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“Does Whitening Happen? Distinguishing between Race and Color Labels in an African-Descended Community in Peru”

“Does Whitening Happen? Distinguishing between Race and Color Labels in an African-Descended Community in Peru”

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Published by Tanya Golash-Boza

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Published by: Tanya Golash-Boza on Mar 26, 2010
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Social Problems
, Vol. 57, Issue 1, pp. 138–156, ISSN 0037-7791, electronic ISSN 1533-8533. © 2010 by Society for the Study of Social Problems, Inc. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article contentthrough the University of California Press’s Rights and Permissions website at www.ucpressjournals.com/reprintinfo/asp.DOI: 10.1525/sp.2010.57.1.138.
Does Whitening Happen? Distinguishingbetween Race and Color Labels in anAfrican-Descended Community in Peru
Tanya Golash-Boza,
University o Kansas
This article explores how race and color labels are used to describe people in an Aro-Peruvian community.This article is based on analyses o 88 interviews and 18 months o feldwork in an Arican-descended communityin Peru. The analyses o these data reveal that, i we consider race and color to be conceptually distinct, there isno “mulatto escape hatch,” no social or cultural whitening, and no continuum o racial categories in the blackPeruvian community under study. This article considers the implications o drawing a conceptual distinctionbetween race and color or research on racial classifcations in Latin America. Keywords: blackness, race, skincolor, Latin America, whitening.
“In the U.S., he who is born black, dies black, whereas in Peru, your social status can change yourracial classication.”Alejandro Ortiz, Peruvian anthropologist“I I was born black, I have to stay black.”Mirella Campoverde,
a young single mother rom Ingenio, Peru
Mirella Campoverde and Alejandro Ortiz are both Peruvian, yet inhabit vastly dierentworlds. Mirella is a dark-skinned, poor single mother whose uture holds little possibility orupward mobility. Dr. Ortiz is a air-skinned, well-known anthropology proessor. Their under-standings o the meanings o blackness in Peru seem as distinct as their stations in lie. Ortizis making a general statement about how race works in the United States and in Peru. Mirellais making a particular statement about hersel. They are both right. It is very probable thatMirella always will be black, and she always will be reerred to as black by others; strangerswill assume she knows how to cook and dance; and she will have trouble obtaining employ-ment in positions reserved or whites, such as a receptionist or a bank teller. Ortiz’s world islled with options and possibilities, not only or him, but also, in his view, or Mirella. Howdo we reconcile these two dierent maps o the Peruvian racial landscape? This is not only aquestion about race in Peru. It raises a broader set o questions about the role o class, gender,
1. To protect the privacy o the participants, this name, as well as all o the other names o community membersin this article, is a pseudonym.Research and writing or this article were unded by the University o North Carolina, the University o Illinoisat Chicago, the University o Kansas, the National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant, and the FordFoundation Peru Dissertation Fellowship. The author thanks Judith Blau, Sandy Darity, Tyrone Forman, Joane Nagel,Izu Ahaghotu, the editor, and the anonymous reviewers or their helpul comments on this article. Previous versionso this article were presented at the Latin American Studies Association congress, the Association o Black Sociologistsannual meeting, and the Andean Seminar at the Hall Center or the Humanities at the University o Kansas. Direct cor-respondence to: Tanya Golash-Boza, 716 Fraser Hall, Sociology, 1415 Jayhawk Blvd., University o Kansas, Lawrence,KS 66045. E-mail:tgb@ku.edu.
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De Whitening Hppen?
color, geography, and biography in understanding race in Peru, in Latin America, and in NorthAmerica. These are the questions this article sets out to answer.The research or this article includes 88 interviews and 18 months o eldwork in anAro-Peruvian community between 2002 and 2007. Through the analysis o these data, I ex-plore the disjuncture between Ortiz’s and Mirella’s views and experiences. For Ortiz (2001), blackness in Peru is contextually dependent and subject to change. For Mirella and other resi-dents o the Aro-Peruvian community analyzed here, blackness is determined by skin colorand descent, and does not change over the course o one’s lie.Ortiz’s indication that social whitening is possible or blacks in Peru resonates with widelyaccepted conceptualizations o race in Latin America, and with the well-known adage “moneywhitens.” Over the past 50 years, students o race relations have described racial hierarchiesin Latin America in three ways: (1) there is an intermediate racial category in Latin America between black and white that serves as a buer between these two categories; (2) social whit-ening is a way or a person to become less black; and (3) racial classication in Latin Americaconstitutes a continuum o racial categories. This article explores the extent to which thesethree claims about race in Latin America can be used to understand the racial hierarchy in theAro-Peruvian community under study.These issues are important or scholars to consider as there is an ongoing debate on howracial classications work in the United States, and the extent to which the United States is becoming more like Latin America (see: Bonilla-Silva 2004; Forman et al.
2004; Golash-Bozaand Darity 2008; Sue 2009). These debates require a clear understanding o how race worksin Latin America, and this article provides a model or analyzing how race and color classica-tions work in specic localities.
Conceptual Framework: Race and Color
