Week 6 – Citizenship and Rights

This week’s material did not really surprise me at all. After learning about the social disorder and disagreement that followed independence in Latin American nations last week, it seemed to follow suit that there would be immense class, gender and racial struggles as well.

During this era, many nations sought to define civil rights as in who deserves them and what rights those are. Again, not surprisingly, the common theme was that property-owning white males were placed at the top of the hierarchy, awarded rights of free speech and political activity. During this time, there was also a concomitant changing economy as pressure to end slavery was mounting. This led to questions of how to organize society and civil rights of those who were former slaves – how do they fit in? In a lot of places (Cuba, Brazil, USA), the answer for white elites was to portray Africans as dangerous breeding things like KKK, eugenics and the like. This meant that though former slaves were technically “free” there was not much disruption to the social hierarchy that put white males at the top.

There were many regional differences in how emancipation came about and how former slaves were treated post-abolishment. These differences illuminated for me why, as a Canadian I have grown up hearing much more about racial discrimination and tensions in the US rather than in Brazil which imported many more slaves. In post-slavery US, the white elites acted to enshrine discrimination/segregation into law as slavery had been very much linked to race in the sense that there weren’t many/any people of colour who weren’t slaves. This is in contrast to places such as Brazil, in which there were many prominent free Africans, some of whom were wealthy. This made it so that post-abolishment Brazil could not enshrine discrimination into law like what happened in the US but instead had less overt methods of discrimination. In Cuba, rather than scapegoating African former slaves for their race per say, white elites used religion as a tool to frame them as savage/uncivilized as was shown through Nina Rodrigues writings.

Women were also amongst those whose civil rights were under question. Some women, like Maria Enchenique, argued for more rights and opportunities for women in education and in the public sphere. Where as others, like Josefina Pelliza de Sagasta proclaimed that women should not have as much freedom as men otherwise they would lose their greatest charms.

Being Canadian, I have heard and learned extensively about the effects of slavery and racial hierarchies on modern American culture both in the US and in Canada. My question that came out of this week is: is there a similar racial tensions and lasting institutional racism in Latin American countries today? Or did the fact that Latin American nations didn’t have overt laws that made racism legal after emancipation make it so that today, there is less of a divide?

1 thought on “Week 6 – Citizenship and Rights

  1. Elena Munk

    Hi! I found your comparison between post-slavery society and politics (I guess) in the USA versus in Brazil and Cuba to be really interesting. I agree that a larger population of free Africans in Brazil (and Cuba) affected the decision making processes of the government during the time of abolishment of slavery, but racism definetely prevailed. I also don’t know too much about the racial tensions in Latin America today, I would assume though that it has somehwat carried on based on the information from this week and the last couple, but certainly in a different way than the USA.


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