"Racial Formation in the United States" (1960-1980)

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Book Report:

Racial Formation in the United States (1960-1980)

Michael Omi and Howard Winant's book, Racial Formation in the United States, identifies race and its importance to "America". Saying, it "will always be at the center of the American experience" (Pg.6). Challenging both mainstream (ethnicity-oriented) and radical (class-oriented) analyses, Omi and Winant argue that race has been "systematically overlooked" (Pg. 138) as an important factor in understanding American politics and society. They set as their task in construction of "an analytic framework which to view the racial politics of the past three decades" in America (pg.5)

The book is organized in three parts. Part one surveys three perspectives on American race relations: "ethnicity-based theory", "class-based theory" and "nation-based theory". Omi and Winant have arguments with each. Ethnicity-based theory is criticized for its tendency to consider race under the rubric ethnicity and thus to overlook the unique experiences of American racial minorities (blacks, Native Americans, Asians).

Class-based theory is similarly taken to task for overlooking the power of race in social, economic, and political relations in its concern with economic interest, processes, and cleavages. Finally, nation-based theory is challenged as geographically and historically inappropriate for analyzing the structure of American race relations.

What is needed according to Omi and Winant, is a "racial formation perspective," one that can deal with race as "an autonomous field of social conflict, political organizations, and cultural/ideological meaning" (p.52). Part two is an elaboration of racial formation perspective. Omi and Winant define "racial formation" as "the process by which social, economic and political forces determine the content and importance of racial categories, and by which they are in turn shaped by racial meanings" (pg.61). The racial formation perspective emphasizes the extent to which race is a social and political construction that operates at two levels:...