The Concept of Racial Order in Mexico and State Participation in Distribution

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Homogeneity is a process of grouping certain cultural markers together. This way of organizing the world has been used in the academic sciences for centuries, taxonomy being a example of this that still exists today. For the newly independent nation-state of Mexico, grouping people into homogenous racial categories was a logical way of organizing the state following the framework given by the Spanish colonies. In this way, there is a connection between the state, homogeneity, and race that has the power to shape the material world (Goldberg 2002:10).

Central to state power is the power to exclude and by default include in racially ordered terms. The modern state uses the the internalization of exclusions in order to operate. The state becomes the people who subject each other to inspections by the state in the name of keeping order (Lugo 2000:362). Thus those privileged by the modern state, assume their privileges and reinforce the exclusions of others in the name of the state thereby normalizing them. Race and nation became defined by the interests of the state to produce the picture of unified population instead of a potentially disruptive population based on difference (Goldberg 2002:10). Blackness is excluded in this process. It is used to measure whiteness and give value to everything that is not relating to blackness. Tourism operates on this principle of blackness vs. whiteness with the intention of reproducing white spaces for profit because of the social acceptability of white space consumption. The racial state creates a condition of being and a form of governance (Goldberg 2002:98). People are governed according to their position in the racial configuration. Racially valued groups were given higher socioeconomic positions, while under-valued groups were driven into lower socioeconomic positions that offered less or no benefits and harsher conditions (Goldberg 2002:99).

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In this way racial states serve the interests of capitalism which requires the means of production to be in the hands of a few elite through the regulation of labor and policing who has access to the greatest economic benefits (Goldberg 2002:101). Capitalist states are states that work in capitalist economic relations which are expressed through the historically contingent mode of production of exchange of capital (Goldberg 2002:102). As long as this structure of the reproduction of capital is maintained, a state can be called capitalist.

Racial ideology segments the structure of the nation-state into static racial categories that set racial notions and stereotypes in stone. This ideology lays the groundwork for racialization which mediates how people and society’s structures interact (Bonilla-Silva:473). It is the process of racialization that provides the roles for dealing with the so called other. Race is expressed in practical terms in society that do real violence to people. This violence can be physical or more elusive such as the slow decline in health from the stress of poverty. The ideology of race rests on rational behavior, meaning people act according to their beliefs, whether conscious or not (Bonilla-Silva 1997:474).

Race is able to become a guiding lens through which people can organize their interactions because there is no inherent meaning in the individual. People are made into subjects through the process of bringing a person into being by measuring them against something else (Althusser 1970:45). This means racialized individuals are created through the state apparatuses that are internalized (Althusser 1970:44). If there is no inherent meaning in the individual then our lives are only as meaningful as the arbitrary value assigned to it. The importance of this is that oppressive identities are not innate in a person. They are given and created by subjects.

In order to discuss how blackness is erased for the purposes of economic production we need to look at the historical events and relationships that gave rise to the national ideal. By looking at the history of blackness in Mexico we can see the process of creating individuals as well as how individuals alter and reshape their relationship within the broader power relations of the political and economic system that gave it to them.

Historical Reproduction

The solidification of race and ethnicity in the national narrative is important because the state needed to create the illusion that people could be grouped in specific and natural categories. The Spanish conquest brought hundreds of African-descended domestic servants and slaves into what became colonial Mexico (Bennett 2003:1). Though colonial Mexico would come to have the second largest black slave population in the Spanish Americas and the highest population of free blacks within the Americas (Bennett 2003:1), the descendants of these populations have been excluded from the national narrative until only recently (Jerry 2018:210). Bennett discusses how the racialized identity for Africans was constructed the moment the slave ships set sail. This is a starting point for history in colonial Mexico. Though cultural roots can be traced back to the Malinké people of West Africa, once people were separated from their family and kin groups, the newly enslaved people were identified as a collective slave group (Menchaca 2001:43).

Through the church and the Inquisition, black peoples lives were policed and restricted. Since the Church defined blacks as people of reason, they were legally incorporated into the population of the Old World which included Spaniards (Bennett 2003:9). Through miscegenation laws, descendants of Spaniards and Africans were kept separate in the Spanish Republic thinking they could ensure the survival of a white skinned population that would remain loyal to the Crown of Spain (Bennet 2003:53-55).

