mulatto escape hatch

The “mulatto escape hatch” (Degler 1986), also called the “intermediate mulatto stratum” (Safa 1998), refers to the notion that someone can be born black, yet become mulatto through an increase in social status, or intergenerational whitening. This intermediate category emerged from the large free colored population in many Latin American countries during the time of slavery (Safa 1998; Skidmore 1993; Smedley 2007). The creation of the mulatto category, which possessed some benefits over blacks, was a mechanism of social control insofar as the possibility of moving out of the category “black” inhibited alliances among people of African descent (Daniel 2006). Peter Wade (1997) contends that in Latin America, racially mixed children are recognized as socially distinct from their parents. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2004) explains that Latin American countries have a tri-racial system, in which an intermediate group buffers race conflict. Luisa Schwartzman (2007) also claims that, in Brazil, “browns serve as a buffer zone between blacks and whites” (p. 944).

Tanya Golash-Boza, “Does Whitening Happen? Distinguishing between Race and Color Labels in an African-Descended Community in Peru,” Social Problems, Volume 57, Number 1, (February 2010): 140.