Land of the cosmic race: race mixture, racism, and blackness in Mexico [Villarreal Review]

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico, Social Science on 2014-08-28 20:37Z by Steven

Land of the cosmic race: race mixture, racism, and blackness in Mexico [Villarreal Review]

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 37, Issue 10, 2014
Special Issue: Ethnic and Racial Studies Review
pages 1989-1991
DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2014.920094

Andrés Villarreal, Professor of Sociology
University of Maryland, College Park

Land of the cosmic race: race mixture, racism, and blackness in Mexico, by Christina A. Sue, New York, Oxford University Press, 2013, xi + 234 pp., £15.99 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-19-992550-6

A powerful official ideology promoted by the Mexican Government since the early twentieth century glorifies the mestizo, defined as the descendant of both indigenous and Spanish peoples, as a symbol of national identity. This same ideology holds racism to be inexistent in contemporary Mexico, and negates the contribution of individuals of African descent to Mexican history and to the racial make-up of the nation. Despite the importation of many thousands of slaves during the colonial period, blacks have been essentially erased from the national consciousness. Christina Sue’s outstanding ethnographic study uncovers how Mexican men and women work to reconcile this official national ideology which they vehemently espouse, with their own lived experiences in which individuals with a darker skin tone are routinely discriminated in everyday life, and in which African ancestry is clearly evident in some regions of the country.

Research on racial attitudes in Indo-Latin American countries such as Mexico has focused mostly on the mestizo–indigenous dichotomy. However, Sue convincingly argues that distinctions along a colour continuum within the mestizo population have an important effect on individuals’ life chances. Framing discussions in terms of colour rather than race allows many Mexicans to make comparisons without violating the national ideology according to which racial classifications are no longer relevant.

In contrast to the official ideology of non-racism, Sue finds evidence of tremendous racial prejudice among her subjects in the coastal city of Veracruz. Veracruzanos with a lighter skin tone enjoy preferential treatment socially and in work settings. Employers often code their preference for workers with lighter skin tones by soliciting candidates with ‘good presentation’, a term whose meaning is fully known by job applicants. Racial prejudice is also evident within family units. Family members use a variety of gatekeeping techniques to prevent the entry of dark-skinned individuals into their families through marriage. A woman interviewed by Sue reports that her mother-in-law refuses to speak to her because she is darker than her husband (94). Veracruzanos also agonize over children inheriting the phenotype of a darker parent. Reflecting the disappointment that his daughter inherited his darker skin tone, one father notes: ‘I wouldn’t have cared if she was ugly like me, but I wanted her to have green eyes … like her mother or be light like her mother. But she came out ugly like me’ (74). As in other parts of Latin America, Sue finds that Veracruzanos systematically equate whiteness with beauty and higher social standing. Darker family members are routinely insulted and devalued, while lighter members receive more resources and attention…

Read the entire review here.

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Race and national ideology in Mexico: An ethnographic study of racism, color, mestizaje and blackness in Veracruz

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, Dissertations, Media Archive, Mexico, Social Science on 2012-03-07 22:17Z by Steven

Race and national ideology in Mexico: An ethnographic study of racism, color, mestizaje and blackness in Veracruz

Univerity of California, Los Angeles
191 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3280987
ISBN: 9780549234821

Christina A. Sue, Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of Colorado, Boulder

