week 6

Week 6 – Citizenship and Rights in the New Republics

This week, we are looking into who was considered a citizen and enjoyed the privileges of that status in post-independence Latin America. In the beginning of the chapter, we’re asked to look back on the Casta paintings of Week 3 and to think about how the social and racial hierarchy portrayed in those paintings are still reflected in the social and civil structure of the Latin American societies.

After getting their independence, the countries had to write their own Constitution. The sector of the population that had the authority to do it was the liberal elites, whose liberal worldview didn’t extend beyond those like them: well-off men with European descent. The poor, the black and Native Americans and mestizos, and the women were all seen as less than, and not deserving to enjoy the rights those who belong to higher castes were to enjoy.

As Dawson points out in this chapter, the foundation for the discrimination had changed at this point, from the religious and spiritual reasoning of the past to the scientific racism of the present. Works of “scientists” such as Blumenbach and Gaulton that highlighted the supposed biological differences between races served as the basis for the active exclusion of those that didn’t fit the mold of white and rich, as Dawson puts it. The principles of universal freedom and equality so championed by the liberal elite weren’t so universal after all.

The chapter also goes into the struggle for the emancipation of women and slaves. It points out how the role those sectors of the population played in their own battle for equal rights is often not a part of the narrative, which usually glorifies the few liberals who fought for emancipation.

The textbook looks into the details of the process in a few countries, including Brazil. It discusses how the black population was never isolated within a social system, and how a part of that population owned land, were free labourers and even owned slaves before the official emancipation laws signed in 1888. It also mentions how blackness is defined differently when compared to a place like the US, for example, and its “one-drop rule” – in Brazilian society, there were gradations between being black and white, which the author points out as allowing for the acceptance of a more mixed society.

However, being from Brazil, it’s not difficult to notice how Afro-Brazilians are still undoubtedly affected by a racist society. After emancipation, there was no effort to integrate the recently freed slaves into society through formal jobs or education, and racist sentiment didn’t disappear into thin air. The effects are still seen to this day – 70% of the population in extreme poverty in Brazil is black, and the number of black people with 12 of more years of education is less than half that of white people (data from the UN website). While some measures taken by the federal government (such as quotas in public universities for self-declared black Brazilians) have been considered successful, there’s still a long way to go. For the discussion question, it could be interesting to consider what has been done around the world in terms of reparation and which of those initiatives were successful in addressing racism and making systemic and long-lasting change.