Sample Sociology Paper on Race in Latin America

Race in Latin America

Throughout history, racial concept in Latin American societies has been crucial in the development of modern times.  The study of race in Latin America majorly focuses on blacks and their descendants who came to the region during slavery, the whites who colonized and settled in the area, and the Indians an indigenous group that inhabited the region before European conquest (Wade, 2017). Importantly, race in Latin America mainly focuses on the “mixture” of biological and cultural blending amongst the three populations. During the colonial period, the European colonists took African slaves to Latin America where the mixed unions resulted in socially distinct persons.

Today, the study of race in Latin America has reached a ‘post- revisionist’ stage where different researchers have documented social movements and interaction of state entities that gives a sense of racial knowledge (Wade, 2017). In this paper, I examined the concept of race and racial democracy in Latin America and its implication on the black community, as illustrated by Wade (2017) in the article titled Racism and Race Mixture in Latin America Latin American.

Historical, Social and Cultural contexts of Race in Latin America

Generally, racism in Latin America took place when the Europeans dominantly took control of the economic, social, and military status of the country (Telles, 2014). The white supremacy led to the exploitation of black and indigenous people in an attempt to enforce cultural practices like religion. However, the black communities struggled to resist the colonial injustices. They came up with numerous rebellions measures where they managed to escape to new settlements.

From the early 19th Century, the castle relationship, a feature of the colonial period, was eliminated, paving the way for the emergence of new states. With these events unfolding, debates regarding profiles of people’s citizenries, socioracial backgrounds, and people’s future emerged (Telles, 2014).  The conversations and discussions about these matters took place at a period race was being consolidated globally in Latin America. At the same time, slavery was abolished, and Latin America witnessed an increase in the racial mixture. Moreover, the people of black descent were attempting to position themselves politically among other non-Latin citizens (Telles, 2014). As Latin America grappled with racial issues, it began reshaping its heritage leading to the development of new ideologies that fostered rebuilding the future hemisphere.

In the late 20th Century, the new ideas and ideologies depicted Latin America as a nation of ‘racial democracy’ and a place where racial discrimination was abolished (Layton & Smith, 2017).   Even though the country claimed to have racial equality and equal opportunities to all its citizens, a group of black politicians and public figures later proved that this was just rhetoric and was never entirely based in reality (Graham, 2010).  However, with the emergence of racial mixture, there came the miscegenation concept, which only emphasized white supremacy. Consequently, Afro- Latin Americans were left to thrive in circumstances that concentrated on affirming black social mobility (Wade, 2017).  Furthermore, the whites dominated the subordinate groups like the blacks who remained disadvantaged in society.

Political and Economic context of race in Latin America

The black community was not allowed to express their political views. As a result, the black resistant movement focused on preserving culture, religion, and family issues (Da Costa, 2016). Attempts by blacks to be politically independent were met with objections, and the Cuban war saw massacre of its people (Wade, 2017). This example shows the extent in which white rulers responded to the call of racial equality. Later, the black resistance movement fought for the formation of autonomous communities. Besides, the strengths of the blacks made them fight for their freedom (Wade, 2017). In certain regions of Latin America, the black communities chose political leaders whose work was to trade votes in order gain economic favors from the whites who were the ruling class. Additionally, the black community found in economically valuable regions selected a representative known as the ‘mulattos’ who haggled over their employment terms and value of laborers

Economically, with an upsurge increase in Latin American exports,   the elites pondered why the Latin American countries were not experiencing economic stability (Da Costa, 2016). The Economic life of blacks included subsistence farming, exploitation of natural resources, engaging in activities such as trade, fishing, and hunting. The whites then concluded that with the availability of industries and technology, the backwardness had to be brought about by the cultural influences. (Da Costa, 2016).  Africans, indigenous people and mixed generations lacked the knowledge and skills necessary in local industrialization.

Racial inequality existed at the time, prompting forceful assimilation of ‘barbarians’ in the dominant culture or removing the minority groups from society (Da Costa, 2016). Ultimately, following emancipation, the transformation of Indians into mestizos and marginalizing African communities constituted the trends of racial history. In turn, both groups were the engine behind the changes in the Latin American global economy, and the beginning of industrialization. Mestization in Latin American countries such as Mexico, Central America, and Andean republics relied on the availability of export products (Da Costa, 2016). This prompted the Indians to leave their homes and indulge in trade and build the market economy. Coffee farming was practiced in Central America while mining was done in Mexico.

Racial Democracy in Latin America

Following emancipation, states like the US enacted discriminatory laws against the blacks, and from this emerged an institutionalized racist society. In contrast, Latin America did not experience the same wave of racial discrimination towards people of black skin color (Wade, 2017). However, this did not mean that blacks in Latin America never suffered from social and racial inequalities following liberation. Instead, countries like Brazil thought that racial prejudice existed in the social hierarchy along certain lines such as wealth and social classes of people as opposed to one’s skin color or decent (Layton & Smith, 2017).  In Latin American countries like Brazil, the essential factor when determining a citizen’s privileges was wealth and class, as opposed to the race of an individual (Wade, 2017). Even though race played a dominant role in a person’s national identity, the impact of wealth remains essential to inclusion in society.

