National Colors: Racial Classification and the State in Latin America [Review]

National Colors: Racial Classification and the State in Latin America [Review]

Sociology of Race and Ethnicity
Volume 3, Issue 1, (January 2017)
pages 141-145
DOI: 10.1177/2332649216676789

Mark Q. Sawyer, Associate Professor of Political Science
University of California, Los Angeles

Mara Loveman, National Colors: Racial Classification and the State in Latin America. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014. 376 pp. $26.95. ISBN 978-0-19-933736-1

States, and in particular Latin American states, have been classified by race. National Colors: Racial Classification and the State in Latin America by Mara Loveman seeks to answer how and why states do so. The book is remarkable for its depth and scope, analyzing several countries essentially from some of the earliest colonial attempts at measurement driven by central authorities to contemporary census policies that may follow the dictates of social movements and international organizations.

Loveman rightly argues that states do not make race out of nothing but rather pick recognizable signs of human variation and endow them with characteristics and also use these axes as a means of allocating social value, either formally or informally. Loveman notes there can be slippage between state, personal, and socially recognized categorization, given all parties have different ideologies and incentives with regard to categorization. However, out of the cacophony emerge dominant discourses and ideas that define race for groups of people that come to be defined as discrete populations. But the Latin American story is not without complications at various historical points. Different logics have driven state categorization, and the state may not formally categorize at all.

Mara Loveman argues that the census first reflected colonial issues and concerns. It buttressed national projects developed by state elites. Colonial administrators saw populations as “key resources” to be enumerated. Racial categories imposed by colonial authorities identified the civilized and the uncivilized and in many cases outlined castes and detailed racial-ethnic mixtures and hierarchies that in different forms have remained part of the racial lexicon in Latin America. Loveman follows what has become the growing orthodoxy applied to historical and contemporary race in Latin America. She correctly finds that colonial authorities constructed and maintained elaborate racial hierarchies, which related to forced labor, land dispossession, and social and economic discrimination. Categories thus had material and symbolic consequences.

Loveman joins scholars like Michael Hanchard, Edward Telles, Peter Wade, Melissa Nobles, Tianna Paschel, Christina Sue, and Tanya Golash-Boza, who document both the ways in which white elites maintained racial hierarchies using the state, and how blacks, Indians, and mixed-raced individuals resisted categorization and racial discrimination in big and small ways…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , ,