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Race: the Cultural and Political Power of an Illusion in Latin America

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Race: The Cultural and Political Power of an Illusion in Latin America

Race has been the most arguable and controversial subject in Latin American history. Since 16th century it has created a great deal of prejudice among Latin American people, it has been referred, as biological characteristics later modified to a social statue such are education, wealth and language. It has been under a heavy influence of cultural and political power where people were classified from their biological characteristics to their wealth. Through the time race has become the main tool for state creation and regulation. Race has become a status, which has structured and organized the nation but the term “race” has never itself been stable. In today’s Latin America modern theory of “race” has meaning of a political power, status and regulation, it’s a states way of monitoring and controlling of the heterogeneous nation. Race gradually has become a political cultural and economic power for Latin American state.
In this paper I will argue about the idea that race in Latin America gradually has became just an illusion, a tool by which people were controlled structured and manipulated. Various articles will be presented to support and illustrate the transformation of the word “race “ and its cultural and political influence on Latin America. I will talk about the colonial to republic period idea of “race “ In Latin America and how the meaning of the word was manipulated. I will discuss the colonial period of religion and its influence on “race” then I will talk about the science and a social impact on meaning of “race” and lastly I will talk about the political and economical influence on “race”.
The term race in the literature was introduced by a French phrenologist Georges Cuvier , he established the idea of inherited physical traits that are characteristics of the various human groups.(Shwarte 1995, 49) This idea of race was a controversial between sixteenth-century chroniclers and nineteen century naturalists and in late nineteenth century racial discourse emerged as a theme of citizenship. However In the twentieth century, with the different views on the definition of “race” among the scholars, UNESCO organization was the first to describe “race” to ease the ideas and conflicts after the Holocaust. UNESCO declared that race was a social myth rather then a biological fact (Brattain 2007, 1387). However the statement became very controversial among the anthropologists and scholars. They challenged the idea that one can’t just ignore the differences in between people’s ability and that race is a meaningless term created only for false “superficial traits” (Brattain 2007,1398). The idea of no existence of race has been called an “Equalitarian Dogma” arguing that South Africa had being having “race problem” for 300 years and they can’t just pretend that it hasn’t meant anything. In the article “unfixing race” Kathryn Burn describes the past of race, the negative association with the word. The prehestorical examples of racism involve a religion, seventeenth century Peru considered a Jews as “bad whites”. The Old Spanish institutions were trying to fix the cleanliness of people’s bloodlines. The illusion created by the ones in power was clear and strong as more people tried to convert under the fear of strict punishments. The unwanted “race” was targeted by the political power and also influenced by the culture of that period of time. In late sixteenth century the idea of the Spanish royalty to create “two republic” model was another attempt of the “race” destruction. The idea of physical segregation of Indians from non-Indians and force relocation didn’t turned out a success, indigenous African women, brought as slaves eventually had become wives for some of the Europeans and children of theirs have created a new race of people. They were immediately labeled as a new inferior race, a race which didn’t feet in either republic; “They gave Spanish authorities a linguistic handle on those who fit neither of the two republics- and who seemed, to their dismay, to threaten both with their disorderly conduct. These were Spaniards’ impure New World others”, quotes Burns. Another generation, which was, also under the heavy negative cultural influence was so called creoles, translating as “black born in the Indies”; the new prejudice among the culture was created which was emphasizing their birthplace. According the article race had to do with honor and quality. These people had no chance of self-identifications; they were already assigned and evaluated as inferiors, a strong illusion that governed rest of their lives.
In early 20th century the Latin America was introduced a new term “eugenics” according the article Eugenics in Latin America: Its Origin and Institutional Ecology eugenics has associated with patriotism and the call for a larger role for Latin America in the world affairs. The World War I was one of the factor of the creation of this ideology and others much important and within the nation was “ underdevelopment”, the collapse of slavery, abolition of the monarchy and the great number of Europeans migration left 20th century Brazil with a highly stratified society“. Socially and really- a society that, through formally a liberal republic, was governed informally by a small, largely white elite and in which less than 2 percent of the population voted in national elections”. Says the author. A majority of the society was black and mulatos incapable to read or write. These were heavily criticized in public consciousness as a national issue called a “social question”(Stepan 1991, 37). This group of people was the biggest issue in the country; they were the group that most agitated