Black Racial Formation After Jim Crow

Discussion of the changing idea of blackness after Jim Crow by examining the effect of the Topeka Board of Education decision. Illustrates the process of racial formation.

Omi and Winant argue that racial categories are sociohistorical concepts that have both cultural ramifications as well as enforcing a definite social order. The manipulation of these constructions as they are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed is what Omi and Winant call race formation (Omi and Winant 54-55). As Marable's work is an intricate sociological history of the "black" race, it describes racial formation over time.

According to Marable, the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka supreme court ruling was a turning point in the racial formation of "blackness." Under the rule of Jim Crow segregation, the dominant social hegemony of the "black" race was that they were inferior socially, culturally, and intellectually. The structure of segregated society kept blacks in subordinate positions and denied them the tools for a better future, such as quality education. By instituting such degrading laws as separate bus waiting areas, separate water fountains, and by giving black children the used books of white students and the physically inferior schools, the racial state managed to not only create a disparagingly unequal society, but they managed to convince most blacks as well as whites that the way they were treated was natural. Blacks own hegemony of "blackness" was negative, inferior, one of shame, and even rejection.

The passage of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka legitimized blacks' claim to humanity and equality. The foundations of "Jim Crow" blackness were crumbling (Marable [Race, Reform, And Rebellion] 41). The myriad excuses for black inequality, be they biological, cultural inferiority, or low intellectual capacity were all undercut by the Supreme Court's ruling that equality was necessary and right. Black resistance to segregation was now backed by the federal government and had the open realm of federal assent to demand equal rights and assert that "blackness" had just as much right to freedom as "whiteness." By taking the moral high ground in the fight for civil rights through nonviolent direct action and religious imagery, "blackness" began to connote more and more righteousness and perserverance. This change in the hegemony of blackness was a slow evolution over the entirety of the Civil Rights movement. By the late sixties slogans such as "black is beautiful" and "black power" directly challenged the historical hegemony of blackness and created a new definition which powerfully attracted the black community while instilling a new pride in black racial identity. Even though there has begun a backslide in equal opportunity for minorities, the effects of the redefinition of blackness are still apparent in popular black consciousness today.

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