Racism in Latin America

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While the idea of racial democracy may be an ideology or agenda pushed by the political elite, there is evidence which shows the majority of Latin America is that of mixed or mestizaje lineage, people who aren’t clearly indigenous, black, or white. Racism manifests in Latin America where politics attempts to manipulate culture; divisive politics makes people easier to control and racial lines are easily exploited.

According to Peter Wade, and his peers agree, Humans are “too similar genetically”, and groups so intermingled, that variation is too great to be categorized into races. Race is a set of “ideas” about human our similarities and differences. (Poole & Wade, 2008) Ideas about racial democracy and racism in Latin America span pre-colonial, colonial, to modern times and have evolved to show tension between nature and varying forms of government – and its effects on the populations targeted.

Pre-Colonial/Colonial race relations

The “social contstruction” of Latin America by Europe started immediately upon arrival in 1492 and by late 1500’s a population of roughly 20 million native “Indio” populations was reduced to two million. (Gates, 2011) Such a reduction in the native, “ New World” manpower used by the conquistadors called for imports of African slaves en masse to South America, the Carribean, and North America. Thus a caste system or “sistema de castas” was proliferated throughout the Americas to promoted “proper” mixing of the races along state sanctioned lines. For such a system to work, the people, brown, black, and even white, had to be indoctrinated to believe that this is how things were, however pseudo-scientific we know such principles to be today. (Nieto-Phillips, 2008)

Limpieza de Sangre

By end of 17th century interracial marriages were on the rise, the Catholic Church relaxed its former restrictions on race mixing. The Catholic Church allowed marriage between all groups. So as doctrine changed and laws evolved to grant freedom to black slaves and children of white citizens, such propaganda as “Casta paintings” were painted to show diversity of mixing genes of black people, brown people, and white people. (Las Castas, 2013)

Pseudo scientific reasons to make certain people inferior so that they were more easily managed. Convincing certain parts of the population that they are inferior is the key part in such a social manipulation technique; there is ample documentation of the psychological, physical, and emotional abuse that took place to enforce such philosophies. (Gates, 2011)

Mestizaje & Multiculturalism

In modern times, if there is a case to be made for racism in Latin America, it is in the ideas about racial democracy and confusing racial coexistence with racial equality. Many Latin American governments it is the protocol, or doctrine, to push the belief that race is not an issue, that racism is not a problem, that racial discrimination does not exist because everyone is mixed – mestizaje.

On the other hand much academic research shows that racism does exist and that racial discrimination does occur/is a factor in peoples’ life outcomes. (Zizumbo-Columbo & Martinez, 2017).

In our modern era we can observe the effects of what Peter Wade describes as “social construction”, we have this dual reality; on one hand we have racial democracy, which isn’t just a myth. It is in some respects a reality; Latin America is very much mixed between racial categories of white, black, and brown. (Race and genetics interact with each other; humans, genetically, are 99.9% the same, 0.1% different).

For the last few decades Latin American nations have been going through processes of multicultural reform, giving land rights and educational rights to indigenous and black minorities. Such genetic data reinforces the idea that actually, Latin Americans are mixed primarily; this tends to put indigenous and African derived populations on the outer fringes of the modern Latin American societies.

There was a period in the early 20th century where racial democracy was widely celebrated. There were national identities built around how mixed populations had become over time, in an effort to manifest a more racially tolerant reality. The lack of black people in political elite; Brazil, Mexico, Colombian elites are predominately white whereas the working class populations are of darker complexions’. (Poole & Wade, 2008)

The whole idea of racial democracy is, in one sense it’s an ideology imposed by the elite as a kind of idea about what the nation is. On the other hand, it also has certain elements of truth about it because the experience that the majority of the people in the country are mixed, and aren’t clearly indigenous, black, or white. This is an every day reality in Latin America. Particular cultural stereotypes exemplify racial distinction.

Current Manifestations of Racism

Current president of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, while running for office in 2015, faced criticism for his character “Black Pitaya” or Black Dragonfruit. Morales, a former comedian and actor caught judgment for his questionably racist blackface comedy bit. (cite). Morales is associated with the least wholesome aspects of certain Afro-Latino stereotypes like narco-traficantes, hyper sexual content, and violence among lower classes. Such characters also exist throughout places like Peru, and Mexico. Morales just happens to be in the spotlight as he now holds the highest office in the land. Like Trump and his followers it appears Morales is no stranger to using polarizing racial rhetoric to gain political and economic advantages. (Lakhani, 2015)

Other racist manifestations include cartoons like Memin Penguin, an afro-stereotypical rendition of a primate in popular comic book character form. The argument is that such characters in Latin American pop culture are so dated, coming from a time when such racial mockeries were seen as acceptable, and so they can be laughed about today. Again, an attempt to push a “we are mixed, and past that part of society” mentality. It does not always manifest in the true nature of society.

I do not see any reason to believe things will change very much in Latin America, one of the things about Latin America in the last decade or so there has been a move toward official multiculturalism, where states recognize that they are, in fact, more racially diverse than previously admitted. (de la Cadena, 2007) Racism manifests in Latin America where politics attempts to manipulate culture; divisive politics makes people easier to control and racial lines are easily exploited. Should the people of Latin America (and even North America) continue to play into the false rhetoric and political propaganda displayed by media business models securing their profits from consumers, then we should expect the same cycle or manifestation of racial polarization.


Works cited

Casale-Hardin, M. A. (2017, December 07). 'Mejorar la Raza': An Example of Racism in Latino Culture. Retrieved October 14, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/maria-alejandra-casalehardin-/mejorar-la-raza-an-exampl_b_7558892.html

De la Cadena, M. (2007, September 25). Reconstructing Race: Racism, Culture and Mestizaje in Latin America. Retrieved October 14, 2018, from https://nacla.org/article/reconstructing-race-racism-culture-and-mestizaje-latin-america

Gates, H. L. (2011). Black in Latin America. Retrieved October 12, 2018, from https://www.pbs.org/wnet/black-in-latin-america/

Lakhani, N. (2015, October 21). Guatemala election puts Latin America's affinity for racist caricatures in spotlight. Retrieved October 14, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/21/guatemala-election-latin-america-racist-caricatures

Las Castas – Spanish Racial Classifications. (2013, June 15). Retrieved October 14, 2018, from https://nativeheritageproject.com/2013/06/15/las-castas-spanish-racial-classifications/

Nieto-Phillips, J. M. (2008). Language of blood: The making of Spanish-American identity in New Mexico, 1880s-1930s. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Poole, D., & Wade, P. (2008). A companion to Latin American anthropology. Malden: Wiley Blackwell. Peter Wade, ""Race in Latin America,"" A companion to Latin American Anthropology (2008), pp.177-189

Zizumbo-Colunga, D., & Martínez, I. F. (2018, September 20). Study reveals racial inequality in Mexico, disproving its 'race-blind' rhetoric. Retrieved October 13, 2018, from https://theconversation.com/study-reveals-racial-inequality-in-mexico-disproving-its-race-blind-rhetoric-87661

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Racism in Latin America. (2019, Feb 05). Retrieved June 21, 2024 , from

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