Originally posted on Anthropology.net:
As Ruth Frankenberg in her book The Social Construction of Whiteness: White Women, Race Matters argues, our daily lives are affected by race whether we are aware of it or not. We all see the world through a racial lens that colors our world black, white, Asian, Mexican, minority, or “other”. How we are seen and how we see others affects various domains of our lives and the lives of others; from the types of jobs we have, the amount of money we make, the kind of friends we make, the places we live, the foods we eat, the schools we go to, etc… The entire social structure we inhabit is affected by at least one social construction, race. Interestingly, most people in the United States (which consist of people of color) are aware of this, but have not dismantled it. Why is that?
Often times 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.
To begin, a social construct is ontologically subjective, but epistemologically objective. It is ontologically subjective in that the construction and continued existence of social constructs are contingent on social groups and their collective agreement, imposition, and acceptance of such constructions (for more on the notion of social constructions see The Construction of Social Reality by John Searle). There is nothing absolute or real about social constructions in the same way as there is something absolute and real about rocks, rivers, mountains, and in general the objects examined by physics. For example, the existence of a mountain is not contingent on collective acceptance, imposition, or agreement. A mountain will exist regardless of people thinking, agreeing or accepting that it does exist. Unlike a mountain, the existence of race requires that people collectively agree and accept that it does exist. Franz Boas, a physicist by training, supports this view of race best in his work Race, Language, and Culture where he observes that there is nothing biologically real about race. There is nothing that we have identified as race that exists apart from our collective agreement, acceptance, and imposition of its existence.