A slave’s status was a legal category describing property in persons. Races were created to place people in a hierarchy in order to designate where a person could belong and how much a person could climb the social ladder. However, though these categories were bounded in definition they were not indefinitely bounded in real life as the descendants of Indigenous, African, and Spanish populations grew and transformed the social landscape whose evidence is found in 17th century parish records recording intermarriage (Kellogg 2000:78). In this period the Spanish idealized the coexistence of of a Spanish Republic vs an Indian Republic (Kellogg 2000:70). As stated above, in everyday life, this sharp distinction was hardly the case. Casta paintings were commissioned in order to create order and show what the ideal arrangement of people should be like (Kellogg 2000:74). They expressed genealogical representations of what couplings led to what kind of racially categorized child. They also helped to solidify stereotypes into social relationships and in doing so made the racial differences into a visual record that could do productive work for maintaining the unequal social order (Deans-Smith 2005:175)

Efforts to construct a new nation distinct from Spanish authority included doing away with the its casta system. The idea was that the casta system created division, hierarchy and separation among people. Under the claim of unifying the nation, there was no space for blackness or race-based claims to confront the state. The position of black populations within the nation continued to be highly contested and argued over. The elite had the most power to control this identity. The casta paintings contributed to their power by showing mixed racial representations of families and the gender hierarchy of the domestic sphere (Kellogg 2000:75). These images contributed to a national identity rooted in difference rather than a homogenous white community that the Spanish had tried to maintain.

After independence the legal basis for racial categories was thrown out (Alonso 2004:461). The road to independence was being walked as the formation of a national Mexican identity began to take shape (Kellogg 2000:75). In 1810 an independent nation-state was formed, with the mestizo now receiving the benefits of officially belonging to the state. The nationality of mestizo, by definition, excludes black people and renders their contribution to the nation-state invisible. The nation used the narrative of the hybrid nature of its population to make a claim about the strength of the nation. Blacks were not even included in this narrative though they have always be a part of it (Vinson and Restall 2009:4). They were allowed to occupy the worst positions and were encourage to move into the least hospitable of places (Vinson and Restall 2009:3). The new nation-state of Mexico became divided along racial lines (Alonso 2004:462).

A hundred years later, in 1910, the Mexican Revolution reproduced the nation-state in order to reconcile the nation with the colonial idea of the Indian. Indigenismo was described as the fallen other, Indigenista was then celebrated as the rational political subject that could have a role in the national narrative. (Dawson 1998:279). By relating the nation of Mexico to the historic roots of the native and allowing the native to participate in national culture the nation could continue to operate (Alonso 2004:462). Though this category didn’t so much as include the native but focused on the mestizo as ideal type while continuing to view the native as having a backward and negative culture (Doremus 2001:378). Through the mestizo, the nation could create homogeneity out of heterogeneity (Doremus 2001:376).

In the post-revolutionary period of the twentieth century writers like Vasconcelos, contributed to change the way the mestizo was used and the mythohistory of the nation (Alonso 2004:463). Vasconcelos argued that the native contained innate qualities that made them ideal to creating a superior human race by breeding out the negative qualities of racialized identities (Vasconcelos 1979:26). This value system rested upon the evolutionary hierarchy of races. Through the mestizaje, whiteness became the path to achieve progress and modernity (Jerry 2018:205). The ideology of mestizaje marked the mestizo as the central citizen while the native was placed on the margins (Wade 1997:42). During this time period, scholarly focus shifted from race to culture so by using culture as a marker for progress the native person who acted like a mestizo could become modern (Dawson 1998:292 and 294).

On a different, yet similar note, Batalla focused on the civilization of the indigenous and indigenous culture and its importance to the Mexican population of the present moment. He traced the history of the native from before to after Spanish conquest and the reshaping of indigenous identity into that of an Indian and then later the mestizo, something that could be rationalized against the idea of civilization (Batalla 1996:20). Batalla discusses the creation of the Indian, an identity used to control the indigenous people and their culture. He also discusses the mestizaje and the de-indianization of indigenous people in order to be incorporated into the nation state. In Batalla’s search for a utopian uniting of two opposing civilization, he leaves out the histories of free and enslaved black people, who were forced to categorize as African as the only way to ground their identity in the ideas of the imaginary Mexico. By not recognizing them as contributing to Mexico’s cultural history and only recognizing their influence in the term mestizaje, Batalla falls into a romanced idea of the future.

The work of Batalla and Vasconcelos, is similar to other works done to reimagine the Mexican national identity because they all reinforce the oppression they are trying to solve by not questioning the value and the reason behind assigning value to different markers of human difference. The images of inclusivity of Indigenista reinforced nationality at the same time it excluded others and reinforced their invisibility in the nation. The racist genealogy that arose out of the nationalist movements continued to focus on the innate differences between white, native and black people. Though at first the racial stereotypes produced around these categories served the white elites only in colonial Mexico, they later came to serve the native as well, guaranteeing their place in the nation rather than the elimination of their history (Dawson 1998:291). Modern tourism, is a way to use these identities to enter the capitalist market. But as I have already stated, not everyone is able to reap these economic benefits.

