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Race as a Social Construct: Addressing Racial Issues

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Though race may be considered a “touchy subject” for some people, I believe it should be acknowledged and spoken about more often. We as a society encounter racial issues and conflicts every day. Whether we are directly involved or impacted or not, the problems still stand. Based on the information in the text, functionalist, conflict, and interactionist theories explore and break down these racial issues in different ways. Of these three, I believe interactionism is best suited for addressing these problems.

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The functionalist perspective on race is interesting because, for open-minded, accepting individuals in society, there isn’t and shouldn’t be a single logical reason for racism. However, in the eyes of a functionalist, there is a reason for everything. The main reasons behind racial differences stem from culture, a problem which can be solved by assimilation, better known as the “melting pot”. Functionalists propose that as minorities migrate to the U.S. and settle into new cultures, they are expected to drop all of their old habits while acquiring new ones that are more “socially acceptable”. The text states, “Assimilation is said to allow a society to maintain its equilibrium…if all members of society…adopt one dominant culture” (Guerrero 70). This maintains the idea that the dominant culture is that of Americans, and immigrants should adopt our culture in place of their own in order to keep the balance in society. Guerrero goes on to say, “the perspective…[ignores] the historical legacy of slavery and racial discrimination in our society” (70). Although this perspective offers a “solution” for racial difference, it does not consider all sides of the story. 

According to conflict theory, the dynamics of racial and ethnic interactions divide groups while simultaneously keeping one group more dominant. Rather than persons of other cultures attempting to adopt American culture voluntarily, there are other oppressional forces at work that keep the status quo with concepts like ethnocentrism and racism. There is a connection between racism and the capitalist economy, such as immigrant workers being cheap to hire and easy to lay off, which means less work on employers’ ends. Furthermore, Hana Brown proposes a new racialized conflict theory about the development of welfare policies: “racialized conflict divides political groups along racial lines and encourages political leaders to exploit the existing racialized tensions in their favor” (Guerrero 71). The economy and our capitalist tendencies only contribute to institutional racism and continue to do so every day, thanks to our political system that mostly favors the non-minority, wealthy people in our society. 

Based on interactionist perspective, race is thought to be a social construct. Race is introduced to all of us at a very young age, and within our schools, communities, and even our families, we are taught that we are different because of it. Of course, biologically speaking, we are all the same besides the few differing physical characteristics we express and the amount of melanin we produce in our skin cells. Aside from this, however, society has formed a stigma around races different from our own, implying that people of American white race are superior to all others. Based on the type of discrimination we have witnessed or even played a part in, we have learned the ins and outs of racial constructs in society and what that means for the quality of life for people of other races. As much as we all would like to acknowledge race as just a construct formed for the use of categorization, racial conflicts and issues are real and exist all around us every day. 

Interactionist perspective is broad and encompasses many different aspects of race as a social construct, but I believe it best addresses racial issues for that very reason. For lack of a better phrase, race is not in any way black and white. There are so many gray areas that must be explored in order for society to truly come to terms with the simple fact that we are all just skin and bones at the end of the day. Interactionist theory proposes the idea that many factors come into play when considering the division of racial groups, and the vicious cycle of those divisions. Many of these factors are things we see every day but have become accustomed to, such as the lack of racial and ethnic representation in children’s literature, and the encouragement for more Whiteness. It would be a stretch to say that racism is becoming innate, however humans may be heading in that general direction. It is important today and right now, more than ever, to spread awareness about the truth about racism, and how society exploits it for the benefit of white Americans. We all have a part to play in order to break down the walls that divide us and conquer our learned differences once and for all, for a better life for everyone.  

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