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Week 2: It is what is it…. But what IS it?

2013 January 19
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by Kira Banks

Welcome to week two! If you didn’t get a chance to participate in week one, you can always revisit previous challenges throughout this process.

This week we will focus on race as a social construct. That might sound odd if this is the first time you are hearing the term (say THAT five times fast). But, to break it down, it means that race is real yet not real— biologically, a weak differentiator, yet socially a strong determinant. Scientists have found that there is more genetic variation within groups rather than across. We think we see race, but what we are actually seeing is a mixture of phenotypically clustered markers (i.e., skin tone, eye shape, etc.) and the conscious and unconscious biases we have been socialized to endorse. As as society we have socially constructed what it means to be one race or another.

 

We have socially constructed race through our laws and institutional norms.

 

So if race is something we constructed socially rather than something that is genetically determining, then we have have a responsibility to see what we have done and perhaps deconstruct and reconstruct.

It isn’t that the Black boy who plays basketball has an extra muscle in his thigh, rather he was socialized to excel in basketball (e.g. access to materials and knowledge in his environment). The Asian woman isn’t naturally a powerhouse at the violin, rather her environment socialized and supported her to excel.

Goal for Week 2: Understand race as a social construct.

Challenge for Week 2: Race: the Power of an illusion is a great PBS documentary that illustrates the social construction of race within the US. There are three parts, but at least check out this segment of part three (short clip or long clip). The explanation of the ways post WWII housing practices and suburban sprawl have and continue to impact housing and wealth is powerful. The historical context of citizenship laws and policies are informative, especially given todays’ immigration debates.

1. Watch the documentary.

2. Talk to someone about it.

3. Begin to think about and recognize ways that race has socialized you and those around you.

Please do let me know what is on your mind, what you are experiencing as you go through these challenges, topics you want make sure we get to. You can comment on my site, via email, or join the conversation on Both And on Facebook.


2 Responses leave one →
  1. Margie Freivogel permalink
    January 22, 2013

    Just watched the short clip about housing discrimination. The discriminatory lending and enforced segregated housing of years past continues to have such an impact around here. Colin Gordon, the prof who wrote “Mapping Decline,” laid out a lot of this in excruciating detail at a program at the Mo History Museum a few years ago — red-lining of some neighborhoods plus other legal maneuvers that reinforced segregation and prevented African Americans from buying homes. Here’s a Beacon article that includes some of what he found: https://www.stlbeacon.org/#!/content/17139/inteview_with_colin_gordon

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