The lessons of slavery: Discourses of slavery, mestizaje, and blanqueamiento in an elementary school in Puerto Rico

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Slavery, Teaching Resources, United States on 2012-05-01 03:01Z by Steven

The lessons of slavery: Discourses of slavery, mestizaje, and blanqueamiento in an elementary school in Puerto Rico

American Ethnologist
Volume 35 Number 1 (February 2008)
pages 115-135
DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1425.2008.00009.x

Isar P. Godreau
Institute of Interdisciplinary Research
University of Puerto Rico, Cayey

Mariolga Reyes Cruz
Institute of Interdisciplinary Research
University of Puerto Rico, Cayey

Mariluz Franco-Ortiz
University of Puerto Rico, RĂ­o Piedras

Sherry Cuadrado
Institute of Interdisciplinary Research
University of Puerto Rico, Cayey

On the basis of ethnographic research conducted in an elementary public school in Puerto Rico, we maintain in this article that subduing and narrowing the history of slavery is instrumental in the reproduction of national ideologies of mestizaje in Afro-Latin America. We explore how school texts and practices silence, trivialize, and simplify the history of slavery and conclude that these maneuvers distance blackness from Puerto Rican identity and silence racism while upholding racial democracy and blanqueamiento as a social value.

Shortly after 2:00 p.m. on an average school day, one of us (Isar) walked into the small air-conditioned social worker’s office at the Luisa Rodrıíguez Elementary School in Cayey, Puerto Rico. A young, uniform-clad teenage girl sat at the desk, talking in flirtatious tones on the school’s phone. Isar greeted the social worker as she stood next to her commandeered desk, and they began to discuss an upcoming conference about the history of slavery in Cayey. “There were slaves in Cayey?” the social worker asked, “Really!?” Before Isar could answer, she heard the young girl telling her phone interlocutor in a high-pitched voice: “I am not prieta!” (prieta is a popular synonym for black) “I am not prieta!” The social worker turned to Isar and said, “You see? That is related to what you study.” The girl looked up to ask what theywere talking about. Isar explained she was conducting a study about racism in schools. “I am not racist,” she said, “but this guy is calling me prieta and I am not prieta!”

These two events—a young girl’s rejection of a black identity and a school official’s unawareness of the history of slavery in her community—might seem apparently unrelated. However, this article maintains that the silencing of slavery and the distancing of individuals from blackness are, in fact, key interdependent manifestations of the ideology of race mixture (mestizaje) in Afro-Latin America.

Researchers of national ideologies of mestizaje in Latin America and the Caribbean have underscored how notions of race mixture operate within very specific structures of power that often exclude blacks, deny racism, and invalidate demands for social justice against discrimination (cf. Burdick 1992; Hale 1999; Helg 1995; Price 1999; Whitten and Torres 1998; Wright 1990). Scholars have pointed out, for example, that the celebration of racial mixture through an ideology of mestizaje serves to distance Afro-Latinos from blackness through the process of blanqueamiento, or “whitening.” They have also highlighted the ways in which the idea of mestizaje is mobilized as evidence for national ideologies of racial democracy that claim that because the majority of the population is mixed, “race” and racism are almost nonexistent in these societies (cf. Betances 1972; Hanchard 1994; Sawyer 2006; Telles 2004; Wade 1997). This article contributes to this literature by arguing that one important, albeit underexplored, area of inquiry for understanding the social reproduction of such national ideologies in Afro-Latin America is the “containment” or “taming” of the history of slavery. Specifically,we maintain that national ideologies of mestizaje in Latin America, and particularly in the Hispanic Caribbean, are sustained by dominant politics of public representation that silence, trivialize, and simplify the history of slavery and its contemporary effects.

Slavery is a thorny, problematic topic for nation building projects. Although ideas of slavery, “race,” modernity, colonialism, capitalism, and nationalism are historically and conceptually bound (see Anibal Quijano in Santiago-Valles  2003:218), Western narratives about the past produce their legitimacy precisely by silencing those connections (Trouillot 1995). National discourses of mestizaje in Afro-LatinAmerica are no exception. Thus,we argue that one important mechanism through which discourses of mestizaje deny legitimacy to experiences of racism and to the affirmation of black identities is by silencing the historical connections between slavery and contemporary racial disparities.

Depending on how the history of this period is told, slavery can destabilize nationalist representations that celebrate mixture and the so-called whitening of the nation from various standpoints. To evoke slavery is to recognize that one racial segment of the population used “race” to exploit and dehumanize another sector of the population for more than 300 years in the Americas. Racial mixture did take place during this time, but mostly through violent means, such as rape, which provide little motive for celebrating mestizaje. Furthermore, the history—not just of men and women in bondage but also of the large and vibrant communities that were formed by free people of color during the slave period—challenges nationalist renditions of history that belittle the impact of African heritage in Puerto Rico and elsewhere. Finally, an awareness of the socioeconomic legacies of the system of slavery on contemporary society can serve to challenge “colorblind” arguments that characterize black people’s failures in the socioeconomic order as the result of a lack of individual achievement, and not as the product of historical–structural inequalities.Understanding the history of slavery, its long-termeconomic and ideological repercussions repercussions, elucidates the roots of contemporary racial inequalities and related racial identities. Addressing the ideological effects of slavery can thus challenge nationalist premises of celebrated mixture, desired blanqueamiento, and declared colorblindness by bringing to the fore the tensions, cracks, and dissonances of nations that are not as harmonious, whitened, or democratic as discourses of mestizaje would suggest…

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Blacks, Black Indians, Afromexicans: the Dynamics of Race, Nation, and Identity in a Mexican Moreno Community (Guerrero)

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Mexico, Native Americans/First Nation on 2012-03-19 16:57Z by Steven

Blacks, Black Indians, Afromexicans: the Dynamics of Race, Nation, and Identity in a Mexican Moreno Community (Guerrero)

American Ethnologist
Volume 27, Issue 4, November 2000
pages 898–626
DOI: 10.1525/ae.2000.27.4.898

Laura A. Lewis, Professor of Anthropology
James Madison University

In this article, I explore identity formation in Mexico from the perspective of residents of San Nicolás Tolentino, a village located on the Costa Chica, a historically black region of the southern Pacific Coast of Guerrero. Outsiders characterize San Nicolás’s residents as black, but in Mexico, national ideologies, anthropologies, and histories have traditionally worked to exclude or ignore blackness. Instead, the Spanish and Indian mestizo has been constituted as the quintessential Mexican, even as the Mexican past is tied to a romanticized and ideologically powerful Indian foundation. Ethnographic evidence suggests that San Nicolás’s “black” residents in fact see themselves as morenos, a term that signifies their common descent with Indians, whom they consider to be central to Mexicanness. As morenos interweave their identities, experiences, and descent with Indians, they also anchor themselves through Indians to the nation. These identity issues are complicated by the recent introduction to the coast of Africanness in the context of new national and scholarly projects reformulating the components of a new Mexican multicultural identity. In part, local morenos see Africanness as an outside imposition that conflicts with their sense of themselves as Mexican while it reinforces their political and economic marginality.

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , , , , ,