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Asked by freyamurray on Dec. 16, 2020
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Political Sciences


The weekly reading of Loïc Wacquant’s “The new ‘peculiar institution’: On the prison as surrogate ghetto” vividly illustrates the facet of the theory of race which states that race is a social construct. Even though initially whites of European descent backed up their racial theory with scientific data, it turned out that a race cannot be established through genetic or other biological reasons; however, the momentum was gained and the division between whites and blacks was further established first through slavery and then with the help of Jim Crow, segregation, the ghetto system, and the prison, as Wacquant argues in the article.
Given that it is almost impossible to biologically define the races, the race stands out as a social category. Even though in many cases some physical differences are self-evident it is still difficult to base the definition of a race on visible or hidden physical characteristics. The category of race is too fluid and imprecise to be outlined in terms of physical features. Basically there is no united opinion about genetic differences between races. As a matter of fact, people can origin from different descends and have a mix of blood from different ethnicities and races and physical appearance in this case is unreliable.
Examining the example of African Americans it is obvious that their race was assigned with a discriminatory slant. For example, the bias is apparent in the “one-drop” rule applied to Americans with even the slightest degree of African blood. An individual whose great-grand aunt had been of African ancestry would be considered Black, whereas an individual even with a one-eighth of Chinese ancestry would not be held as Chinese. It means that whether specific physical manifestations, such as a peculiar shape of nose, darker skin color, thicker hair structure, etc., are present or not, racial meaning is ascribed on the basis of social relations and attitudes.
From such understanding stems many discriminating practices in the life of everyday America. Racial profiling many African American are well aware of is from the same category. Males with the physical appearance of African descent are more often than others suspected in crimes and misdemeanors. Actually that discriminating practice has a grave implication since in the last five decades the number of imprisoned African Americans has increased eightfold in comparison with whites. Thus, it cannot be attributed only to their inherently negative psychological characteristics.
However, since racial categories are not inherent and are established, they can be eliminated. That is the reason why discussions and researches on race and ethnicity are essential for today’s society. Similarly to how they were assigned, racial meanings should be dismantled. When Africans and West Indians were just brought to the Americas to work, they were not second-rate people yet. It took time to assign them their ‘place’ and justify the way they were treated. Even though a racial prejudice is deeply ingrained into American society (it can be seen from the way how hard these habits die), it is still possible with adequate social and economic politics. The major difficulties lie in the fact that racial inequality became institutionalized. Even though African Americans are not used for “extraction of labor” they are still subjected to “social ostracization”.
Thus, it is crucial for each and every one to recognize race as a social construct in order to oppose discriminating practices. Especially it is important to do in relation to African Americans because due to their special historical situation they do not have powerful cultural net as other peoples have and it is more difficult for them to withstand mainstream Americans’ superiority.
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