Michael Omi and Howard Winant: Racial Formations

Racial formation coined by Winant and Omi helps to understand the social ways race is constructed. In other words, they explain the political, economic, and social forces shaping the formation of racial hierarchies and categories. The race categorization itself should be viewed not only in the social context of nowadays but in the historical context as well.

Winant and Omi define racial formation as “the sociohistorical process by which racial identities are created, lived out, transformed, and destroyed”. Their racial formation theory assumes that race matters both in historical moments and modern life.

The race’s role covers all the institutions in the U.S. It is a powerful force, making society categorized, separate, and struggling. Racial formation processes are quite dependent on culture and structure. These two factors affect racial formation both in relation to each other and separately. It is reflected in Omi’s and Winant’s racial projects concept, claiming that there are certain efforts to shape and distribute the resources or/and capital form along racial lines. The racial formation process consists of racial projects that allow the society to realize the hierarchical organization of racial categorizations overtimes to the benefit of, for example, the ‘white” group over the “black” one. If focused on those projects, it is clear that the ways that race is contested and constructed in its social context, both in its structural outcomes and cultural meanings.

Racial formation is nothing else but the paradox of tension between legal norms and cultural perceptions. It is not only about “whites” and “blacks”, as many nations have instituted different limitations, for instance, the prohibited intermarriages. It is noteworthy that those prohibitions were mostly gender-neutral and equally covered both men and women, banning their outside-the-community marriages. Nevertheless, due to the cultural norms women in such cases were treated less forgivingly than men.

Society defines and contests the meaning of race throughout society in both personal practice and collective action. In terms of racial formation, the race itself is treated as a basic axis of relations in society that is impossible to include into or abated to the broader conception. One of the main features of racial beliefs is their use to explain and interconnect physical characteristics with the differences lying underneath. The race is often associated with temperament, aesthetic preferences, sexuality, athletic ability, intelligence, and so on. Notions of race affect people’s perception of trust and confidence, romantic images and sexual preferences, preferences in sports, dance, music, and other hobbies, and even the way people talk, walk, dream, and eat. All these factors lead to the distinct treatment towards different racial groups and individuals and subjective definition of their different temperaments in all respects.

For example, if such a process as decision-making between the people of color is analyzed, it becomes obvious that they rarely had the power of ultimate decision-making over the issues that controlled social lives and resources. Therefore, on a personal subconscious level, some of them still do have a conviction that white people are better aware of what should be done and which way. Interpersonally, the people of color might experience a lack of their power and authority’s support, especially when opposed to the “dominating race.” In many countries there is still an acting system rewarding one racial group to support another, punishing those who do not.

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