate."

If race is neither an essence nor an illusion, what is it?

  • Pg 19: "an unstable and 'decentered' complex of social meanings constantly being transformed by political struggle"

What does that mean? Is that a useful description?

q.v. pem-davidson-buck-constructing-race-creating-white-privilege on how racial formation played out in US history.

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