Race is a “social construct”. This statement appears numerously in various literature and is voiced by sociologists, philosophers and other scholars but how true or fair is it? By genetics, it is proven that race and racial differences are real and irrefutable but there is a stronger ideological construction of race, based not on evolution but on language, stereotype and social interaction. Categories and boundaries in race are unnatural; they are created.
Some of the well-known ideological constructions of the black man by the white man are such as; African Americans; are not of the human family, are descended originally from the tribes of monkeys and orangutans, are inferior to whites, both in mind and body.
David walker, an abolitionist and one of the most anti-slavery outspoken African Americans of the 19th century made his observations of the state of the people of color who occupied America at the time through a pamphlet, “The Appeal”. He stated that they were the most degraded, wretched and abject set of beings since the beginning of the world. Whatever the Israelites, Helots and Roman Slaves had suffered was nothing compared to the miseries that befell the colored people, their fathers and their children at the hand of Christian Americans, according to Walker.
Walker referred to the white man’s construction of the African American as a non-member of the human family as an “insupportable insult” daring the white people to deny the charge. He went on to accuse whites of having referred to the ancestry of African Americans as one of tribes of monkeys and orangutans; this, after having enslaved them for years. Aside from that Thomas Jefferson had referred to them as inferior to the whites, both in mind and body. He also acknowledged the possibility of him being referred to as ignorant, insubordinate, impudent and a disturber, by the very people who oppressed Black people, in light of his Appeal. Walker wished to enlighten and awaken the African American race on their current situation, that they may do something about it, regardless of the risk involved, so that white people may realize the vice that is slavery. This, he believed, could be achieved through assuming responsibility and committing to moral improvement through education, religious practice, work and self-regulation. He discouraged attempts to gain freedom in unclear paths, suggesting that a clear way would provide a better opportunity and then, the oppressed seeking freedom should show no fear or dismay because God was and would continue to be on their side.
David Walker was not the only Black intellectual who acknowledged and fought against the white man’s constructs of race and people of color. W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington are names will always remain in the history books for their outspoken debates on race and how people of color should help themselves. While they fought for the same purpose and progress of uplifting the Black race, they held significantly diverse views on how this should take place.
Booker T. Washington, being a student himself, believed that vocational education was the means for success for African Americans. He founded the Tuskegee Institute, in the belief that if Blacks became superior, reliable laborers, proving themselves worthy, they would be indispensable to the country’s economy and this would be achieved through an economically significant industrial, rather than academic, education. This sort of education would train African Americans in various skills within an authoritarian and religious environment, and the outcome would be African Americans who fit into the bottom end of occupational communities and who would know and accept their place among white people. This was what the whites wanted too; the southerners, for it would still keep African Americans exploitable and the northerners, because it would ease racial tension, and provide experienced labor to industrialize the south.
W.E.B. Du Bois, a strong opposer of Washington’s means, although their end was similar; that of making the Black race and its people as significant as it should be. In his The Conservation of Races, Du Bois identified two obstacles to the uplifting of this race; the lack of unity, harmony, self-sacrifice and policy and the constant opposition that Black people face in their struggle to achieve higher possibilities. He acknowledged that certain constructions of race assumed the Black’s man abilities and status, naturally, politically, morally and intellectually, with many criteria of race being based on color, hair, cranial measurements and language. He lay his hope for the success of undermined races in their welding together, believing that jubilee and being inspired by one ideal would lead to the fullness of the Black race. That their hope lay not in absorption by the white man even though their situation in America dictated otherwise. Du Bois believed in the creation of united race institutions; colleges, schools, newspapers, and business organizations, necessary for positive advancement.