Week 6: Citizenship and Rights in the New Republics.

I’d like to begin this week’s post by thinking about the term “scientific racism” as it seems to be a key point behind this week’s topic: Citizenship and Rights in the new Republics.  Scientific racism, as Dawson describes it, is the belief that some people are destined to rule and others to be ruled.  Be it by some sort of Religious destiny, by right of lineage, or by some assumption based on education, wealth or general stature in society. Going beyond the topic of this week, It seems that this is a strong and persistent idea in Latin American history, and one that applies to many aspects of its development. This immediately made me think of the binary way in which many perceived the process of independence, barbarism vs civilization. The uneducated against the educated, white versus indigenous and black and the uncertain place of mulattos and mestizos.  Along these lines, It seems very peculiar how some Latin Americans at the time did not see themselves as racist as  Dawson says that ” Latin American societies did not generally see a legal codification of discrimination based on race, a fact that many Latin American nationalists have long used to argue that their nations are more enlightened when it comes to matters of race.” Yet, it seems that racial discrimination was deeply embedded in Latin American society, and for some reason it seems that this is even more true in the post colonial era.  For example, Dawson mentions that Brazilian economic and political elites worked together to lessen the opportunities of emancipated slaves. By encouraging and subsidizing immigrants to come and work, they shrank the amount of jobs available to the former slaves. This being done because they saw them as unruly and demanding too much. This seems like blatant racism and i’m not sure how anyone could see it otherwise.  


A second point that was interesting in Dawson’s reading was the impact that the call for citizenship had on indigenous Communities. As he states earlier on, Citizenship was exclusive. In general you had to be a wealthy man, who was educated and considered to have the ability of being a rational and able citizen. Thus, as Indigenous people were often uneducated in the colonial system and were definitely  not wealthy, citizenship was not extended to them. So, strikingly, they actually seem to have lost many of their rights along with the fall of the colonial empires. For example, Communities who had been able to exercise a degree of autonomy over their land and water  lost these rights. Dawson says that “ Peasants might insist on their right to village autonomy, to the land, timber and water rights they had enjoyed under colonial rule. This expectation, once guaranteed to them as vassals of the king, would be recast as a citizenship claim made by villages that called themselves comunidades ex-indios.”


A third section I found interesting was the search for a Mulatto identity. Nina Rodriguez seems to have distanced himself from his African heritage, seeing black Latin Americans as completely inferior to whites and even Mulattos. He believed that mulattos were not destined to remain barbarics and could be civilized through education ect.. Some argued that they were civilized because they had “erased their racial origins”, as in Cuba, and some said that racism did not exist, and that they were happy to work within the system. Others however, vibrantly defended their ethnic origins, culture and religion.


While thinking about all the aforementioned points, Dawson’s thought that “ The law in Latin America has a long history of acting as a projection of how society might function, and not so much as a prescription for how it will function”. If we think about the loss of communal lands or the blockage of work for former slaves his point is very valid. Prior to legalizing the (further) theft of land, or racial discrimination in the economy, the racist social sentiments already existed.  However, as is pointed out throughout the reading these laws were not overtly based on race. Rather, racism was an informal practice that was covertly enforced through formal policy.


So my question for this week is, what did citizenship mean in postcolonial Latin America?  Was citizenship ment extend the rights of everyone in Latin American society, or was it a covert way to keep the systems of oppression in place, and even to create new ones.


3 thoughts on “Week 6: Citizenship and Rights in the New Republics.

  1. Kelly

    Interesting question — I believe that you somewhat answered it in your blog post.
    In your question you ask if it this a covert way to keep the systems of oppression in place, and to create new ones. Objectively, I believe this was the outcome! However, your questions seems to ask about intention, rather than outcome (which I believe is not really up for debate). It is difficult to infer the motives of those who first defined citizenship in Latin America. Were they highly calculated and malicious in doing so? Were they just ignorant elites who didn’t even think to consider racial ‘others’, the less-educated, or women? Were they simply doing what they believed was best for their country, given that prominent scientists and philosophers were promoting scientific racism?

    I guess, in the end, the reasons why they did this doesn’t matter very much — The outcome of their actions are what affected people’s lives, and arguably, still do today.

  2. Christine Joy Ganase

    In response to your question, about whether or not citizenship rules were created with the intention of cementing oppressive systems in place, I think that this may have been a partial reason for it. To me, it seems that, in the process of building new nations, much of the internalized stigmas held against the diverse set of people emerging throughout early Latin America became sub-surface reasons for the biases behind citizenship rules. Regardless of whether or not they generated such rules with the explicit intention of alienating the emancipated black slaves and indigenous people, this was the eventual effect of these laws.

    All in all, awesome post!

  3. Lotfazar

    I found it peculiar and rather saddening too that there was evidence of racism and discriminatory behavior and yet no one at the time (certainly not the elites and the upper class) saw it as a problem. But I guess so long as it benefited the upper class, they saw no need for changing the status quo. And like you mentioned not only not qualifying as a “citizen” had tragic consequences for the slaves and people of color, it meant that many indigenous communities lost what they were entitled to as well. I’m hoping we can discuss your question in tomorrow’s class because I find it very interesting.


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