Pigmentocracies: Ethnicity, Race, and Color in Latin America

Pigmentocracies: Ethnicity, Race, and Color in Latin America

Pigmentocracies: Ethnicity, Race, and Color in Latin America

Pigmentocracies: Ethnicity, Race, and Color in Latin America

Synopsis

Pigmentocracies--the fruit of the multiyear Project on Ethnicity and Race in Latin America (PERLA)--is a richly revealing analysis of contemporary attitudes toward ethnicity and race in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, four of Latin America's most populous nations. Based on extensive, original sociological and anthropological data generated by PERLA, this landmark study analyzes ethnoracial classification, inequality, and discrimination, as well as public opinion about Afro-descended and indigenous social movements and policies that foster greater social inclusiveness, all set within an ethnoracial history of each country. A once-in-a-generation examination of contemporary ethnicity, this book promises to contribute in significant ways to policymaking and public opinion in Latin America.

Edward Telles, PERLA's principal investigator, explains that profound historical and political forces, including multiculturalism, have helped to shape the formation of ethnic identities and the nature of social relations within and across nations. One of Pigmentocracies’s many important conclusions is that unequal social and economic status is at least as much a function of skin color as of ethnoracial identification. Investigators also found high rates of discrimination by color and ethnicity widely reported by both targets and witnesses. Still, substantial support across countries was found for multicultural-affirmative policies--a notable result given that in much of modern Latin America race and ethnicity have been downplayed or ignored as key factors despite their importance for earlier nation-building.

Excerpt

Social distinctions and ethnic hierarchies based on phenotype, ancestry, and language have been prominent features of social life throughout the Western Hemisphere for more than five hundred years. Since 1492, Europeans’ incursions into the Americas brought them into contact with the native peoples of the continent, whom they would soon decimate through war and disease or would enslave or subject to various forms of servitude and harsh labor systems. Facing the growing labor demand in these rapidly expanding economies, the decimation of indigenous labor from disease and war, and prohibitions against enslaving indigenous peoples, the Spanish and Portuguese would enslave and forcibly transport millions of Africans to the Americas for nearly four hundred years, up to the nineteenth century. Fully fifteen times as many Africans— eleven times in Brazil only—were brought to Latin America compared to those shipped to the United States.

The region’s ethnoracial complexity increased further through the extensive mixture of Indians, Africans, and Europeans and a racial hierarchy, with Europeans at the top and blacks and indigenous peoples at the bottom. Race mixture and large nonwhite populations would become a central concern in the nineteenth century with the new independence of these republics when elites became concerned that these factors would doom national development and thus they sought ways to whiten their population. By the mid-twentieth century, as race science was becoming discredited and openly racist societies . . .

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