Episode 3, Race: The Power of an Illusion

Episode three focused on more recent history that has supported the construct of race in the United States.  This episode explained how people’s markers of skin, culture, hair texture determined who they were because of the public policy and practice that acted on their physical characteristics.  While Episode two talked about slavery and how it played into the construct of race still today, episode three discussed how the movement of immigrants from all over the world influenced the idea of race and strengthened the idea of whiteness.  The idea of the United States as a melting pot was born, however assimilation to the American culture was synonymous with white culture.

This episode showed me to the extent to which white men in government and power had in history.  Laws and regulations very much decided what race was depending on what suited them, only showing how race was no true construct.  Specifically, when it came to becoming a “naturalized” citizen in the United States after the influx of immigration and legal ending of slavery.  The two court cases regarding US citizenship showed how malleable the concept of race was and how much powerful white men had control over what was considered white and what was not.  The first case ruled that Takao Ozowa was not a free white person as white meant Caucasian, and scientifically Takao was Japanese-American and not Caucasian.  However, three months later Baghat Singh Thind applied for naturalization on the base that he was a high-caste Indian and therefore Caucasian.  However, this argument was rejected this argument saying that high-caste Indians were akin to white Europeans, but he did not fit the common-sense definition of white that did not consider science as a valid definition.  Listening to these two cases and the rationalization the US court had for each rejection of naturalization both made me angry that these blatantly contradictory rulings were accepted by the “American” population and further supported the idea that race was nothing more than what the white man wanted it to be.  In addition, the different regulations on what determined if a person was considered African American or not varied from state to state made it, so people could cross state lines and change their race (a supposed innate part of a human being).

After watching this episode, I cannot seem to wrap my head around how race held such a significance and how it was accepted as a legitimate way to define a person.  United States history regarding race emphasizes the power one idea can hold, and how fear of the unknown can shape whole societies.  It is also interesting to see how those in power manipulated their language to make the white men and “American” population think slavery, segregation and many other horrible ways of treating minorities was acceptable.  This also makes me wonder if there were any groups of white people that were against the treatment of minorities, and if they disagreed enough to speak out.  Lastly, this series of videos has made me question how race can still be something so apparent in society when time-and-time again the innate concept of race was proven to be nothing more than a construct put in place to keep the powerful in power.

In class we questioned what the next move is to eradicate the concept of race and the positive and negative connotations that it places on populations of people.  The acknowledgement of injustices was brought up; however, I think this would only be substantial when paired with the knowledge of these past injustices.  It amazes me how today monumental events in history that affected thousands and millions of people is omitted from academic curriculums.  I wonder if the extent of what discrimination and race looked like in the past 100+ years will ever be taught in schools.  My lasting thoughts after our class was how in the past being American was so rigidly and explicitly assimilating to white culture and thinking about how if this is still the case.  Is being American still just another way to say white or people striving to fit the mold of “white culture”?

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