White Enough to Be American?: Race Mixing, Indigenous People, and the Boundaries of State and Nation

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Demonstrates that the racial question in the US has been and continues to be one that is more complex than merely black and white. The theoretical and empirical contributions of this book extend far beyond the. Permissions Information. Subsidiary Rights Information. Media Inquiries. Home Close. View Inside. Racial mixture posed a distinct threat to European American perceptions of the nation and state in the late nineteenth century, says Lauren Basson, as it exposed and disrupted the racial categories that organized political and social life in the United States.

Offering a provocative conceptual approach to the study of citizenship, nationhood, and race, Basson explores how racial mixture challenged and sometimes changed the boundaries that defined what it meant to be American.

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Every single word we say is—is—is scrutinised for some kind of latent—Meanwhile you guys run around saying N-word this and N-word that and whatever. When he finally tells the joke about a white prisoner who is about to be raped by a black prisoner , a dead silence falls. Kathy follows suit, remarking that as the sister of a woman who was raped she, too, is horrified by the tasteless joke.

With these reactions Norris explores the ways in which multiple belonging and discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation get interlaced with racism. Three white characters are offended by the joke told by a fourth white character about a white and a black prisoner—all for different reasons and all out of their own sense of belonging, which transcends whiteness.

While the dynamics of inequality take on a different shape elsewhere in the Americas, they are often no less severe there. An inter-American approach to the topic does not imply any kind of conflation or homogenization. Difference matters, and the differences between and within North America, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America have to be kept in mind.

Clara E. Among the similarities she mentions:.

First, both Americas have histories of indigenous conquest, slavery, and immigration. Second, in both Americas, race has been constructed to reflect and support class and power relations.

Each country in Latin America has developed its own racial constructions, but in all cases, they have tended to benefit those in power. It is not surprising, therefore, that while the U.


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Historical parallels, the flow of goods, people, and ideas to, from, and within them, and participation in global exchanges and developments make the Americas an interconnected space, while their cultural and ethnic diversity, the role of indigenous peoples, and the geographic proximity of the so-called developed world to the so-called developing world account for the unique position of the Western Hemisphere on the globe.

As they touch each other and become superimposed, difference continues to matter since the result of interethnic and intercultural contact is not a uniform mass but a dynamic interaction—sometimes conflicting, sometimes hybrid. Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.

Race Mixing, Indigenous People, and the Boundaries of State and Nation

But usually ethno-racial difference also marks a difference in social class. Although the Spanish caste system and the enslavement of individuals of indigenous or African descent have been overcome, 11 the New World continues to be marked by difference and hierarchies. Differences shade and shape the New World—sometimes with sharp contours between the individual colors, sometimes with the colors superimposed or mixing. These New World colors coexist and compete with each other, as communities assert their distinctiveness and as individuals feel a sense of belonging to multiple groups.

It was with and from the Atlantic commercial circuit that slavery became synonymous with blackness.


This view becomes the basis for white 15 supremacy and other forms of inequality, which in turn determine political representation. Bauer explains that. Especially in the 21 st century, social and political movements have challenged old hierarchies and privileges in Latin America. The election of Evo Morales to the presidency of Bolivia in as well as the victory of Barack Obama in the presidential races of the U.

The Aymara Morales has declared himself the first fully indigenous head of state of Bolivia since its Spanish colonization—a contested statement because there have been previous Bolivian presidents who had partly indigenous ancestry. He foregrounds his ethno-racial background as a basis for claims to resources and leadership and uses it as symbolic capital in the national and international competition for recognition and assets.

While Morales emphasizes difference, foregrounding ethnicity and using it to demand changes in the distribution of resources, ownership, and capital, Obama—although astutely aware of difference—tries to unite his nation in the pursuit of common goals. Figure 2: Official Portrait of Evo Morales. In contrast to this non-essentializing representation of Obama by the New Yorker , Evo Morales likes to stress his indigeneity in official portraits and public appearances.

The depiction in figure 2 combines markers of indigeneity the knitted front of his coat with those of nation flag and sash and leadership decorations. By adding an ethnic component to the traditional invocations of nation and power in presidential portraits, Morales voices a counter-discourse against the earlier, non-indigenous power elites of Bolivia supported by and supportive of U. Stressing his multiple belonging and redefining the nation, he underscores the indigenous basis of the nation and he proclaims that an indigenous ancestry is not incompatible with active participation in the nation and with the right to govern.

The nation, he is implying, rightfully belongs to the indigenous. While Obama has taken over for himself and his policies the idealistic doctrines of the U. Both presidents, however, use strategies of self-fashioning and ideas of multiple belonging in pursuing their political goals. The contrary positions of Evo Morales and Barack Obama toward the logic of difference which ethnicity provides are by no means developments of the 21 st century.

