Variations on racial tension

Variations on racial tension

The Harvard Gazette

John Laidler, Harvard Correspondent

For every nation, a different set of challenges, panelists say

A panel discussion Wednesday highlighted striking contrasts in how nations perceive and grapple with racial inequality.

Tracing evolving attitudes toward race and discrimination in Latin America, Europe, and the United States, a trio of experts painted a picture of a multidimensional issue resistant to simple explanations or solutions.

The panel was the second of four in a Weatherhead Center series on comparative inequality.

Patrick Simon, director of research at the National Institute of Demographic Studies in France, said post-war Europe followed a conscious strategy to ban the use of racial terminologies to describe populations, a practice that persists.

“We are all aware that talking about race is not a straightforward situation in Europe,” said Simon, currently a fellow at City University of New York. “Basically, if you don’t talk about race, the name itself is simply not there.”

Simon said the strategy was contradicted at first by continuing racial categorizing in European colonies. That ended with decolonization, but as citizens of those countries migrated to Europe, “race is back in the picture,” he said, “in societies not prepared to address racial issues.”

“Now that there is real racial diversity, this color-blind strategy finds its limits,” Simon said, arguing that the approach — including resistance to directly including race in official data collection — hinders efforts to “change the dynamics of racializing.”

Alejandro de la Fuente, Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin-American History at Harvard and director of the University’s soon-to-launch Afro-Latin American Research Institute, said Latin-American nations have long promoted ideals of mestizaje, or mixing of races, and racial democracy…

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