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Afro-Latino-América: Black and Afro-descendant rights and struggles

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Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Latin American Development
EditorsJulie Cupples, Marcela Palomino-Schalscha, Manuel Prieto
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherRoutledge
Chapter20
Pages236-251
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781315162935
ISBN (Print)9781138060739
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Abstract

The European Conquest of what we now refer to as Latin America resulted in the mixing of three distinct continental worlds – the European, the (native) American, and the African – that themselves were composed of many different cultures, languages, spiritualities, and cosmovisions. While all three are central and foundational to historical and contemporary Latin American identities, cultural practices, and development trajectories, it is African heritages that occupy the most difficult and least prominent place. Indeed, dominant ideologies of racial mixing, mestizaje or mestiçagem, that circulate in much of the region are exclusionary, as they tend to euphemistically understand colonization processes as an encounter between “two worlds,” the native American and the European, thus erasing and denying African and Afro-descendant elements. For example, José Vasconcelos’ theorization of cultural hybridity through the notion of la raza cósmica acknowledges black presence in Mexico but does so according to an indigenist paradigm which obeys a eugenicist logic of Afro erasure (see Manrique, 2016). The reasons for this state of affairs are complex but are rooted in slavery and the forms of racial classification and hierarchy that were created in the 15th and 16th centuries by Spain and Portugal, and reworked by Northern Europeans in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries in order to legitimize colonialism and its multiple atrocities. Exoticizing and degrading representations of Africans as lazy, primitive, ugly, hypersexual, and prone to criminality and drug addiction received intellectual justification from all kinds of racist and Eurocentric thought, including social Darwinism and scientific racism. In particular, in the building of nationhood after independence, Latin American elites who were mostly of European descent saw their indigenous and Afro-descendant populations as obstacles to progress and looked instead to Europe for ideas, implementing policies of whitening (blanqueamiento/branqueamento) which encouraged European immigration. These policies were based on the racist notion that the whiter the skin colour of the nation’s inhabitants, the more civilized, prosperous, and stable it would be. 2 Instead of acknowledging cultural difference and the contributions made by Afro-descendants to national development, they worked to create monolithic and monocultural states in which Africanicity would be denied, people of African descent would be assimilated, the population would become lighter-skinned over time, and Eurocentric institutions and forms of governance would be imposed. For example, Argentina developed a homogenizing national identity which invisibilized the black population and their contributions, despite the very prominent role of Afro-descendants in the country’s flagship music and dance genre, tango.

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