- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: Pluto Press (15 May 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780745309873
- ISBN-13: 978-0745309873
- ASIN: 0745309879
- Product Dimensions: 13.6 x 1 x 21.5 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
Race and Ethnicity in Latin America (Latin American Studies) Paperback – Import, 15 May 1997
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Peter Wade ... applies his previous experience and theoretical sophistication to the analysis of Latin America as a whole, focusing not only on the descendants of African slaves but also on indigenous people. ... [this] book is intelligent and easy-to-read, and represents a significant contribution to the knowledge and understanding of the dynamics of race and ethnicity in Latin America. -- Monica Quijada, author of Patterns of Prejudice Summarizing the extensive literature on race and ethnicity in Latin America in a mere 118 pages is a daunting task. The British anthropologist Peter Wade... has not been scared away from doing it. [He] cover[s] the main themes and offers a comprehensive overview of the relevant debates. It is therefore an excellent textbook. -- Michiel Baud, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies An interesting, clearly written book, well illustrated by examples, which will be a valued introduction to [the] issues in Latin America. -- SLAS Newsletter October 97 A much needed up to date and accessible discussion of key issues in Latin America -- A. Sillitoe, Social Sciences, Staffordshire University An excellent source on past and present debates, and a coherent and insightful set of proposals concerning methodology -- International Affairs
About the Author
Peter Wade is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. He is the author of Race and Ethnicity in Latin America (Pluto, 2010), Race and Sex in Latin America (Pluto, 2009) and Race, Nature and Culture (Pluto, 2002).
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His central point in a nutshell is that most of Latin America has belatedly tried to come to grips with the issues of race and ethnicity, some more so than others, but none have done so successfully. And while that is the "cover story," one would have to be blind not to see the larger narrative "stalking" this one in the background (i.e., from the subtext): That the Latin American discourse in "inferorizing" its ethnic minorities, is just the southern hemisphere's version of the extended racial horror show instigated by the U.S. and the rest of the Western world. There is nothing here that would challenge such a statement. And while it would be imprudent exaggeration to suggest that this book is a thinly veiled disguise for, or an apologia for Western racial values, making such a suggestion would not be too far wrong.
How could one legitimately make such a charge? By simply following the trajectory of the respective narratives, for the countries included in this study. And then peeling back the rationalizing veneer to get at what is really animating them in the background. For instance, stripped of its covers, in each case, the format of all Latin American solutions to the race problem are the same: "whitening" the colored minorities. In fact, "whitening" itself is seen (without exception) throughout Latin America as equivalent to (one-way) assimilation (towards whiteness). End of story.
This author does not attempt to get beyond, or to penetrate the national cover stories (as say did Ms. Francine Winddance Twine in Her book "Racism in a Racial Democracy"). Even without Ms. Twine's brilliant book, Brazil remains the classic case in point.
Making a virtue out of necessity, Brazil had no choice but to try to explain away why and (how) it had become a mulatto nation. [If miscegenation was all bad, and the offspring inferior, then how was Brazil going to explain its majority mulatto population? And what kind of civilization is a wholly mulatto nation?] It solved this riddle the old fashion way by sleight of hand: that is, by disingenuously elevating the Indian and Afro-American cultural narrative. And of course, this author took the Brazilian "head fake" at face value?
His acquiescence in this scheme reminds me of what Michelle Rhee (Chancellor of DC public schools) is doing today in fixing the problems of inner city schools. She parses with great skill all of the meaningless reasons why the DC public schools (and by extension all of the other similar inner city schools in the U.S.) are failing -- except the only one that counts: White racism.
There is no one in the U.S. who does not know that the real reason America's inner city schools are failing so miserably is by racist design: white America decided not to obey the law of the land and implement in good faith the 1954 Supreme Court Decision to integrate American schools. As a result, the old southern segregation of America's schools has become, writ large, the de facto modern solution to America's integration of the public school problem. End of story.
Most annoying of all by this author, however, is the way he expands and contracts the definitions of "black" and "native" races, or "blacks" and "mulattoes," to suit his own predilections rather than to suit the demands of his analysis. Likewise, he seems incapable of fully understanding the dynamic aspect played by the controlling narrative of white supremacy and its gargantuan overarching role as an ideological worldview. The author simply seems incapable of getting outside the white supremacist paradigm, which in this study is perhaps his most urgent necessity. The most disturbing example of this tendency is that despite all the problems with the concept of race (which he carefully exposes), he then nevertheless chooses to makes a thin unconvincing argument to retain the present flawed formulation on historical grounds. That is like saying, yes its flawed, but it is all we have, so lets go with it.
Without coming fully to grips with all of the invisible (and overarching) elements of the white supremacist paradigm, the author's post-modern formulation simply plays into the hands of the ideology of racism. Doing little more than granting (in hidden relief of artificially created identity politics) further independent legitimacy to the white subgroups that have been parse out of the post-modern narrative. In the end, this only creates a "false narrative," an "illegitimate" partitioning that simply proliferates the number of white subgroups in the original universe of people.
And even if this has been done unwittingly, it remains no less problematic as the ideology and paradigm of white supremacy still trumps all other analytical schemes. Surely the author must be ware that this is indeed the case. Hiding this built-in white supremacist Trojan Horse with more white subgroup advantages, in a larger post-modern collective, is just a continuation of the white supremacist scheme by other more novel means. And in the end does great harm to the analysis overall.
Some, but not all of theses mistakes can be chalked-up to having to deal with a very complex subject, but even discounting the difficulty, the author took license in places where his analysis demand care. He consistently misquoted or misinterpreted authors in ways that are obvious to anyone familiar with them. Despite all of these comments, I highly recommend this book because most of it is an honest attempt to grapple with a very difficult problem and the very exercise is maximally informative. Four stars.
Theoretically Wade presents a very satisfying argument that race and ethnicity (while grading into one another) are opposite ends of a spectrum where race is articulated in terms of phenotype while ethnicity is articulated in terms of place. In both cases, these categories are malleable, open to challenge or re-definition and historically constituted. His introductory chapter is one of the best summary introductions to theoretical questions of race and ethnicity that I know of.
Wade problematizes the way in which black and Indian populations have been separated analytically from one another by means of the disciplinary division between sociology and anthropology and this is also one of the more important contributions of his book. Unfortunately, he does not provide a clearly articulated vision of the way in which a more integrated understanding of black and indian groups would add more to social analysis.
The main weakness of this book lies in the absence of integration of Wade's ideas with specific examples in depth. Having made an argument for more contextual understandings of race and ethnicity, Wade abandons context for simple illustration. This is probably a fucntion of the length of the book rather than any specific intent on Wade's part: His other books do seem far more tightly focussed and contextualized. However, an absence of specific coverage makes the last two chapters of the book rather disappointing and the final chapter is far too thin on key details to make anything like a coherent case for the stance that Wade advocates.
Wade's discussion of the role of gender in Latin American views of race and ethnicity is also disappointingly cursory. This is a field in which a great deal of good literature has been produced (M.J. Weismantel's wonderful book on gender, food and ethnicity: "Food Gender and Poverty in Ecuador", and Lynn Stephen's "Zapotec Women" and France Winndance Twine's "Racism in a Racial Democracy). And while it is always nice to see people citing bell hooks in an anthropology text, the section on gender is much too limited in both discussion of previous work and in theorizing from his own analysis especially when compared with the sections on history, nationalism and disciplinarity.
Overall, however, this book is a very useful and worthwhile book to have in one's collection.