A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology

The literature on race relations has shown that racial and color categorization, racial consciousness, national ideologies, discourses on racism and patterns of discrimination have developed very differently in Latin America compared to the United States. Although a number of studies have explored these differences in countries such as Brazil, little research has been done on questions of race and color in Mexico, beyond studies of the Indigenous population. This dissertation begins to fill this gap in the literature by focusing on the role of race and color among Mexico’s population. Using participant observation, semi-structured interviews and focus groups, findings from this study provide detailed insights regarding the real life implications of race and color in Veracruz, Mexico. Specifically, I discuss how Veracruzanos reconcile the national ideology of non-racism in Mexico with their everyday lived experiences with discrimination. In addition, I interrogate the meaning of blackness in the region, both in the sense of racial identification and in reference to the construction of the category “black.” Not only is there extreme hesitancy to identify as “black” and a general dismissal of the role individuals of African descent played in Mexico’s development, blackness is seen as something foreign to the nation. Furthermore, in this dissertation I discuss the role of color in the region and its relation to the national ideology promoting race mixture, discourses on racism and meanings of blackness. I found that the national ideology is not embraced at the ground level in a way in which the founders intended. Instead, there is a clear trend for individuals to adopt mestizaje [race mixture] as a strategy to whiten themselves within the mixed-race category. Regarding discourses on racism, I describe how Veracruzanos, while being extremely reluctant to talk about racial divisions, engage in a proxy discourse based on color to incorporate such distinctions into everyday conversation. Finally, in relation to blackness, a color-based discourse is used by Veracruzanos to distance themselves from the category “black.”

Purchase the dissertation here.

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Racial Ideologies, Racial-Group Boundaries, and Racial Identity in Veracruz, Mexico

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Mexico, Slavery on 2011-07-31 22:02Z by Steven

Racial Ideologies, Racial-Group Boundaries, and Racial Identity in Veracruz, Mexico

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 5, Number 3 (November 2010)
pages 273-299
DOI: 10.1080/17442222.2010.513829

Recent scholarly interest in the populations of African descent in Latin America has contributed to a growing body of literature. Although a number of studies have explored the issue of blackness in Afro-Latin American countries, much less attention has been paid to how blackness functions in mestizo American countries. Furthermore, in mestizo America, the theoretical emphasis has oftentimes been placed on the mestizo/Indian divide, leaving no conceptual room to explore the issue of blackness. This article begins to fill this gap in the literature by focusing on blackness in the western Caribbean cities of Port of Veracruz and Boca del Río, which lie in the Mexican state of Veracruz. Specifically, it looks at the racial-based and color-based identification of individuals of African descent, societal construction of the ‘black’ category, and the relationship between national and racial identities. This article relies on data from participant observation conducted over the course of one year and 112 semi-structured interviews.

…Blackness in Mexico

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Mexico and Peru were the largest importers of African slaves in Spanish America (Palmer, 1976). Most scholars estimate that approximately 200,000 African slaves reached Mexico’s shores, although the number may be higher since many slaves were imported illegally (Aguirre Beltrán, 1944). When the slave system collapsed in the early 1700s, the biological integration of the population increased as the African-origin population increasingly mixed with the Indian and Spanish groups (Cope, 1994). After 1821, when Mexico gained independence from Spain, legal distinctions pertaining to race were terminated (González Navarro, 1970). By this time it was generally assumed that the black population had ‘disappeared’ through biological integration with the broader population.

Mexico’s early-20th-century post-revolutionary ideology further solidified the narrative of the disappearance of Mexico’s black population. This ideology promoted the mixed-race individual (mestizo) as the quintessential Mexican (Knight, 1990; Vasconcelos, 1925). In doing so, however, it not only glorified the mestizo, but sought to assimilate the Indigenous (Knight, 1990) and African (Hernández Cuevas, 2004, 2005) components of Mexico’s population through integration. The erasure of the African element in Mexico continued in the following decades through the Eurocentric re-interpretation of particular aspects of Mexican culture (Gonzalez-El Hilali, 1997; Hernandez-Cuevas, 2004, 2005).