The myth of racial democracy in Latin American countries like Brazil propagates that racial discrimination and inequality are not as prevalent in Latin American countries as other states of the world (Wade, 2017). Besides, black people are said to have experienced little or no racial oppression. In everyday practice, the concept of race in Latin America plays a vital role in identifying racial categories such as “blacks’, ‘whites, Indians and the mestizo groups. For instance, in a country like Brazil, these issues of racial democracy play out in everyday life. Despite of the indeterminacy of black people’s identity, a lot of racial inequality exists, and this i further aggravates continued discrimination of black people (Wade, 2017). In Latin American countries like Colombia, Peru, and Guatemala, there is evidence that the racial mixture has led to coexistence, although notions on white supremacy dominate while blackness and indigenousness remain inferior.

Towards the end of the twentieth Century, many Latin American nations started redefining their identities as they distanced themselves from the ideas of ‘blanqueamiento’ (Layton & Smith, 2017).  The Latin American countries shifted focus on the celebration of cultural diversity and ethnicity. This move was meant to counter the racial injustice towards the indigenous people and the black political activism movement advocated for resistance of racial discrimination.  Significantly the term race cannot be found in a new discourse, yet it occurs in the same categories of black, white, or Indian (Layton & Smith, 2017). In addition, the developments on racial identities of black and indigenous people are reaffirmed in the public realm. For instance, in determining particular matters of land, the topic of ethnicity arises. Although land was reserved for the indigenous people in several parts of Latin America, the black communities were disadvantaged, and it’s only in Colombia where there was the possibility of black people applying for land reserve emerged.

Clearly, from the developments on racial issues, the impact is not well defined. Despite people’s attitudes and perceptions of the race over a long period, the topic of the mixture remains crucial as part of Latin American identities (Layton & Smith, 2017). Initially, these concepts of the race were not meant to ignore the presence of black descent and indigenous peoples like the Indians. Instead, this move helped in marginalizing the minority groups to the point of invisibility. Wade argues that emphasis on multiculturalism increased the visibility of these minority groups. However, the rhetorical question of whether such developments can aid in reducing economic, political and social marginality of subordinated groups still remains unanswered (Layton & Smith, 2017). A research conducted in Brazil on Miscegenation, where the author examines intermarriages brought about by mixing races, Wade asserts that the moment the color line broke down, racial stratification began to take shape in Brazil due to assimilation and acculturation of different community groups like in Brazil (Layton & Smith, 2017).  While other colonies minimized racial intermarriages, Latin American countries embraced miscegenation and sought to absorb ethnicity.

According to WADE, in discrediting claims on racial democracy by other scholars, he argued that in Latin America, the biological definition of Negro has never developed (Layton & Smith, 2017). However, a special place referred to as the ‘mulatto’ was reserved for people of mixed blood. The mulatto opened the doors for broader possibilities of social mobility. In Brazil, the mulatto belonged to a different racial group; therefore, it became a multiracial country (Layton & Smith, 2017). Currently, there exist disparities in education, standards of living, and sources of income among afro- Brazilians. Racially wealth is unequally distributed in Latin America. This is as a result of racial inequality between the rich and the poor (Layton & Smith, 2017). Statistically, the white Brazilians are better off than other indigenous groups and black communities in terms of living conditions, education systems, wealth, and health care. Afro Brazilians are the most impoverished group and under-educated in Latin American society compared to the whites (Layton & Smith, 2017). In 1980, Latin Americans came up with policies to curb the great divide between the elite and the poor in society. This move was aimed at addressing the racial issues of inequality among the Afro -Brazilian population.

Wade further states that lack of political activist movement led to racial oppression of black people and aggravated racial injustices. The presence of activist movements was not firmly felt in Latin American countries due to reluctant and government sanctions towards discrimination (Layton & Smith, 2017). Because black political activism was short-lived, it failed to address the drastic racial problems of the black people. Essentially, the idea of racial democracy only favored the status quo of afro Latinos in the lowest class, thus resulting in rampant racism. Recent research shows that there were no laws that could suppress black oppression. However, the government enacted policies to control the freed black population (Wade, 2017). The Latin American states concentrated on whitening its population after slavery and encouraged European immigration.


Studying race and racial democracies in Latin America has brought a lot of controversies. Scholars and researchers argue that while institutions may not necessarily have racial discrimination in Latin America, this does not stop racial prejudice. Today, research shows that there is evidence of reducing inequalities and racial discrimination towards black communities in Latin America. Currently, racial stratification is widespread though it manifests in different ways.   Despite the racial democracies concept that is predominant in Latin American countries, racial prejudice and discrimination can still be reaffirmed.


Wade, P. (2017). Racism and Race Mixture in Latin America. Latin American Research Review, 52(3).

Telles, E. (2014). Pigmentocracies: Ethnicity, race, and color in Latin America. UNC Press Books.

Graham, R. (Ed.). (2010). The idea of race in Latin America, 1870-1940. University of Texas Press.

Layton, M. L., & Smith, A. E. (2017). Is it race, class, or gender? the sources of perceived discrimination in Brazil. Latin American Politics and Society, 59(1), 52-73.

Da Costa, A. E. (2016). The (un) happy objects of affective community: mixture, conviviality and racial democracy in Brazil. Cultural studies, 30(1), 24-46.