Race in Latin America Essay

  • Length: 5 pages
  • Sources: 5
  • Subject: Race / Racism
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #80732837

Excerpt from Essay :

John Burdick in “The Lost Constituency of Brazil’s Black Movements” questions the narrative that race mixing, or mestizaje, is a solution to the problem of race in Brazil. Burdick states that “in Brazil the social perception of race exists along a continuum that encourages passing toward whiteness, making it difficult to forge a unified nonwhite identity” (139). What Burdick implies is that many Brazilians lack a distinct racial identity because of race mixing. The Black Identity in particular is negligibly felt socially in Brazil, and Burdick’s research indicates as much, with thirty participants claiming “to have used, for most of their lives, one or more of the ‘middle-range’ color terms,” such as moreno, marrom, mulato, mestico or pardo (140). Another 42 participants identified in varying degrees of blackness, using terms like black, very black, or dark. In short, race as an identifier was relatively lacking in Brazil. What this shows is that when racial identity is not celebrated or made to seem important, it is easily subsumed into a greater melting pot in which identity is developed from somewhere else.

If race is to be meaningfully explored and serve as a foundation of identity in Latin America, it first has to be recognized and appreciated. Burdick uncovers the fact that in Brazil this foundation is absent. The general trend is “toward whiteness” (139), which undermines the racialism of Blackness. For a people in Latin America who want to differentiate themselves from the general trend of race mixing eroding a sense of identity and culture linked to and/or based on race, this trend may be viewed as worrisome and problematic. The question of how to reverse the trend may be even more problematic, since for so many generations there has been so little emphasis placed, in Brazil at least, on the value of racial identification. The politics, culture, socialization and identification of race has been guided by melting pot framework, and in turn race as a meaningful term has become lost.

Michael Baran in “Girl, You are Not Morena. We are Negras! Questioning the Concept of ‘Race’ in Southern Bahia, Brazil” indicates as much as well. The new ideology of racial categorization being taught in Brazil—namely that “anyone not ‘purely’ branco (white)” is negro (black) (383). The problem with this radical new approach is that it muddles the conception of race that Brazilians have had for generations: they view themselves, as Burdick points out, in varying degrees of color and pedigree. Just as the title indicates, they are used to saying they are morena, for example, not negra. But presented with this new concept that one is either white or black, the Brazilians are faced with a problem: either embrace this new racial categorization that rejects racial subtleties and histories, or reject the new system of categorization.

Baran questions the need of Brazilians to embrace such a narrow-minded new system, when part of what makes Brazil unique is its diversity of racial history. The varying degrees of race that are mixed through various families and identifying these races in degrees (rather than simply by saying, “I am black”) is a way to cling to one’s ancestry, one’s history, one’s family, one’s culture, and one’s past. The new method blocks this, while attempting to mix racial identity arbitrarily. Categorizing all dark skinned persons as black negates that actual histories and racially mixed pasts of the people. The arbitrary mixing of race through arbitrary and narrowed definitions of race does not in the end promote race mixing. In the end it promotes racial exclusion by emphasizing a stark and divisive difference between whites and blacks. The reality is that these differences are subtle and not nearly as distinct as some social scientists would have us think. And this is evident in Brazil, as Baran and Burdick both show: Brazilians do not think of race in the same ways that North Americans do, where everyone falls into a distinct category that is defined in a way that can only be described as narrow-minded and uninformed. The Brazilian method of viewing race itself as a mixture of various inputs is the most sensible, and the concept of self-identifying in varying degrees of color rather than as specifically white or black is one that is highly appropriate to the reality of the nation’s heritage and history.

The Latin Americanization of the U.S. racial order would look like it does in Brazil, with divisive and generic categorizations being replaced by racial identification that is more personal, more familial, and less rooted in preconceived categorical identities that are fabricated from an inauthentic experience. For example, in Brazil there are many people who have mixed racial backgrounds and so they do not (at least until…

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