The supposed disappearance of the African-origin population was first questioned in the 1940s when Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán (1946, 1958) studied what he defined as a ‘black’ population in the Costa Chica region of Mexico’s southern coast. Aguirre Beltrán’s pioneering study set the stage for the re-emergence of the issue of blackness in Mexico. In the past few decades, there has been a surge of scholarly work on the topic, much of which has focused on the historical experience of Africans and their descendants (Aguirre Beltrán, 1944; Alcántara López, 2002; Bennett, 2003; Carroll, 2001; Chávez Carbajal, 1997; García Bustamante, 1987; Gil Maronã, 1992; Herrera Casasús, 1991; Martínez Montiel & Reyes, 1993; Martínez Montiel, 1993; Motta Sánchez, 2001; Naveda Chávez-Hita, 1987, 2001; Palmer, 1976; Rout, 1976; Vincent, 1994; Vinson III, 2001; Winfield Capitaine, 1988) and the African contribution to Mexican culture (Díaz Pérez et al., 1993; Gonzalez-El Hilali, 1997; Hall, 2008; Hernandez-Cuevas, 2004, 2005; Malcomson, forthcoming; Martínez Montiel, 1993; Ochoa Serrano, 1997; Pérez Montfort, 2007; for more general overviews and/or discussions of Afro-Mexicans, see Hoffman, 2006a, 2008; Martinez Montiel, 1997; Muhammad, 1995; Vinson III & Vaughn 2004); less attention has been paid to the contemporary experience of Mexicans of African descent. When the contemporary experience is addressed, most scholars focus on the Costa Chica region (Aguirre Beltrán, 1946, 1958; Althoff, 1994; Campos, 2005; Díaz Pérez et al., 1993; Flanet, 1977; Gutiérrez Ávila, 1988; Hoffman, 2007a; Lewis, 2000, 2001, 2004; Moedano Navarro, 1988; Tibón, 1961; Vaughn, 2001a). However, Hoffman (2007a, 2007b) argues that the Costa Chica represents an exceptional case in Mexico, and that identity formation in this region is not based on negotiation with state-sponsored institutions due to their limited presence in the area…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Debate: Are the Americas ‘sick with racism’ or is it a problem at the poles? A reply to Christina A. Sue

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Caribbean/Latin America, Latino Studies, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2011-07-31 21:19Z by Steven

Debate: Are the Americas ‘sick with racism’ or is it a problem at the poles? A reply to Christina A. Sue

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 32, Issue 6 (July 2009)
Special Issue: Making Latino/a Identities in Contemporary America
pages 1071-1082
DOI: 10.1080/01419870902883536

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Professor of Sociology
Duke University

Christina A. Sue commented on my 2004 article in Ethnic and Racial Studies on the Latin Americanization of racial stratification in the USA. Almost all her observations hinge on the assumption that racial stratification in Latin American countries is fundamentally structured around ‘two racial poles’. I disagree with her and in my reply do three things. First, I address three major claims or issues in her comment. Second, I point out some methodological limitations of Americancentred race analysis in Latin America. Third, I conclude by discussing briefly the Obama phenomenon and suggest this event fits in many ways my Latin Americanization thesis.

The Americas are sick with racism, blind in both eyes from North to South.
(Eduardo Galeano 2000, p. 56)

Since I unveiled my Latin Americanization thesis in 2001, I have received plenty of critical feedback  some negative, but mostly positive. Accordingly, I welcome Christina Sue’s comment. Although we see race matters in both Americas quite differently  I believe the Americas are ‘sick with racism’ and Sue seems to believe racism is a problem at the ‘racial poles’  our exchange may stimulate further debate about the racial question in Latin America and the USA.

In this rejoinder I do three things. First, I address some of Sue’s criticisms. Second, I advance several methodological observations orthogonally related to Sue’s comments. Third, I briefly tackle the big elephant in the contemporary American racial room (the election of a black man as president) and suggest it fits my Latin Americanization thesis…

