Race is a system of classification of human beings into large groups in accordance with their geographical, cultural, historical, genetic, ethnic, social and linguistic affiliation. The book, ‘Racial Formation in the United States,’ talks about racial classification in America in details. It also talks about the theory of ratio formation process and how race has become central to political debates.
African – American Studies
According to the authors and the reviewers of the book ‘Racial Formation in the United States’, race refers to common sense. It is a way of comprehending, explaining and acting in the world. The author of the book tries to explain how racism developed and what brought about the need for racial classification. The author uses different examples to explain his views and also to illustrate how racial formation came about in the United States.
To start with, the author explains that racial classification needs arose when the European explorers in the new world, presently referred to as America, came across some natives. The natives looked different from them though there was some resemblance. The explorers wondered if the natives were human and whether they had redeemable souls. The many questions they had, necessitated a need to carry out research and identify the origin and also a proper manner of classifying the people the explorers had found.
Religious debates arose trying to explain the identity of the natives as the Europeans believed that God had conducted monogenesis, created only one race: the Europeans themselves. They believed that the natives did not have redeemable souls and thus were not children of God. Identifying themselves as the superior race, they brought about the introduction of slavery and other forms of coercive labour, denied the natives their political rights as well as the rights to own property. However, this explanation had many weaknesses. For example, it only required the people to believe rather than question the true identity of the natives. Scientists were not satisfied, thus sought a scientific explanation. The scientists explained that racial classification should be based on shared gene pool. The argument of the scientists was strong, thus it is used even today.
Hypo-descent rule is another mechanism used in the United States to explain racial classification. According to the rule, any individual with Negro ancestor was believed to be a Negro. Another classification was the blood. It was believed, according to research, that a native had one-thirty-second "Negro blood" whiles a white had one-twentieth "Negro" ancestry blood. The system was used to distinguish between the two races. The author gives an example of Susie Guillory Phipps. She had been considered black but she tried to contest that she was white in order to acquire certain rights. However, this was impossible since it was proved that she had one-thirty-second "Negro blood". This example clearly explains the expression of racial logic.
The author presents a contract to illustrate how the racial classification in the United States has taken root. The author explains about how Latin American societies, specifically Brazil, classify race. Since the abolition of slave trade, Brazilians’ recognized the intermediate racial categories. Parents and children would have different racial types but coexist peacefully. The author identifies that this is incomprehensible in American which was true then but currently does not hold.
The author explains the great contribution of the media in spreading the ideology of racial classification. The author uses the example of ‘Birth of a Nation’ an epic by Griffith to illustrate his point. The epic brought about the nationalization of images of the blacks. The United States television used racial stereotype to convey their meaning of the superiority of the white race over the black race. The media portrayed images in movies showing the black race and explaining how subordinate it should be considered. The people tend to be influenced by the ideology portrayed by the media houses. They thus adopted the idea, making the system of racial stereotype and racial ideology permanent in America. To date the US media continues to express the superiority of the white race over the black although there has been great acceptance of the black Americans.
In the 19th century, political struggles emerged over the classification of ‘’non-whites’ who lived in southern Europe. This led to the abolition of racial slavery both in Europe and America. All the working class people were regarded as whites. The move was to ensure that the American had enough labour to work in their firms and farms. The move was political as it helped the American avoid the over-run by the Mongolian labour.
The author has tried to explain that race goes beyond the skin colour, the gene, the culture and cultural domination, social stratification and state policy. He tries to explain how racial formation can be brought about. He also explains the history of racial classification and the ideologies expressed by various individual and groups of people.
The reviewers of the book feel that the author has clearly explained the history and the development of racial classification. However, they feel that the end of racial classification is hard to achieve. A temptation arises to continue with the view of racial classification. A good example was the error of agriculture boom. Improvisation and automation of agriculture, practiced by the blacks, entitled them to be regarded as whites since they were working class. However, new racial myths and racial attributions affiliated to the blacks arose. This explains how hard it is to achieve complete abolishment of racial type’s identification and classification.
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