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Envisioning the United States in the Latin American myth of ‘racial democracy mestizaje’

Pages 189-205 | Published online: 12 Apr 2016


Transnational comparison is relevant both to how racial hierarchy is obscured and elucidated. This Essay traces how the Latin American ‘racial democracy mestizaje’ depiction of the US as blind to racial mixture and color distinctions mistakenly misrepresent the Southern Jim Crow history as the only US experience of racism. It suggests that, in turn, such a limited frame for comparison cloaks not only the more extensive terrain of racism in the United States that is separate from the Jim Crow reality but also parallels to the Latin American context. Moreover, the circumscribed view of US racism adversely affects those who critique the ‘racial democracy mestizaje’ myth of Latin American post racialism. This is because the standard Latin American story of US racial history hinders the ability to fully countermand the attack that portrays racial justice activists as inappropriately applying overly restrictive US binary perspectives on race. With the fuller explication of the complete US racial history, and its contemporary manifestations, it will not be so easy to dismiss the comparisons of racial subordination across the Americas, as the imperialist imposition of ill-fitting US notions of race.


I would like to thank all those colleagues like Christina Sue and Tanya Golash-Boza, who provided me with helpful comments when I presented a very early version of this paper at the First Conference on Ethnicity, Race, and Indigenous Peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean at the University of California, San Diego in 2008. Special thanks are also warranted for those dear friends Alexandre DaCosta, Ariel Dulitzky, Anani Dzidzienyo, and Tianna Paschel who generously read entire drafts even when they were busy, in addition to the helpful comments received from the LACES reviewers. Any shortcomings are completely my own.


1. For example, see Project Implicit, available at www.https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ (accessed 20 May 2014).

2. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and Uruguay are the countries that have signed the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance.

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