…First, Obama, like most politicians in the Americas, worked hard during the campaign at making a nationalist, post-racial appeal. Second, like some racially mixed leaders in the Americas, Obama was keen to signify the peculiar character of his ‘blackness’ (his half-white, half-black background) and the provenance of his blackness (his father hailed from Kenya and in the USA African blackness is perceived as less threatening). Obama has cultivated an outlook where his ‘blackness’ is more about style than political substance; Obama is the ‘cool’, exceptional black man not likely to rock the American racial boat. Third, Obama has exhibited an accommodationist stand on race (Street 2009). In a speech in Selma, Alabama, he stated the USA was ‘90% on the road to racial equality’ (Obama 2007) and continued this path in his so-called ‘race speech’ (Obama 2008). Fourth, whites see Obama as a ‘safe black’ who, unlike traditional black politicians, will not advocate race-based social policy. Fifth, Obama will formulate ‘universal’ (class-based) policies that are unlikely to remedy racial inequality (Obama 2004). Sixth, his election, in conjunction with other developments in the last decades, evinces the ascendance to political power (with a small ‘p’) of ‘neo-mulattos’ (Horton and Sykes 2004), will exacerbate the existing colour-class divide within the black community, and reinforce ‘multiculturalist white supremacy’ (Rodríguez 2008)…

Read the entire article here.

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Intermarriage versus Miscegenation

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2011-05-04 04:08Z by Steven

We have noted important analytical distinctions that need to be taken into account when addressing the related but separate social phenomena of intermarriage, miscegenation, multiracial identity, multiracial social movements, and race-mixture ideologies. Whereas all these topics deal, on some level, with racial-boundary crossing, the implications for the boundaries themselves and the racialized social structure are not consistent. For example, intermarriage may be an indicator of healthy race relations, but this is certainly not the case with miscegenation, especially in a context of high racial inequality. Whereas intermarriage has the potential to directly challenge, shift, or loosen racial boundaries, the informal practices of miscegenation are less likely to do so.

Edward E. Telles and Christina A. Sue, “Race Mixture: Boundary Crossing in Comparative Perspective,” Annual Revuew of Sociology, Volume 35 (2009): 129-146. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.34.040507.134657.

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Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters

Posted in Africa, Anthologies, Books, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Identity Development/Psychology, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2011-04-02 18:04Z by Steven

Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters

Stanford University Press
312 pages
11 tables, 15 figures, 16 illustrations
Cloth ISBN: 9780804759984
Paper ISBN: 9780804759991
E-book ISBN: 9780804770996

Edited by:

Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Professor of Asian American Studies
University of California, Berkeley

Shades of Difference addresses the widespread but little studied phenomenon of colorism—the preference for lighter skin and the ranking of individual worth according to skin tone. Examining the social and cultural significance of skin color in a broad range of societies and historical periods, this insightful collection looks at how skin color affects people’s opportunities in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and North America.

Is skin color bias distinct from racial bias? How does skin color preference relate to gender, given the association of lightness with desirability and beauty in women? The authors of this volume explore these and other questions as they take a closer look at the role Western-dominated culture and media have played in disseminating the ideal of light skin globally. With its comparative, international focus, this enlightening book will provide innovative insights and expand the dialogue around race and gender in the social sciences, ethnic studies, African American studies, and gender and women’s studies.



  • Introduction: Economies of ColorAngela P. Harris
  • Part I The Significance of Skin Color: Transnational Divergences and Convergences
    • 1. The Social Consequences of Skin Color in Brazil—Edward Telles
    • 2. A Colorstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement, and Self-Esteem Among African American Women—Verna M. Keith
    • 3. The Latin Americanization of U.S. Race Relations: A New Pigmentocracy—Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and David R. Dietrich
  • Part II Meanings of Skin Color: Race, Gender, Ethnic Class, and National Identity
    • 4. Filipinos and the Color Complex: Ideal Asian Beauty—Joanne L. Rondilla
    • 5. The Color of an Ideal Negro Beauty Queen: Miss Bronze 1961-1968—Maxine Leeds Craig
    • 6. Caucasian, Coolie, Black, or White? Color and Race in the Indo-Caribbean Diaspora—Aisha Khan
    • 7. Ihe Dynamics of Color: Mestizaje, Racism, and Blackness in Veracruz, Mexico—Christina A. Sue
  • Part III Consuming Lightness: Modernity, Transnationalism, and Commodification
    • 8. Skin Tone and the Persistence of Biological Race in Egg Donation for Assisted Reproduction—Charis Thompson
    • 9. Fair Enough? Color and the Commodification of Self in Indian Matrimonials—Jyotsna Vaid
    • 10. Consuming Lightness: Segmented Markets and Global Capital in the Skin-Whitening Trade—Evelyn Nakano Glenn
    • 11. Skin Lighteners in South Africa: Transnational Entanglements and Technologies of the Self—Lynn M. Thomas
  • Part IV Countering Colorism: Legal Approaches
    • 12. Multilayered Racism: Courts’ Continued Resistance to Colorism Claims—Taunya Lovell Banks
    • 13. The Case for Legal Recognition of Colorism Claims—Trina Jones
    • 14. Latinos at Work: When Color Discrimination Involves More Than Color—Tanya Katerí Hernandez
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index

