The Black Experience in Modern Latin America

Ben Vinson and Greg Graves

in Latin American Studies

ISBN: 9780199766581
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:
The Black Experience in Modern Latin America

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  • Regional and Area Studies
  • History of the Americas


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The concept of race has been profoundly important to the development of Latin American societies in modern times. From the early to mid-19th century, the caste relationships that had been a feature of the colonial period were reworked (and in many cases eliminated) as new states emerged. While this process unfolded, new conversations were generated regarding the profiles of various national citizenries, their socioracial background, and their future. Much of the public debate and discussion on these matters took place as ideas about race were being consolidated globally and as pseudoscience began to influence state decisions about social policy. At the same time, throughout Latin America slavery was being abolished, racial mixture was increasing, and peoples of African descent were attempting to locate themselves politically among other newfound citizens. As Latin America grappled with these phenomena, it began reconceiving of itself and its heritage, ultimately leading to the development of ideologies embracing miscegenation and heralding of racial mixture as the bridge to a bold new future for the hemisphere. These ideas (especially in the early 20th century) depicted Latin America as the home of “racial democracy,” where racism and discrimination were muted (if not altogether absent) and where all races had fair and equal opportunities to advance. A string of black politicians and public figures proved that this rhetoric was at least partly based in reality. However, with the celebration of racial mixture came an unfortunate correlate: miscegenation emphasized “whitening” as a goal. Hence, Afro-Latin America was placed in the unique position of being able to thrive in circumstances that affirmed black social mobility, while at the same time constraining and disdaining blackness in favor of upholding an idealized, white somatic type. Many of the titles presented in this bibliography offer perspectives into these circumstances. An insightful set of texts examine black cultural and religious institutions. Equally important are studies of black political struggles. Nearly all the books touch upon Afro-Latin American accomplishments and contributions. To a lesser extent, the literature explores transnational and diasporic connections blacks have made. Work on Haiti is notably absent from this bibliography, given its interstitial position as a nation falling slightly outside the orbit of the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world. But its central importance to blackness in the hemisphere merits special, individual treatment in a separate module. In no uncertain terms the study of the black experience has been a tremendously vibrant field, one that is developing quickly as the 21st-century story of Afro-Latin America continues to unfold.

Article.  27589 words. 

Subjects: Regional and Area Studies ; History of the Americas

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