physicians, sanitation experts, and reformers of Brazil. The cultural and political power was portraying blacks and mulatos as a bottom of the hierarchy society. “Poor were poor because they were unhygienic, dirty, ignorant, and hereditary unfit”- the author says. As the urban population was growing and the standards of life was raising the eugenics in poor brazil areas was getting worse, the people of minority were oppressed, the cultural and a political illusion was that they were destined to this. The development and growth of the science, institutes, medical and law school also opened to the new theories, Darwinists theorists truly believed in the inferiority of the black people, the message was the same from the united states that they couldn’t produce high civilization. These theories had a great impact on people’s ideology and perception of blacks and mulatos in society. Later in 1930th eugenics was contradict successfully by the modern genetic discoveries and discredited for the political reasons but the struggle for the rights and recognition was still a main issue throughout the century.
Another example of the cultural and political influence on race was the European work force immigration in South America. State department of agriculture federal constitution of 1981 had transformed San Paulo prom the province into the state, the idea was to bring enough workers from the Europe so there will not be a shortage in plantation workers. 1887 the massive European immigration started and in 1888 the number of emigrants from Europe were equaled to the number of slaves freed in the year, the number was roughly around ninety-two thousand people. The goal behind the immigration was “ to flood the labor market with workers, thus keeping the coast of labor low”(Andrews 494). San Paulo labor market invested all the funds in European workers, leaving Brazilian population inferior and out of chance to compete with them. “The province planter’s and the state apparatus which they controlled, had made their ethnic and racial preferences in workers crystal clear” states George Andrews in his article. This was an example of international currents of scientifically racism and a social Darwinism. The theory behind this was that blacks and other Brazilian racial mixes were lazy and irresponsible (Andrews 1995, 495). The argument in defense of the immigration was that by doing so they were preparing and making the black race stronger and ready for the challenges, “the right man in the right place, as Americans say and that man clearly was not going to be a black” says Andrew. The segregation of the Brazilian freed population was indeed a fact; the labor market competition was won by the white European immigration, which caused the population to flight from the plantation leaving the job to the white immigrants. However during the labor movement Brazilians were one again criticized to be week to fight for their rights and being no help to immigrant workers to help and improve their qualities of work conditions. In year 1903, article O Amigo De Povo expressed despair of the idea of ever organizing the “Brazilian Povo”; he blamed this to the fact of Brazilians ignorance, sunk in poverty and lethargy. “To make the revolution, will require wills and characters that are stronger, physically and morally, than those possessed by the Brazilians, who are the product of a debilitated nation”(Andrews 500). This period in San Paulo was a clear example of economic and cultural segregation between the two race and the “winners” were white immigrants while blacks represented the “losers”(Andrews 1995, 523). After only forty years of the segregation of labor market, the government policy turned the preferences back to the Brazilian workers and the reason was because of white immigrants demands and employment rates got much higher, but it was not easy for Brazilian workers to quickly adjust and go back to the role where they would feel equal to the society. After being deprived of work force and the income for years it would take much more time and effort for the population to adjust and find themselves.
The history of the race inequality and manipulation in order to obtain power was very common practice in Latin America. From nineteenth century to twentieth century the meaning of race has gone from a biological characteristics to cultural, linguistic, physiological and moral characteristics. The concept of race has been quite rich and in every case it has had a significant influence on the creation and development of Latin American society, it was a great tool for the ones in power to regulate and people and separate them in social casts.

Work Cited
Brattain, Michelle. "Race, Racism and Antiracism: UNESCO and the Politics of Presenting Science to the Postwar," American Historical Review, Vol. 112, No. 5 (2007), p. 1386-1413.

Schwartz, Stuart, "Colonial Identities and the Sociedad de Castas," Colonial Latin American Review, Vol. 4, No.1, (1995), p. 185 – 201.

Andrews, George, "Black and White Workers: Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1888-1928," The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 68, No. 3, (1995), p. 491-524.

Stepan, Nancy, The Hour of Eugenics: Race, Gender, and Nation in Latin America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 214 p.

Schwarcz, Lilia Moritz, The Spectacle of the Races: Scientists, Institutions, and the Race Question in Brazil, 1870-1930 (New York: Hill & Wang, 1999,) 358 p.

Burns, Kathryn, "Unfixing Race," in Rereading the Black Legend: The Discourses of Religious and Racial Difference in the Renaissance Empires, eds. Margaret R. Greer, Walter D. Mignolo, and Maureen Quilligan (University of Chicago, 2007), p. 188-202.

Schwartz, Stuart, "Colonial Identities and the Sociedad de Castas," Colonial Latin American Review, Vol. 4, No.1, (1995), p. 185 – 201

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