Read the Introduction here.

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Comparative racisms: What anti-racists can learn from Latin America

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2011-03-31 21:30Z by Steven

Comparative racisms: What anti-racists can learn from Latin America

Volume 11, Number 1 (2011-03-31)
pages 32-58
DOI: 10.1177/1468796810388699

Jonathan Warren, Chair of the Center for Brazilian Studies; Associate Professor of International Studies
University of Washington

Christina A. Sue, Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of Colorado, Boulder

There has been extensive debate about the putative imperial dimensions of critical race studies in Latin America. The concern is that US racial discourses, identities and anti-racist strategies are being incorrectly applied to, if not forced upon, Latin America. Those who disagree with this position, including ourselves, argue that it is legitimate to take insights and understandings gleaned in the USA as tools for understanding and challenging racism in Latin America. However, we also believe that the exchange of ideas regarding effective anti-racist strategies should flow in both directions. Therefore, in this article we change the direction of the traditional dialogue by discussing ways in which research in Latin America can inform the theoretical foundation of antiracism in other countries, such as the USA. Specifically, we discuss the implications of current strategies of race mixing, minimization of racial consciousness, colorblindness, multiculturalism and racism literacy for current theories of anti-racism.

There has been extensive debate about the putative imperial dimensions of critical race studies in Latin America. The concern is that US racial discourses, identities and anti-racist strategies are being incorrectly applied to, if not forced upon, Latin America. Is it appropriate to refer to self-identified mixed-race Latin Americans as ‘black’ or ‘Indian’? Should the language of US anti-racism, which includes terms such as white supremacy and segregation, be used to describe the racial terrain in Latin America? Is the encouragement of black and indigenous movements in Latin America productive? Sociologists Pierre Bourdieu and Loïc Wacquant (1999) have argued that US perspectives on race represent merely another dimension of ‘cunning imperialist reason’. Latin America is being pressured to emulate not only US models of capitalism, modernity and democracy, but also its less-than-laudable politics of race.

Those who disagree with this position, including ourselves, argue that it is legitimate to take insights and understandings gleaned in the USA as tools for understanding and challenging racism in Latin America. Theoretical models, concepts and political tactics can be inappropriately applied to different contexts, but this certainly is not inevitable. In fact, ideas, directions, clues and insights generated in one region may prove useful in another part of the world, especially when applied with a learned sensitivity of the particularities of the place, both from which the lessons were generated and to which they are being applied. Just as it has proved beneficial to take theoretical and political insights generated in Europe to better understand and navigate capitalism and modernity elsewhere in the world, it is equally suitable to use knowledge garnered in US anti-racist endeavors to situations beyond its borders. Indeed, it seems arbitrary to suggest that intellectuals and activists can draw on the traditions of Weber and Kafka, but not on those of DuBois and Morrison. To dismiss exchanges based on these latter traditions as ‘brutal ethnocentric intrusions’ or the advancement of ‘racistoid perspectives’ (Bordieu and Wacquant, 1999) seems crude and reductive at best.