Race and color labels are conceptually distinct. Race is an externally imposed social catego-rization. A racial category is applied to a group o people thought to share physical and culturaltraits and a common ancestry. Racial categories are mutually exclusive o one another. The mostcommon markers associated with race are skin color, acial eatures, and hair texture (Smedley2007; Wade 1997). Color labels describe gradients o skin color, yet do not reer to mutuallyexclusive categories o people. In some cases, one word can be used both as a color label and asa racial category. For example, the word “black” in Spanish and English can be used as both acolor label and a racial label. An example o the use o black as a color label is when someonesays: “I get quite black when I am in the sun all day” in English or “
me pongo bien negra cuandoestoy en el sol todo el día
” in Spanish. In these cases, black is a color, not a racial identier. Someonecould make this declaration without considering hersel to be a member o the black race.I use “category” to reer to races, ollowing Richard Jenkins’ (1994; 2000:8) distinction between externally imposed “categories” and internally recognized “groups.” In the UnitedStates, state actors, social scientists, and others use racial categories to distinguish betweenpeople collectively understood to be black, white, Asian, and Native American. These cat-egories have, in turn, produced race-based group identications—people oten understandthemselves to belong to one o these groups (Brubaker and Cooper 2000; Nagel 1994). InPeru, racial categories have not been used in ocial recording eorts such as the Census since1940. Nevertheless, the long history o racial categorization has infuenced how Peruvians talkabout themselves and others.This discussion o race and color requires a urther layer o complexity. I draw rom Lio-nel McPherson and Tommie Shelby’s (2004:175) analysis o “labels” to do this. Classicatorylabels can reer to groups or categories. They also can reer to descriptors that are not groupsor categories. I argue that color labels do not reer to categories or groups, whereas racial labelsreer to both. Racial categories lead to race-based group identities. Color labels, in contrast, do
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not create group-based identities. This article explores how race and color labels are used, andthe extent to which group-based identities orm part o the local parlance in an Aro-Peruviancommunity. This discussion sheds light on the utility o generalizations about race in LatinAmerica or understanding race and color distinctions in the Aro-Peruvian community understudy. In the next section, I discuss these generalizations.
Literature Review: Conceptualizations of Race in the Americas
 Mulatto Escape Hatch
The “mulatto escape hatch” (Degler 1986), also called the “intermediate mulatto stra-tum,” (Saa 1998) reers to the notion that someone can be born black, yet become mulattothrough an increase in social status, or intergenerational whitening. This intermediate catego-ry emerged rom the large ree colored population in many Latin American countries duringthe time o slavery (Saa 1998; Skidmore 1993; Smedley 2007). The creation o the mulattocategory, which possessed some benets over blacks, was a mechanism o social control inso-ar as the possibility o moving out o the category, “black,” inhibited alliances among peopleo Arican descent (Daniel 2006). Peter Wade (1997) contends that in Latin America, raciallymixed children are recognized as socially distinct rom their parents. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva(2004) explains that Latin American countries have a tri-racial system, in which an interme-diate group buers race confict. Luisa Schwartzman (2007:944) also claims that, in Brazil,“browns serve as a buer zone between blacks and whites.”
A related process that scholars argue tones down race confict is whitening. There arethree ways that whitening can occur: (1) Intergenerational whitening is when a black personand a white person have a child, and the child is considered whiter than the black parent;(2) Social whitening is when a person is born black, but through an increase in class status,is considered white or whiter in some situations; (3) Cultural whitening is when a person is born Indian, yet acculturates to the dominant culture and becomes white or whiter in somesituations. Intergenerational whitening can reer to blacks or Indians; social whitening is morecommonly used to discuss people o Arican descent; and cultural whitening is more commonlyused to describe processes o incorporation or people o indigenous descent. The whiteningprocess works at the level o practice and ideology; people hope to “improve the race” throughmarrying lighter-skinned partners, and the governments o many Latin American countrieshave promulgated
(racial and cultural mixture) or the purpose o whitening the na-tion (Graham 1990; Skidmore 1993).The possibility o whitening is dependent on a denition o race that is not based solelyon color or descent, but on other changeable actors. Many scholars contend that, in LatinAmerica, race is not always based solely on color or descent, but that social and culturalcharacteristics also come into play (Rodríguez 2000). Jorge Duany (1998:150) argues that inthe Caribbean, “[p]henotype and social status rather than biological descent dene a person’sracial identity.” And, Nancy Landale and R. S. Oropesa (2002) posit that in Latin America,“denitions o race are more fuid and ambiguous than is the case in the United States” (p.233). According to these scholars, the lack o rigidity in racial classications allows a person tochange their racial status in Latin America.
Social Whitening.
Scholars o Aro-Latin America have argued that blacks can be whitenedthrough a change in social status. Winthrop Wright (1990), or example, claims that in Ven-ezuela, “when a black escaped poverty, he or she ceased to be socially black.” Wright goes on
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