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The Social Construction of Race

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    When we look at social construction, we are viewing how we have created our society, our social norms, our traditions; essentially what we have interpreted to represent our social reality. There are many factors that have shaped the socially constructed society we live in today. Looking at history; the path that the founders of North America chose to take; white individuals asserting power and dominance over other races and giving themselves unearned privilege. These factors have helped to shape the social reality that we live in today.

    Race is a huge part of social construction. The reality is that white Americans (the dominant race) have made their history, their traditions and their values reign supreme over all other ethnicities. They have shaped our social norms to judge all other races and cultures in a negative way, giving them less precedence and value (Wah, 1994). As stated by Guess (2006), “As real situations, the social construction of “race” and whiteness and their social significance are intimately linked to the history of social organization in American society” (p.654). There have been several events throughout Americas history that influenced the social construction of race. The overthrowing of the Indians, the forced slavery of Africans, and the solicited advancement of Europeans, Asians, and Latinos are the base for this construction (Guess, 2006). Another important event that further influenced the social construction of race was after World War Two, when the home loans became more affordable, but only to whites (Smith. 2003). This was all possible due to signification, domination, and legitimation (Guess 2006). Through the implication of interpretative rules of whiteness in colonial America, followed by the domination of racialization by white individuals, and finally legitimizing white skin privilege (Guess, 2006), we have the social construction of race and racism.

    American society has been catered to white individuals, they are considered “the norm”, which in turn oppresses all other ethnicities and cultures (Wah, 1994). When you turn to television and social media, white people make up many individuals you see. Whether it be on news programs, shows or movies; even the commercials underrepresent our society. Another area where other ethnicities are oppressed is in schools. Much of the U.S. history curriculum will discuss in detail the white persons perspective, leaving little to no discussion of other cultures/ethnicities history (Sloan, Joyner, Stakeman & Schmitz, 2018), excluding important information that could influence the minds of all ethnicities. Being a female, with white ethnicity, I encounter several privileges daily that I otherwise wouldn’t if I had been born a different ethnicity. I don’t have to think about being careful when I go shopping; no one is going to look at me in a suspicious manner. People look at me as an individual instead of defining me by my race. If I get pulled over by the police, I can assume that it is because I did not follow the laws of the road, or a light may be out on my vehicle. I don’t have to wonder if they pulled me over because of my skin color. This is a small sample of the privileges I have been allotted due to my skin color. Sadly, there are several other privileges I will receive just because I was born this way, something no one has any control over.

    When looking into racism, it operates at different levels that are connected to one another: personal, interpersonal, institutional and cultural (Moyo). The personal level focuses on individual racism, in which discrimination through attitudes and actions are used to degrade individuals based on their color (Moyo). We see this through racially charged language and jokes, violence, and interactions where individuals are treated poorly based on their ethnicity (Moyo). These are learned behaviors typically from those closest to us that we know on a personal level: relatives, friends, people we trust. Our values and beliefs are first shaped and influenced at this level. Interpersonal racism deals with interactions between individuals that involve racism. This takes a variety of forms, such as racial slurs, avoiding sitting next to an individual based on their ethnicity, or assuming someone who looks Asian cannot speak English, and therefore is talked to very slowly to try to “get the point across”. Institutional Racism deals with racism within our social and political institutions. Several issues that arise from this are policies that benefit white individuals and exclude all other races and cultures. The dominance of white men that essentially run most of all major companies and the government is responsible for this outcome (Wah, 1994). From deliberately denying home loans to individuals who are identified as an ethnicity other than white (Smith, 2003), to the lack of services that are put in place for these individuals, the system boasts inequality for anyone who does not look white. Cultural racism places white individuals on a pedestal, looking at that ethnicity as the norm. From accepting stereotypes, to retail stores partaking in certain holiday hours, cultural racism persists. Looking at the conversation between two white classmates from the book, Defining Racism: Can We Talk, we get a clear example of cultural racism. “Yeah, I just found out that Cleopatra was actually a black woman.” “What? That can’t be true, Cleopatra was beautiful!” (Tutum, p.5). At least one of these white individuals saw Cleopatra as less than themself, and more like an “other” based solely on the color of her skin. We are taught at an early age what is “normal”, how to treat people, what constitutes a good person, etc… These learned values and beliefs follow us through our personal, social, educational, and professional lives, being shaped along the way. Racism follows this pattern, connecting our personal lives with our social ones, shaping our policies and social norms to fit into what is ideal for the white individuals.

    Going into the field of social work, it is my honor and duty to be a part of the solution; affirming anti- racism, treating all individuals with care and respect. By practicing self-awareness, understanding my unearned white privilege, I can become more attuned to the oppressions that all other cultures and ethnicities face. In the final interviews from the documentary The Color of Fear, several of the men expressed the importance of white individuals standing up for minorities when they get put down, educating their white peers and families about their privilege, being the ally to all ethnicities (Wah, 1994). All these concepts have now been incorporated into my life. I hear the racial and discriminatory comments at my workplace, and I let those individuals know how inappropriate and hurtful they are, and that it is unacceptable. I’m able to teach my young children about equality and teach them the truth that is blanketed by false history, helping to shift how the youth are brought up. When engaging with my clients, my colleagues, and my peers, I think of and practice Ubuntu; I am because you are (May 2013). Treating others with respect, empathy, equality, and love is a step towards a more egalitarian way of life.

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