Largely overlooked in the heat of this debate have been the insights that Latin America may offer the ongoing struggle against racism in the USA and elsewhere. This article hopes to enliven this nascent discussion (see Sawyer, 2003; Telles, 2004; Wade, 2004), and perhaps, in the process, alleviate some of the feelings of US imperialism given the North–South direction of the didactic process in recent decades. In other words, rather than focusing on what the US experience can teach Latin America (the emphasis of much of the scholarship in the past few decades), we wish to elaborate on the lessons race and ethnic studies in Latin America may hold for anti-racists in the USA. Fortunately, many putative solutions to racism currently touted in the USA are not untested propositions. Although unbeknownst to many proponents of these anti-racist proposals, their ideas have circulated and have undergone empirical scrutiny for well over a century in other parts of the hemisphere.

Below, then, is a discussion of some of the key findings from the contemporary scholarship on race in Latin America. This overview is not meant to be a review of the increasingly vast literature on the topic; instead we seek to highlight those findings that are of particular relevance to ongoing policy and academic debates in the North Atlantic. To scholars of race in Latin America, this selected summary offers an original synopsis of literature on race and racism in the region. Our intended audience, however, is not foremost Latin Americanists but rather North Atlantic scholars and policymakers, who could benefit greatly from a better understanding of the Latin American experience with race…

Race mixing and mixed-race identities have not proven successful anti-racist strategies.

In the United States it is often implied, if not explicitly stated, that race mixing will disarm racism (AMEA, 1997–2006;2 Daniel, 2002; D’Souza, 1995; Gay, 1987; Fernández, 1996; Harris, 1964; Kalmijn, 1998; Nakashima, 1992; Patterson, 2000; Zack, 1993). Social pundit Dinesh D’Souza argues, in The End of Racism, that ‘the country is entering a new era in which old racial categories are rapidly becoming obsolete. The main reason for this is intermarriage’ (1995: 552). Writing in The New Republic, under the headline ‘Race Over’, the Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson asserts that the color line will not be an issue much longer since ‘migratory, sociological, and biotechnological developments’ are undermining race (2000: 6). Cultural and biological race mixing, coupled with new biotechnological methods to change hair texture and skin color, enabling African Americans to ‘enhance their individuality’ by ‘opting for varying degrees of hybridity’, will ultimately change the future of race (Patterson, 2000: 6). The outlook is clear to Patterson: ‘By the middle of the twenty-first century, America will have problems aplenty. But no racial problems whatsoever’ (2000: 6). By 2050, ‘the social virus of race will have gone the way of smallpox’ (2000: 6).

The ‘race mixers’’ basic thesis is that, if racial identities and the physical markers of these traditional categories are eroded, giving way to multiracial identities and a racial continuum, then racial discrimination will fade. It is promised that the racial hierarchy will evaporate if Americans emphasize their commonalities (rather than their differences) with their compatriots by embracing café-au-lait identities and attempting through miscegenation (or biotechnology), to produce greater numbers of mixed-race (or hybrid-looking) subjects. Reginald Daniel, for one, sees multiracial identities as enabling ‘whites and blacks and everyone in between to transcend their separate and hostile worlds… Such a transformation in thought and behavior would move the US closer to the ideal of a land of equal opportunity for all’ (2002: 194). Susanne Heine, a guest editor for Interracial Voice, also sees multiracial practices as a powerful tool for dismantling the racial hierarchy. ‘Intermarriage’, she asserts, will make:

‘Black America’ just one more of history’s footnotes… With each new wave of immigrants who cause new mixes to arise, ‘Black America’ and ‘White America’ will continue to fade into each other, atrophying and losing their steam, even as ‘America’, the one, the real and the only, that Destiny has as her ultimate design, begins taking shape. (2006: 3–4).

In sum, US advocates of race mixing clearly anticipate that such practices will lead to the disappearance of racism in society.

