Parsing Race and Blackness in Mexico

Parsing Race and Blackness in Mexico

Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews
Volume 43, Number 6 (November 2014)
pages 816-820
DOI: 10.1177/0094306114553216a

Enid Logan, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of Minnesota

Land of the Cosmic Race: Race Mixture, Racism, and Blackness in Mexico, by Christina A. Sue  Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013. 234pp. $24.95 paper. ISBN: 9780199925506.

In Land of the Cosmic Race, Christina Sue offers an ambitious, data-rich ethnography set in the “blackest” area of Mexico: the port city of Veracruz. She asks how the local population understands and negotiates racial and national identity, and in particular, how they make sense of the tricky issue of blackness in Mexico. Sue is one of a comparatively small number of sociologists who study race relations in Latin America, as most scholarship in this area has come from the fields of anthropology and history. Though the study is grounded in Veracruz, Sue’s larger intent is to analyze racial dynamics in contemporary Mexico writ large.

Sue “centralizes the racial common sense” of Mexican mestizos, a population that she estimates to comprise up to 90 percent of the total (p. 6). Mestizo is a broad category including anyone of “mixed-race” ancestry: Spanish, indigenous, or African. And in large part because Mexico defines itself as a mestizo nation, almost everyone in Mexico identifies as mestizo as well. Within the broad racial category of mestizo, Sue states, there are crucial distinctions of color, which are too often ignored. She sets out to analyze these distinctions in her study.

She writes that Mexican mestizos negotiate the dynamics of race and color in “an ideological terrain littered with contradiction” (p. 18). While elite ideology asserts that racism in Mexico is non-existent, implies that there are no blacks in Mexico, and is officially celebratory of race-mixing (or mestizaje), the lived experiences of most Mexicans, Sue claims, are “replete” with contradictory attitudes and events (p. 5). Sue uncovers in her research a general distaste for intercolor relationships from the point of view of those whose racial capital they would degrade, a clear aesthetic preference for whiteness, and a wealth of strongly-held negative beliefs about blacks and…

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