Issues of ethnic identity and communal belonging have concerned the Americas at least since the Conquest. For example, through their different approaches to national and inter-American issues, presidents Morales and Obama reveal stark differences in their ideas about nation and belonging. With the de-territorialization of ethnic and cultural groups as a consequence of transnational ethnoscapes and mediascapes as well as multiple affiliations it becomes increasingly difficult to pin down difference.

Difference remains, but it is articulated and lived in a complex web of belonging.

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Because of the superimposition of identity markers, group identifications and coalitions keep shifting. He said:. Morales speaks of his biological as well as of his political birth and he is well aware of the variety of group identities to which he belongs: Aymara, indigenous, Bolivian, socialist etc. But then he went on to include in the group for which he was speaking all anti-capitalists, envisioning a transnational kind of belonging with a political basis. When Evo Morales foregrounds ethnic, cultural, political, national difference, he does so with respect to a changing series of factors and positions.

What exactly the distinctive marker of collective identity is, depends on the situation and issues at hand. He asked provocatively:. Are not ethnic groups part of the historical process, tied to the history of modern nationalism? Though they may pretend to be eternal and essential, are they not of rather recent origin and eminently pliable and unstable? Invention xiv. Ethnicity, I would add, can become performative or can be used as a strategic resource in the competition for provisions, positions, prestige, or power.

In such claims and acts of self-positioning, ethnicity plays an increasingly central role in the Americas today—from the struggles for sovereignty of First Nations in Canada 21 to the claims by the U. But while the insistence on social and economic goods e. Most prominently, David A. In the postscript to his classic study, Postethnic America , Hollinger writes:. Identity is a code word for solidarity: to prescribe an identity for someone is to tell that person with whom they should be affiliating.

He concludes that. Such affiliations, designed to advance some common purpose, can be vital means of seeking political justice and providing individuals with a life-sustaining sense of belonging, but they need not be permanent, need not be exclusive of other affiliations, and need not carry the pernicious assumption that color and culture go together.

White Enough to Be American?

Barack Obama has likewise downplayed his belonging to a singular community of descent. I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slave-owners—an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

Obama, no pag.

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Eduardo Bonilla-Silva contends,. This fairy tale is the most popular way to explain American racial politics, despite the depressing statistics telling a different story about what it means to be a minority in America in Although incomplete, the U. Whereas the U. The future race will not be a fifth, or a sixth race, destined to prevail over its ancestors. What is going to emerge out there is the definitive race, the synthetical race, the integral race, made up of the genius and the blood of all peoples and, for that reason, more capable of true brotherhood and of a truly universal vision.

For this reason, the exclusion of the Yankee, like the exclusion of any other human type, would be equivalent to an anticipated mutilation, more deadly even than a later cut. A95, AA According to Juan E. De Castro,. Casa-Grande e Senzala gained acceptance as an egalitarian reconceptualization of Brazilian identity. Miscegenation became synonymous with a racial democracy that presented a historical version of Brazil formed by the contributions of its three constitutive races—Indian, black, and white—and, thus, implied the validation and acceptance of these originating racial and cultural groups even if the Amerindian cultural contribution is undervalued by Freyre.

Despite academic studies like those by Vasconcelos and Freyre, racial distinctions and the use of difference in the service of maintaining or challenging hierarchies vanished neither in Brazil nor in Mexico nor elsewhere in the New World. Figure 3: Proclamation of Zapatista Self-Rule. For example, the former spokesperson and military commander of the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Subcomandante Marcos, is alleged not to be indigenous, while the movement itself is foremost an indigenous movement. Group cohesion in the EZLN is established independently of ethnic background on the basis of a belonging that is sustained by shared Marxist political leanings, the demand to respect the rights of the indigenous, a claim to territory and self-rule, as well as an opposition to the Mexican government, to capitalist exploitation, and globalization.

In analyzing the role which ethnicity and belonging play in the EZLN or in identity politics in individual American nations, a transnational, inter-American perspective is most illuminating. Inter-American mobility, multi-ethnicity and pluri-culturality, as well as the growing differentiation of lifestyles in the Americas are altering traditional constellations of ethnic identity and notions of belonging.

In the rural home communities of Oaxaca, such as in the Mixteca region, individuals would first self-identify as members of their rural community, occasionally consider themselves to be campesinos , but would never label themselves as mixtecos.

However, members of different Mixtec-speaking communities would move in together when living and working in the United States. They appropriated a label formerly used by linguists, anthropologists and the Mexican government, utilising the latent identity horizon of their shared mother tongue. Self-identification and group belonging may constitute reactions against experiences of discrimination and exclusion, but they also carry symbolic capital and can be used as a resource to strengthen collective demands.