In Latin America, intellectuals, governments and ordinary citizens have long promoted mestizaje (race mixture) as the means for transcending race and producing national cohesion. For example, early 20th-century Mexican social scientists and policy makers vigorously advocated for race mixing in order to erode racial divisions, which they viewed as impeding national cohesion and development. As Alan Knight notes, the Reforma was concerned that Mexico had ‘failed to create a genuine, unitary nation—after the model of France, Germany or Japan, nations from which ‘‘there arises a solemn cry of shared blood, of shared flesh, that cry which is above all else, since it is the voice of life, the mysterious force which pulls material together and resists its disintegration’’’ (citing Manuel Gamio, Knight, 1990: 88). The need to build a unified nation thus rested on the creation of a mixed-race population…

…Despite the race-mixers’ predictions, both past and present, the official encouragement and popular embrace of mixed-race practices and identities have not ended race or racism in Latin America. To be sure, blackness and Indianness as habitable identities have been dramatically weakened; however, this café con leche reality has not led to the demise of race. As one Afro-Cuban doctor noted: ‘Race is a problem here. Race mixture only creates other categories and a means to whiten your children. But everyone knows that it is best to be white and worst to be black’ (Sawyer, 2006: 124). Similarly, in Venezuela, despite the pride of a café con leche mixed race identity, Venezuelans want to have as little café and as much leche as possible (Herrera Salas, 2007; Wright, 1990). In other words, far from diminishing racism, mixed-race identities have been claimed as a strategic measure to escape blackness and Indianness (Burdick, 1998a; Degler, 1971; Goldstein, 2003; Sue, 2010; Twine, 1998).

Furthermore, scholars of race in Latin America have argued that the region’s emphasis on race mixture has masked race-based inequalities and discrimination (Hasenbalg and Huntington, 1982; Twine, 1998), allowed prejudice to go unchecked (Robinson, 1999; Sagrera, 1974), and produced a feeling of relief among whites, exempting them from the responsibility of addressing racial inequities (Hasenbalg, 1996). Additionally, others believe it has inhibited demands for indigenous and black rights and access to resources (Mollett, 2006). To take one example, Charles Hale (1999) found that discourses of mestizaje and hybridity closed discussions of collective rights and racism just when these discussions were beginning to make a difference in Guatemala. Confirming Hale’s observations, Tilley noted that the budding Mayan movement has stimulated a more politically potent backlash anchored in the widely accepted belief that race mixing has eroded racial distinctions. That is, ‘collective Mayan protest was [portrayed as] nonsensical and specious, even racist [because] Indian and Spanish races had long ago been ‘forged’ into one’ (Tilley, 2005).

Unfortunately, then, the promotion of race mixture, as well as identification as mestizo and white by individuals of African and indigenous descent, have not delivered the blow to racism that many have predicted. Studies of Latin America show that race continues to be socially significant even though racial identifications and locations are smooth gradations rather than entrenched positions (Martinez Novo, 2006; Sawyer, 2006; Telles, 2004; Wade, 1993). Racial inequalities flourish despite the fact that race mixture and interracial marriage have been commonplace and officially encouraged for more than a century…

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Read a corrected proof here.

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Race Mixture: Boundary Crossing in Comparative Perspective

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Social Science, United Kingdom, United States on 2010-08-28 19:50Z by Steven

Race Mixture: Boundary Crossing in Comparative Perspective

Annual Review of Sociology
August 2009
Volume 35
pages 129-146
DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.34.040507.134657
First published online as a Review in Advance on 2009-04-02

Edward E. Telles, Professor of Sociology
Princeton University

Christina A. Sue, Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of Colorado, Boulder

In this article, we examine a large, interdisciplinary, and somewhat scattered literature, all of which falls under the umbrella term race mixture. We highlight important analytical distinctions that need to be taken into account when addressing the related, but separate, social phenomena of intermarriage, miscegenation, multiracial identity, multiracial social movements, and race-mixture ideologies. In doing so, we stress a social constructivist approach to race mixture with a focus on boundary crossing. Finally, we also demonstrate how ideologies and practices of race mixture play out quite differently in contexts outside of the United States, particularly in Latin America. Race-mixture ideologies and practices in Latin America have been used to maintain racial inequality in the region, thus challenging recent arguments by U.S. scholars that greater racial mixture leads to a decline in racism, discrimination, and inequality.


