by Oneka LaBennett

About Oneka LaBennett

Oneka LaBennett is Associate Professor of Africana Studies and American Studies at Cornell University. She is coeditor of Racial Formation in the Twenty-First Century, along with Daniel Martinez HoSang and Laura Pulido, and the author of She’s Mad Real: Popular Culture and West Indian Girls in Brooklyn.


In contrast to keywords such as “race” and “racist,” “racialization” is relatively new to American studies and cultural studies. The term has a diverse lineage but is most often associated with the work of Michael Omi and Howard Winant (1986/1994), who helped make the concept of racialization a central analytic within both fields. Omi and Winant utilize the term to “signify the extension of racial meaning to a previously racially unclassified relationship, social practice or group. Racialization is an ideological process, an historically specific one” (64). In contrast to static understandings of race as a universal category of analysis, racialization names a process that produces race within particular social and political conjunctures. That process constructs or represents race by fixing the significance of a “relationship, practice or group” within a broader interpretive framework. Working within this paradigm, scholars have investigated processes and practices of racialization across a wide range of fields, including electoral politics, music, literature, sports, aesthetics, religion, public policy, and social identity.