Through this narrative of history, the native moved from being related to race to being related to culture which later become associated with class (Borah 1954:337). These movements do the same kind of work to boost the national native by excluding blackness. Part of the racism that excludes black from the national narrative is the focus on black contributions only in historical terms, of relating only to slavery (Vinson and Restall 2009:2).The contribution of black populations is situated in the past and so only exists in history. Evolutionary social theories that were inherently racist theories designated some races as naturally inferior. Black people were singled out as being detrimental to national goals of economic and political progress from the beginning (Vinson and Restall 2009:2).

In controlling bodies and identity through already set social formations, such as the Church, the nation-state was able to emerge. The Spanish, in wishing to create a society that adhered to the customs and norms of the Spanish Crown, recreated a people’s history, solidifying them into the Christian narrative. However, these identities did not remain static in this narrative. They were fluid and could be altered through the use of different cultural markers or laws. This creation of subjects still shapes the lives of people into the present. These representations, boundaries, and fragmentations of physical space were the tools of the Spanish conquest which later became the tools of the state. This history underlies a legacy of racial discrimination against blacks and their exclusion from economic and national participation.

Nationalism, Multiculturalism, and Tourism

It wasn’t until the 1940s when Afro-Mexican historical studies began to take shape that black contributions to the nation began to be uncovered (Vinson and Restall 2009:5). The Zapatista movement again redefined what it meant to be Mexican (Jerry 2018:222). It was a way to change the political order that had created social realities of oppression (Jerry 2018:222). This movement was a specific appeal to unity and equality through difference. This led to the rise of identity politics which became the main way to engage and negotiate with the state. Which led to multiculturalist movements that also became a way for people who were historically excluded to become included. However, these movements do not significantly alter the categories of racialized identity and culture (Winant 2006:988).

Through narratives of nationalism, black people became objects not agents of history (Alonso 2004:476). Multiculturalism officially is about diversity and the celebration of nations in terms of their multiple cultures rather than being a homogenous group (Wade 1997:138). However, these movements, though helping some communities to engage with their nations governments, do not question the binary of modernity and tradition. Furthermore, multiculturalism plays on power and resources, that use historical social relations to make these plays. Racial categories are reinforced even through these expressions of resistance. By pointing out what is not belonging to a particular group we reinforce what we are trying to distance ourselves from (Goldberg 2002:53).

Multiculturalism is used by nations in tourist enterprises. Travel agencies, who are often in charge of mediating tourism, practice exclusionary practices when creating tourist packages or suggesting businesses to use (Christian 2013:1601). For many countries, tourism is seen as a way to industrialize and create economic prosperity and international recognition for the country (Gmelch 2010:165). To do this, one of the only viable choices is to produce new markets such as cultural identity and the reinventing of spaces (Chambers 2010:16).

Racism consist of the essentialization of human identities and produces social formations that unequally distribute resources (Winant 2006:999). Race is a means to reach a goal, a map to guide our social interactions. It is something that people can use to reach a goal but you are required to perform a particular way. Nationalism uses race and later ethnicity and culture as an innate part of the nation-state. This is problematic because people are essentialized through this process and are fixed in time by the stereotypes that define their group. In short, these racialized identities are used to create universal narratives about people in a particular place. Multiculturalism essentializes as well. In a working manuscript on blackness in Mexico, Jerry discusses how some blacks within Mexico are using multicultural strategies in political spaces to restructure the experience of blackness to fit within the national narrative (Jerry 2018: 210).

One way of doing this is by officially defining what black culture is and is not regardless of the fact that many black contributions to Mexican culture have already been authenticated as Mexican with no relation to blackness. Jerry points out how these strategies continue to reproduce conditional forms of belonging based on the principle of inclusion by exclusion (Jerry 2018: 212). Blacks until recently were not seen as contributing to what is considered authentically Mexican. Mexico’s culture is seen only in relation to the indigenous. Many times tourists are interested in engaging in the cultural heritage of the indigenous people, but because black people have not historically been seen as having an authentic culture they have limited ways of participating in this narrative (Chambers 2010:81). Additionally, marketing efforts attempt to eradicate critical thought from the tourist by presenting the locals as harmonious and authentic and avoiding places that disrupts this image. This perpetuates racial stereotyping and ensures wealth is distributed only to those willing to contribute to the hegemonic message.

Conversation of brown and white reproduces the ideology and forgets the fluidity between everyone. The erasure of black people from the Mexican national narrative oppresses them in order to reproduce the nation that oppresses them. In this discussion, I am not trying to make sense of the past as real or authentic. I am simply pointing out how historically constructed exclusion can lead to economic benefit for a few at the expense of others. There is no ideal end to this discussion. Unfortunately when people resist the spot they are given they are marked as a radical and an enemy to the safety of others so there is no easy answer to this problem either. Black people are seen as tools for the nation’s economic prosperity. The racial economy organizes our social relationships and dictates what role a person can have to contribute to the nation. These roles are embodied though are not unquestioned. The point in theorizing and uncovering this history is to make people’s lives better and to show how exclusion is constructed by people.

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