Race and Latin America: The Denial of African Heritage

This is a callout thread for groups who claim to be mixed, if they’re not (Filipinos, Dominicans, Mexicans) and mixed groups (Brazilians, Puerto Ricans, Arabs, etc) who claim to to be white, when they’re indeed mixed.

The “white” populations of Latin America are not so “white-European” as they claim or desire to be. The self-classification of Latin Americans as white is indicative of a larger, underlying problem that rarely gets mentioned: self-hatred; the impact of white colonialism on the psyche of colonized non-white peoples. It’s true that race-issues in Latin-America have historically been non-politicized, in comparison to North America (U.S.A.). However, this does not mean that race had little effect on the lives and mentality of Latin-Americans. In the U.S. racial politics resulted in increased pride for non-white peoples (blacks, Native Americans), but in Latin America, the lax attitude toward race resulted in internalized self-denial/hatred.

Both Latin America and the U.S. emphasize the message that whiteness is good and blackness is bad; however, in the U.S., there has been effort, made mostly by black activists, to challenge this longstanding motif. But, in Latin-America, no such challenge exists, and if it does, it’s recent and under the radar, so as to render it virtually insignificant. The consequence of this are groups like Dominicans, who are estimated to be 80-90% black (of African descent), but who insist they are brown, or non-black. For Dominicans, to be black is to be Haitian, and that translates to poor, immigrant and ugly.

The stigma associated with being black is not expressed vocally in Latin America, but it’s not subtle either. It manifests itself in racial [SELF] classifications in which the African ancestry of Latin American peoples is denied, downplayed or compromised through labels such as Mulatto, Mestizo, mixed or one of the various terms used to classify people based on skin pigmentation, hair texture and facial features. It’s no surprise that the self-classification in countries like the Dominica Republic and Brazil has resulted in a boost to the white (European) and Mixed race populations, but a decrease in the black populations of those countries.

Despite the fact that genetic studies on Puerto Ricans (see below) and Dominicans suggest they are mixed populations, genetically speaking, or *black* populations, socially speaking, eighty percent of Puerto Ricans [SELF] classify as white. Brazilians, like Puerto Ricans, also classify themselves as overwhelmingly white (53%). However, closer [genetic] inspection of these “white” Puerto Ricans and Brazilians suggest they’re predominantly mixed, having mostly African, Amerindian and European ancestry. With the exception of the German Brazilian model Gisele Bundchen, most famous [white] Brazilians look like Adriana Lima, Fernanda Tavares, Morena Baccarin and Sonia Braga(all of whom are mixed).

Moreover, it should be noted that these mixed race populations, often residing in colonized countries, get their [European] ancestry mostly from Spanish, Italian and Portuguese peoples. People from the Iberian Peninsula or Southern Europe are not the epitome of whiteness. The histories of Spain, Portugal and Italy are heavily influenced by Moors, Arabs, Africans and other ethnically ambiguous/mixed peoples from the south. The Spanish language and culture is estimated to have roughly 10 percent Arabic, Moorish influence. Dances like the Tango and Salsa are African art forms, not European. Further complications arise when labels like Caucasoid is used, since it encompasses the historically mixed race populations of the West Asia (Middle East) and North Africa, which has created diasporas in Latin America, North America and the Caribbean. These people may identify themselves as whites, also. This contributes not only to the darkening of “white” populations in Latin America, but also to the genetic admixtures found in “white” Latin-Americans.

Whiteness in Latin America isn’t rigidly enforced as it once was in the U.S.A., where, surprisingly, the white label is broader these days than it is in Europe, being inclusive of the aforementioned mixed populations of West Asia, North Africa and parts of [Northern] India. Because of the lax nature of labeling and race-issues in Latin America, many peoples, Latin Americans, North Africans and West Asians, have decided to take advantage of the benefits that come with whiteness–the so-called white privilege. But, denying or playing ignorant about their full heritage is not acceptable. Everytime I hear a Puerto Rican or Dominican with visible African or indigenous features tell me how “white” they are, I shudder, and I will continue to do so.


The African Caribbean and African American individuals were of primarily West African ancestry (87.9 1.1% and 78.7 1.2%, respectively). The second main component of ancestry in these populations was European, which was relatively smaller in African Caribbean than in African American individuals (10.2 1.4% versus 18.6 1.5%). The average Indigenous American contribution was substantially smaller in these two populations (1.9 1.3% and 2.7 1.4%, respectively). The Mexican population was characterized by a large proportion of Indigenous American ancestry (94.5 1.0%), with small proportions of European (4.2 0.9%) and West African (1.3 0.4%) ancestry. The Puerto Rico individuals were of primarily European ancestry (53.3 2.8%) but also had relatively large proportions of West African (29.1 2.3%) and Indigenous American (17.6 2.4%) ancestry. The Hispanic individuals had both European (62.7 2.1%) and Indigenous American ancestry (34.1 1.5%), with a relatively small proportion of West African ancestry (3.21.5%).

Read more of the study here.


About TCDH

Blogger with an opinion.
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