Throughout history, racial concept in Latin American societies has been crucial in the
development of modern times. The study of race in Latin America majorly focuses on blacks
and their descendants who came to the region during slavery, the whites who colonized and
settled in the area, and the Indians an indigenous group that inhabited the region before European
conquest (Wade, 2017). Importantly, race in Latin America mainly focuses on the "mixture" of
biological and cultural blending amongst the three populations. During the colonial period, the
European colonists took African slaves to Latin America where the mixed unions resulted in
socially distinct persons.
Today, the study of race in Latin America has reached a 'post- revisionist' stage where
different researchers have documented social movements and interaction of state entities that
gives a sense of racial knowledge (Wade, 2017). In this paper, I examined the concept of race
and racial democracy in Latin America and its implication on the black community, as illustrated
by Wade (2017) in the article titled Racism and Race Mixture in Latin America Latin American.
Historical, Social and Cultural contexts of Race in Latin America
Generally, racism in Latin America took place when the Europeans dominantly took
control of the economic, social, and military status of the country (Telles, 2014). The white
supremacy led to the exploitation of black and indigenous people in an attempt to enforce
cultural practices like religion. However, the black communities struggled to resist the colonial
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injustices. They came up with numerous rebellions measures where they managed to escape to
From the early 19th Century, the castle relationship, a feature of the colonial period, was
eliminated, paving the way for the emergence of new states. With these events unfolding,
debates regarding profiles of people's citizenries, socioracial backgrounds, and people's future
emerged (Telles, 2014). The conversations and discussions about these matters took place at a
period race was being consolidated globally in Latin America. At the same time, slavery was
abolished, and Latin America witnessed an increase in the racial mixture. Moreover, the people
of black descent were attempting to position themselves politically among other non-Latin
citizens (Telles, 2014). As Latin America grappled with racial issues, it began reshaping its
heritage leading to the development of new ideologies that fostered rebuilding the future
In the late 20th Century, the new ideas and ideologies depicted Latin America as a nation
of 'racial democracy' and a place where racial discrimination was abolished (Layton & Smith,
2017). Even though the country claimed to have racial equality and equal opportunities to all its
citizens, a group of black politicians and public figures later proved that this was just rhetoric
and was never entirely based in reality (Graham, 2010). However, with the emergence of racial
mixture, there came the miscegenation concept, which only emphasized white supremacy.
Consequently, Afro- Latin Americans were left to thrive in circumstances that concentrated on
affirming black social mobility (Wade, 2017). Furthermore, the whites dominated the
subordinate groups like the blacks who remained disadvantaged in society.
Political and Economic context of race in Latin America
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The black community was not allowed to express their political views. As a result, the
black resistant movement focused on preserving culture, religion, and family issues (Da Costa,
2016). Attempts by blacks to be politically independent were met with objections, and the Cuban
war saw massacre of its people (Wade, 2017). This example shows the extent in which white
rulers responded to the call of racial equality. Later, the black resistance movement fought for
the formation of autonomous communities. Besides, the strengths of the blacks made them fight
for their freedom (Wade, 2017). In certain regions of Latin America, the black communities
chose political leaders whose work was to trade votes in order gain economic favors from the
whites who were the ruling class. Additionally, the black community found in economically
valuable regions selected a representative known as the ‘mulattos’ who haggled over their
employment terms and value of laborers
Economically, with an upsurge increase in Latin American exports, the elites pondered
why the Latin American countries were not experiencing economic stability (Da Costa, 2016).
The Economic life of blacks included subsistence farming, exploitation of natural resources,
engaging in activities such as trade, fishing, and hunting. The whites then concluded that with the
availability of industries and technology, the backwardness had to be brought about by the
cultural influences. (Da Costa, 2016). Africans, indigenous people and mixed generations lacked
the knowledge and skills necessary in local industrialization.
Racial inequality existed at the time, prompting forceful assimilation of 'barbarians' in
the dominant culture or removing the minority groups from society (Da Costa, 2016). Ultimately,
following emancipation, the transformation of Indians into mestizos and marginalizing African
communities constituted the trends of racial history. In turn, both groups were the engine behind
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the changes in the Latin American global economy, and the beginning of industrialization.
Mestization in Latin American countries such as Mexico, Central America, and Andean
republics relied on the availability of export products (Da Costa, 2016). This prompted the
Indians to leave their homes and indulge in trade and build the market economy. Coffee farming
was practiced in Central America while mining was done in Mexico.
Racial Democracy in Latin America
Following emancipation, states like the US enacted discriminatory laws against the
blacks, and from this emerged an institutionalized racist society. In contrast, Latin America did
not experience the same wave of racial discrimination towards people of black skin color (Wade,
2017). However, this did not mean that blacks in Latin America never suffered from social and
racial inequalities following liberation. Instead, countries like Brazil thought that racial prejudice
existed in the social hierarchy along certain lines such as wealth and social classes of people as
opposed to one's skin color or decent (Layton & Smith, 2017). In Latin American countries like
Brazil, the essential factor when determining a citizen's privileges was wealth and class, as
opposed to the race of an individual (Wade, 2017). Even though race played a dominant role in a
person's national identity, the impact of wealth remains essential to inclusion in society.