We define race mixture as intimate social interaction across racial boundaries, a phenomenon that has generally been analyzed under the rubric of intermarriage or miscegenation. A sociology of race mixture also involves the racial categorization, identity, politics, and social movements surrounding the progeny of race mixture, much of which falls under the subject of multiracialism. A more comprehensive analysis of race mixture also includes an examination of the national ideologies related to the idea of race mixture and the putative consequences that race mixture will destabilize and eventually erase racial boundaries. These topics are often studied as separate processes, but in this article we seek to bring some unity to an area in which these distinct areas of research overlap.

Sociologists often focus on intermarriage, which has been classically seen as indicating a final stage in the assimilation of racial and ethnic groups in that it presumably represents deep erosion of social boundaries (MM Gordon 1964, Lieberson & Waters 1988, Park 1950). Relatedly, multiracialism has become a rapidly growing topic and refers to the children of parents who self-identify in separate racial categories or to individuals who self-identify as multiracial. Some sociological attention has also been paid to miscegenation, which we define as illegitimate or informal sexual unions, although the term has often been used more broadly to include intermarriage as well. Historically, miscegenation involved highly unequal or even forced relationships; thus they were of a nearly opposite character to those involving intermarriage. Anti-miscegenation laws were able to prevent intermarriage in the United States for 300 years, but they generally were unsuccessful in preventing informal black-white sexual unions and the consequent births that followed (Davis 1991, Sollors 2000). Such unions would merely evade the strict racial boundaries of the United States but did little to challenge or erode them and therefore represent a very different social phenomenon than intermarriage.

Informal sexual unions, like intermarriages, produced so-called mixed-race individuals, who themselves have more recently become subjects of much sociological research. Analysts have examined different paths the progeny of these interracial unions have attempted to take or successfully taken; the paths range from willingly or unwillingly accepting placement in their socially assigned category, seeking a particular status without contesting the boundaries themselves, individually skirting the boundaries, or collectively redefining them (Daniel 2002, Nakashima 1992). Scholarly work has also been done on the placement of these mixed-race individuals in the social structure (Davis 1991, Degler 1971, Mörner 1967, Telles 2004).

Before proceeding, we would like to make an important note regarding terminology used in this paper. The term race mixture implies that one is combining two or more substances with distinct and generally fixed properties. In regard to race, this may seem to be especially essentialistic and biological. The very idea of race mixture or multiracialism is premised on the idea that discrete (or even pure) races exist (Goldberg 1997, Nobles 2002). On the other hand, the sociological study of race mixture refers to behaviors that involve crossing racial boundaries (Bost 2003). Our interpretation is socially constructivist and assumes that there is no biological or essentialist basis for race, but rather, race is a concept involving perceptions of reality. Race is of sociological importance because humans are categorized by race, hierarchized according to these categories, and treated accordingly. As a result, humans often create racial boundaries as a form of social closure and erect obstacles to interaction across these boundaries. At other times, they seek to diminish or otherwise change them.We are interested in how race mixture may construct or reconstruct racial boundaries. Although we recognize the conceptual problems implicit in the term race mixture, for lack of a better term and to be consistent with the literature, we continue to use it, along with related terms such as multiracialism. The concept of ethnicity is related to and sometimes overlaps with the concept of race, but the distinctions are often unclear, context-specific, and highly debatable (Cornell & Hartman 2006, Jenkins 1997, Wimmer 2008). Therefore, the extent to which our discussion is applicable to ethnic as well as race mixture would depend on how one distinguishes race from ethnicity…

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