Barbara VS Omi and Winant
Formation of Race
In Slave, Race, and Ideology in the United States, Barbara Fields explains how race was created in order to justify slavery in a free nation - Barbara VS Omi and Winant introduction. There is no biological evidence that racial differences exist among people, therefore race is an illusion that has no physical consequences. However, Omi and Winant believe that race does have physical effects because it is formed by racial projects and hegemony. Social, Economic, and political factors combine to define racial categories which dictate how people give meaning to race. Barbara Field’s claim is supported in America is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan, by the fact that race was not prevalent in the Philippines because there was no social reason to create an illusion. Once Bulosan enters the United States his experiences with racial manifestation parallels Omi and Winant’s theory of how race has physical effects that are created by economic, social, and political factors.
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It is thought that classifying people into racial categories and placing them into hierarchies of superiority is a natural response to physical differences. This explains why some people believe that Europeans specifically chose Africans to be slaves because of their race. When in actuality, race was created so that the denial of their freedom and democratic rights required no further explanation. Fields explanation of racial formation demonstrates that an individual will not experience race unless they live in a society that uses physical differences to justify abuse. For example Bulosan does not blame race as the reason why his family faced hardship. When his family lost all of their land he understood it was because of economic factors that left them with no money “for a first payment on what [they] owed the moneylender” (pg.28); proving that Bulosan did not think about race as a cause for his misfortune. This allowed him to witness race as an illusion once he enters the United States because he saw abuse happen to all types of people despite their physical differences. He does not permit racial inferiority hindering him from doing something productive with his life because he knows race is an idea that can be manipulated. Barbara Field’s interpretation of racial formation is stunted at the metaphysical level, therefore failing to explain the physical effects of race and the depth of racialization in the United States. Omi and Winant describe racial formation as a system that pervades all aspects of society and is perpetuated by racial projects and dictatorship.
Their explanation of how economic, social, and political factors intertwine to create and define race, parallels Bulosan’s own interpretations of race. He has experiences with each of the factors that allow him to see how race is formed in the United States. Thus supporting Omi and winants claim that racial formation goes further than being an illusion and has physical factors that add to the formation of race. The first experiences concerning class distinction that Bulosan faces is through the work he shared with his mother. They traveled to many cities and witnessed the behavior of various types of people ranging from deathly poor to happily wealthy. Through these experiences Bulosan was able to see that there is a hierarchy of economic status. One of the most prevalent examples is when his mother was “ enraptured [by the young girl], not believing that all loveliness and wealth could be so bestowed upon one person” (pg. 37). His mother’s reaction showed Bulosan that they were below this women’s status because she wished to obtain something that was beyond her reach.
To further exemplify the implications of class distinction, the beautiful girl talks down to the mother and strikes their basket of beans to the ground. Despite this occurring in the Philippines, the actions of the wealthy girl showed Bulosan how economic statuses are used as a social justification to categorize people and treat them unfairly because of their differences. In the United States economic differences are used as a reason to justify the political and social injustices and are compounded together to create racial categories. The difference in the United States is that Philipinos low economic status was based on race. Bulosan realized that his race basically dictated his economic standing in the United States; he did not control his own monetary standing. For example, his race lead others to only hire him for remedial jobs and also quickly fire him because he was immediately blamed when something went wrong. This happened when Bulosan was fired despite the customer starting the confrontation. The fact that he could not find a better job pushed him to do illegal things to find money. Ironically people did not hire Filipinos because they stereotyped them as scum but it’s this very mentality that pushes good Filipinos to do illegal actions. This demonstrates how a physical effect like economic factors helped in the construction of what a Filipino was. Despite race being originally an illusion it grew into racial projects that kept inferior races from progressing economically. Negative social interactions taught Bulosan many important social norms and have demonstrated to him how people in the United States interpret race. Through his social experiences, he was able to see how people accepted the illusion of race and acted on their ideas.
Furthermore, this demonstrates both Omi and Winant’s theories, in that despite race being an idea, people believed it was true so the social interactions made it seem like race was real. For example Bulosan knew that the Americans had a better life style than his own because americans suffered less from the problems he was facing with his family. He wanted to have what Americans had, not because he thought his race prevented him from obtaining it, but because he felt that he could achieve that life. He felt like he deserved the right to work for a better life, but did not realize his dream was stamped away because of his race. So it was not until he was taken advantage of by the first employers he met in America that he realized he was going to be treated differently on the basis of race. Alaskan workers took advantage of their ignorance and deducted “expenditures [Bulosan] was suppose to have incurred during the season…so that the actual amount after all the deductions was: thirteen!” (pg.104). His realization continued when he wanted to talk to other people and have normal social relationships but was hindered because of his race. Other people made assumptions without knowing him, like when a white girl in a bikini exclaimed “Look at those half naked savages from the Philippines, Roger. Have they no decency?”(pg.98). As these examples show, the social interactions are ways in which race is made visible. These are ways that people also show the political projects that are working around them. A social interaction that clearly demonstrates the political forces that help define race is when there is police brutality. One of the most horrendous acts in Carlos Bulosan’s life is when two policeman randomly incarcerate Bulosan because of his race and when asked “Are you Filipino?” gets punched in the face for answering yes (pg. 156).
The fact that the police behaves like a gang and is free from punishment is a blatant example of the roles politics play in the formation of racial distinctions because there are only certain groups targeted. The fact that the officers are able to get away with unjustified behavior draws clear lines of which racial groups the government accepts. This can also be seen with unjust laws that were created to focus on racial groups, like the prevention of interracial marriage, which create a method that can target inferior racial groups as criminals as well. Carlos Bulosan attempts to shape race through his own political means by writing about the injustices his people are facing. He begins by writing articles in a revolutionary newspaper that would hopefully educate Filipino farm workers of current conditions and unite to fight against the system of oppression. As another means of uniting Filipinos he planned a convention that wanted to “organize a committee that could work together irrespective of affiliations” (pg. 284). By acting for his race, he was defining what race meant to him and he wanted to change the stereotypes that prevented Filipinos progression in the United States. Without intending to, Carlos Bulosan used the social and economic experiences to formulate his own political ideologies of how race should be viewed. Before he immigrated to America, he did not know about race because there was no necessity for it in the Philippines. Once he immigrated to the United States those dependent factors affected him and caused him to see the physical effects of race. Throughout his life in American, race permeated all aspects of his experiences and that of others. There was no escaping the physical effects of race that all began as illusion to justify a wronged system.