The myth of racial democracy in Latin American countries like Brazil propagates that
racial discrimination and inequality are not as prevalent in Latin American countries as other
states of the world (Wade, 2017). Besides, black people are said to have experienced little or no
racial oppression. In everyday practice, the concept of race in Latin America plays a vital role in
identifying racial categories such as "blacks', 'whites, Indians and the mestizo groups. For
instance, in a country like Brazil, these issues of racial democracy play out in everyday life.
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Despite of the indeterminacy of black people’s identity, a lot of racial inequality exists, and this i
further aggravates continued discrimination of black people (Wade, 2017). In Latin American
countries like Colombia, Peru, and Guatemala, there is evidence that the racial mixture has led to
coexistence, although notions on white supremacy dominate while blackness and indigenousness
Towards the end of the twentieth Century, many Latin American nations started
redefining their identities as they distanced themselves from the ideas of 'blanqueamiento’
(Layton & Smith, 2017). The Latin American countries shifted focus on the celebration of
cultural diversity and ethnicity. This move was meant to counter the racial injustice towards the
indigenous people and the black political activism movement advocated for resistance of racial
discrimination. Significantly the term race cannot be found in a new discourse, yet it occurs in
the same categories of black, white, or Indian (Layton & Smith, 2017). In addition, the
developments on racial identities of black and indigenous people are reaffirmed in the public
realm. For instance, in determining particular matters of land, the topic of ethnicity arises.
Although land was reserved for the indigenous people in several parts of Latin America, the
black communities were disadvantaged, and it's only in Colombia where there was the possibility
of black people applying for land reserve emerged.
Clearly, from the developments on racial issues, the impact is not well defined. Despite
people's attitudes and perceptions of the race over a long period, the topic of the mixture remains
crucial as part of Latin American identities (Layton & Smith, 2017). Initially, these concepts of
the race were not meant to ignore the presence of black descent and indigenous peoples like the
Indians. Instead, this move helped in marginalizing the minority groups to the point of
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invisibility. Wade argues that emphasis on multiculturalism increased the visibility of these
minority groups. However, the rhetorical question of whether such developments can aid in
reducing economic, political and social marginality of subordinated groups still remains
unanswered (Layton & Smith, 2017). A research conducted in Brazil on Miscegenation, where
the author examines intermarriages brought about by mixing races, Wade asserts that the
moment the color line broke down, racial stratification began to take shape in Brazil due to
assimilation and acculturation of different community groups like in Brazil (Layton & Smith,
2017). While other colonies minimized racial intermarriages, Latin American countries
embraced miscegenation and sought to absorb ethnicity.
According to WADE, in discrediting claims on racial democracy by other scholars, he argued
that in Latin America, the biological definition of Negro has never developed (Layton & Smith,
2017). However, a special place referred to as the 'mulatto' was reserved for people of mixed
blood. The mulatto opened the doors for broader possibilities of social mobility. In Brazil, the
mulatto belonged to a different racial group; therefore, it became a multiracial country (Layton &
Smith, 2017). Currently, there exist disparities in education, standards of living, and sources of
income among afro- Brazilians. Racially wealth is unequally distributed in Latin America. This
is as a result of racial inequality between the rich and the poor (Layton & Smith, 2017).
Statistically, the white Brazilians are better off than other indigenous groups and black
communities in terms of living conditions, education systems, wealth, and health care. Afro
Brazilians are the most impoverished group and under-educated in Latin American society
compared to the whites (Layton & Smith, 2017). In 1980, Latin Americans came up with policies
to curb the great divide between the elite and the poor in society. This move was aimed at
addressing the racial issues of inequality among the Afro -Brazilian population.
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Wade further states that lack of political activist movement led to racial oppression of
black people and aggravated racial injustices. The presence of activist movements was not firmly
felt in Latin American countries due to reluctant and government sanctions towards
discrimination (Layton & Smith, 2017). Because black political activism was short-lived, it
failed to address the drastic racial problems of the black people. Essentially, the idea of racial
democracy only favored the status quo of afro Latinos in the lowest class, thus resulting in
rampant racism. Recent research shows that there were no laws that could suppress black
oppression. However, the government enacted policies to control the freed black population
(Wade, 2017). The Latin American states concentrated on whitening its population after slavery
and encouraged European immigration.
Studying race and racial democracies in Latin America has brought a lot of controversies.
Scholars and researchers argue that while institutions may not necessarily have racial
discrimination in Latin America, this does not stop racial prejudice. Today, research shows that
there is evidence of reducing inequalities and racial discrimination towards black communities in
Latin America. Currently, racial stratification is widespread though it manifests in different
ways. Despite the racial democracies concept that is predominant in Latin American countries,
racial prejudice and discrimination can still be reaffirmed.
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Wade, P. (2017). Racism and Race Mixture in Latin America. Latin American Research Review,
Telles, E. (2014). Pigmentocracies: Ethnicity, race, and color in Latin America. UNC Press
Graham, R. (Ed.). (2010). The idea of race in Latin America, 1870-1940. University of Texas
Layton, M. L., & Smith, A. E. (2017). Is it race, class, or gender? the sources of perceived
discrimination in Brazil. Latin American Politics and Society, 59(1), 52-73.
Da Costa, A. E. (2016). The (un) happy objects of affective community: mixture, conviviality
and racial democracy in Brazil. Cultural studies, 30(1), 24-46.