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“Exploring the Social Construct of Race” defines a difference between race and ethnicity

By Anthony Dzindolet
adzindolet@springfieldcollege.edu

On Thursday afternoon, Vice President for Inclusion and Community Engagement Calvin Hill sat down on Zoom to explore the social construct of race with more than 70 Springfield College students, staff and a number of community locals. The session explored the development of race in the United States and the difference between race and ethnicity.

Hill tends to use four main approaches to facilitating conversations on race. Awareness, knowledge, skills, and action. On Thursday afternoon, he kept that approach.

Hill brought up an infamous video clip of Jane Elliot asking her white audience if they would trade places with Blacks in the United States. Unsurprisingly, no one wanted to trade places. “We have an awareness around us, we’ve just got to put some thoughts behind it,” Hill said.

Over the summer, Springfield came up with the slogan “Silence is not an option,” which Hill wholeheartedly believes. Hill also believes that race is a false classification. “The distinctions we make between races has nothing to do with scientific truth,” Hill said.

A YouTube video made by Eliana Pipes titled “Race, Ethnicity, Nationality, and Jellybeans” was then played for the group. In the video, Pipes says “Race is a mode of categorization based on physical appearance. Ethnicity is a person’s actual ethnic background based on their ancestry.” Many people are unaware of the difference between race and ethnicity, which is why it is crucial for Americans to continue to educate themselves and others around them.

Hill quickly jumped forward to talk about the social construct of race, specifically in the United States. Hill, along with many others, believe that race was created as a social construct to justify domination. One of Hills PowerPoint slides had an image of a sign that read “Irish need not apply.” At one point in time, Irish people were not considered white. Hill asked his viewers “What happened in the United States that changed the social construct” one viewer responded with a resounding answer: “Power.”

In a short video clip from “Race the Power of an Illusion, Episode 2” Historian Robin D. G. Kelley said, “Race was never just a matter of how you look, it’s about how people assign meaning to how you look.” Many people struggle to understand the true meaning of race and how and when it was created.

Studies have consistently shown that people of color are not more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites, but they are arrested and incarcerated at much higher rates than whites. The impact of mass incarceration on people of color is rarely ever addressed or spoken about in the media.

According to the Boston Globe, a report in 2017 said that Blacks in Boston have a median net worth of $8, while whites have a net worth of $247 thousand. Hill said that even though this was the case, Boston has made a lot of progress recently. Hill drove home the fact that “We have to look at racial hierarchy, we have to look at who has opportunities for positions. We have to focus on issues of poverty”.

Today, more than ever, Americans are questioning the social construct of race and racism and are actively trying to figure out what they can do about it.

“We must commit ourselves to action,” Hill said. In a time of disorder in the country, it is critical for Americans to be aware of what is happening and what they can do to help. “We are perhaps more divided as a country than we have ever been for a very long time,” said Hill. “We have an opportunity, especially our young people today, to deconstruct the social construct of race. To dismantle racism. To truly become anti-racist.”

Graphic Courtesy of Jack Margaros

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