Racial Formation: Assignment

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Writing Assignment 2: Explaining and Applying a Key Concept in Your Own Words

Racial formation, as presented by Michael Omi and Howard Winant, is the process through which a society assigns racial categories to the groups of people living within it, with the notion of “race” being constructed through both cultural representation and social structure. Racial formation involves the creation and destruction of stereotypes throughout a period of time, and is connected to hegemony, which is the way that a certain society is organized and ruled (Omi, Winant 21). An artificial racial hierarchy is often created from these stereotypes, which is then spread throughout society according to the interests of the ruling class and legitimated through social
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The positioning of different groups within the racial hierarchy is liable to change, as can be seen from the racialization of Irish immigrants, and their subsequent transition into “whiteness”. Inequalities and discrimination within the structure of a society often reinforced stereotyped cultural representation. During the Great Famine, a large influx of Irish immigrants immigrated to the United States in order to escape starvation after vital potato crops were devastated. After they arrived, many of these Irish immigrants found themselves competing with blacks in the job market for low-paying jobs at the bottom of the job ladder. Even though the Irish immigrants had emigrated from Europe, they weren’t considered “white” due to their prevalence in the racialized labour fields that the blacks worked in. They were often equated with the blacks in terms of intelligence and work ethic, …show more content…
With the ideology of white supremacy manifested in society, mainly through labour discrimination and an artificial racial hierarchy, many Irish immigrants tried to move into mainstream American society on the basis of their skin color. To be American was to be white according to the dominant line of thought, so the Irish actively promoted their skin color as a way to assimilate into society. “Targets of Protestant nativist hatred identifying them as Catholic, outsiders, and foreigners, the Irish newcomers sought to become insiders, or Americans, by claiming their membership as whites” (Takaki 143). The Irish were successful in assimilating into American society also in part due to their adoption of the anti-black attitudes that the dominant group of the era (rich, white men) held. They regarded the blacks with disgust and contempt, actively opposed black suffrage and condemned “abolitionism as ‘Niggerology’” (Takaki 144). By joining in the hatred toward blacks, they distanced themselves from the “Other” groups and were associating themselves with “whiteness”. Once the Irish had risen the racial hierarchy to the point where they were considered “white”, they were able to access the traditional privileges of “whiteness” to improve their social status. They used their

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