Race: The Power of an Illusion, Episode 3

This episode gave really important insight as to why and how race was socially constructed in America. After the first two episodes talk about how race is not biological, this third episode addresses the socially constructed realities of race. They discuss the subjectivity of whiteness, citizenship, racialized housing and other forms of institutionalized racism after WWII.

A crucial point in this episode is that whiteness is subjective. Even after proving that he was scientifically Aryan, a man in the 1900’s who appeared to be Indian was still not granted citizenship because only white people were allowed to determine what whiteness is. Whiteness comes with privilege and opportunity, things that those who are not white do not get access to. This is the reason why “pull yourselves up by the bootstraps” is not a valid argument. This is an argument that I hear a lot, especially from older generations of white people. It is frustrating to try to explain why that statement is problematic and even more frustrating knowing that many are oblivious, or are choosing to be oblivious, to the disadvantages people of color have been faced with across generations. The episode discusses racialized housing after WWII, and how difficult it was for people of color to find homes because non-white families “undermined real estate values”. This led to red-lining and block-busting, until eventually white and non-white were geographically separated. Without property, people of color could not generate wealth to pass on to future generations, whereas white people could. The privilege of whiteness has accumulated from years and years of advantages, making it nearly impossible for someone without access to these privileges and this accumulation of wealth to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps”.

Another argument I hear a lot is to be “colorblind”. While in theory this would be great, it is impossible to ignore how our nation’s social construct of race has caused so much inequality. While it would be great to say that you don’t see different colored skin, you just see human beings, it would be ignorant of the fact that a black family has on average 1/8th of the net worth of a white family. Or that housing is still unequal today, not just in post-WWII Levittown. I saw a documentary about American dialects for one of my Linguistics classes. In the film, they conducted a brief experiment where a black man expressed interest in renting a number of apartments listed in the newspaper. He called each listing twice, once using AAVE (African American Vernacular English) and then again using SAE (Standard American English). While I don’t remember the specifics, I know that when he called using AAVE, he received a call back much less often than when he used SAE. This is just one example of unequal housing in America. There are many other examples of how people of color are discriminated against/disadvantaged due to generations of socially constructed, privileged whiteness, making it difficult to be “colorblind”.

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One thought on “Race: The Power of an Illusion, Episode 3

  1. It is interesting how one’s speech can make or break a deal like buying a house. I know in the past when I have called someone on the phone and then later met up with them in public, they would tell me I sound “white” on the phone. I have always taken that as kind of a backwards compliment, because in my mind what I interpret them saying is sounding “white” comes with certain advantages and opportunities than sounding “black.”

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