The idea of race affects our everyday lives – whether we choose to believe it or not. Most individuals view the world through a racial lens – whether it be a White world, a Black world, an Asian world or the less descriptive – yet overtly offensive – Otherworld. This idea of race fueling social construct is argued in Ruth Frankenberg book The Social Construction of Whiteness: White Women, Race Matters. How one sees the world (or is seen) will depict the types of jobs we go for (or feel encouraged to go for), how much money we make, where we live (or feel we can live), what food we eat, what school we send our kids to – the friends we make. You name it – race affects most decisions we make.
So what does social construct actually mean? According to sources, “A social construct is something that exists not in objective reality, but as a result of human interaction. It exists because humans agree that it exists. ”And yet, the social construct we are currently abiding to does not benefit the majority. In an article published on Medium, the author states that “… the word social construct is thrown around in various theoretical and general works without ever being defined or discussed. However, understanding what is meant by race as a social construct is vital to understanding the capacity race has to intersect and affect other aspects and domains of life and society, as well as how to dismantle it.” The ideologies behind race benefit some, yet pigeon holes others dramatically – and often lead to an undertone of segregation between communities.
Angela Onwuachi-Willig, author of “According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family” states in an article published in the New York Times that those who have always been privy to white privilege, notice a shift in behaviours if they are in a relationship with someone who is not white. “In a society where being white (regardless of one’s socioeconomic class background or other disadvantages) means living a life with white skin privileges — such as being presumed safe, competent and noncriminal — whites… may begin to no longer feel white.” This is an interesting observation as it confirms that racial discrimination is still very much a part of our societal construct. So how do we start to dismantle this ideology? We encourage you to challenge it, through education, asking questions, research (our fave thing!) and not allowing yourself to fall into abiding by the status quo. We must continue to strive for equality, sensibility and growth – to continue to dismantle racism and rooted bias.
Activities to try with your team
- In your next team meeting or all hands. Create a safe space where employees can discuss their concerns regarding race. Encourage asking questions and conversations.
- Re-framing constructive feedback through the lens of bias. Reflect on a time you may have noticed someones race before meeting them. What came to mind when you did this? Did it have a negative or positive or neutral effect on the outcome of the situation?
- Think about your last 1:1. Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your race? Did you feel comfortable raising this to HR or senior management?
New habits to make a difference
- Actively research authors who talk about race such as Ruth Frankenberg and Angela Onwuachi-Willig and read their literature.
- Encourage having an open discussion with friends about what they think the word race means.
- Listen to a podcast that discusses race such as About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge.