Beyond Fixed or Fluid: Degrees of Fluidity in Racial Identification in Latin America

Beyond Fixed or Fluid: Degrees of Fluidity in Racial Identification in Latin America

The Project on Ethnicity and Race in Latin America
Princeton University
60 pages

Edward E. Telles, Professor of Sociology
Princeton University

Tianna S. Paschel, Post Doctoral Fellow (Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Political Science as of July 2012)
Department of Political Science
University of Chicago

Com­par­a­tive research on race and eth­nic­ity has often turned to Latin Amer­ica where racial iden­tity is seen as fluid. Using nation­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tive data from the 2010 America’s Barom­e­ter, we exam­ined the extent to which skin color, nation, class and region shape who iden­ti­fies as black or mulato in Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama, Colom­bia and the Domini­can Repub­lic. While racial cat­e­gories over­lap sig­nif­i­cantly, skin color largely deter­mines both black and mulatto self-identification in all five coun­tries although its effect varies con­sid­er­ably. We dis­cov­ered dis­tinc­tive pat­terns in racial flu­id­ity, in how color shapes racial clas­si­fi­ca­tion, in the fre­quency of black and mixed-race cat­e­gories, and in the influ­ence of sta­tus and region on racial clas­si­fi­ca­tion. We sug­gest that these pat­terns are related to nation­al­ist nar­ra­tives, state poli­cies and black move­ment orga­niz­ing. These find­ings chal­lenge widely held assump­tions about race rela­tions in Latin Amer­ica, sug­gest­ing rather that unique national his­to­ries have given way to dif­fer­ent sys­tems of race clas­si­fi­ca­tion in each coun­try. We advance the con­cept of racial schemas and vis­cos­ity to bet­ter under­stand these differences.

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