Excerpted Wrom: CUFPEGAUTFJMVRESKPNKMBIPBARHDMNNSKVF
Shadow: Law, Liberalism, and Cultures of Racial Hierarchy and Identity
in the Americas , 76 Tulane Law Review 11-85 , 11-17, 25-40
(November, 2001) (Footnotes Omitted
A. Historical Overview
The black experience in the United States is actually a fairly small
part of a much larger history of the forced transportation and
settlement of Africans in the New
World and the histories of their Afro-American and non-Afro-American
descendants. Our best information indicates that less than six percent
of Africans brought to the Americas settled in what became the United
States. The experiences of Portugal,
Spain, and later Latin America with African and Afro-American slavery
were of a far longer duration than that of British North America, later
the United States. African slavery would begin in metropolitan Spain and
Portugal early in the fifteenth century before Columbus's voyage to the
New World. Latin American slavery would
formally end nearly five hundred years later in Brazil in 1888, a
generation after Appomattox and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.
Over four million African captives were brought to Brazil alone. The
giant Lusophonic colony and nation received the largest number of
Africans from the transatlantic slave trade, more than seven times the
560,000 Africans that are estimated to have come to what would become
the United States. The Spanish-speaking
regions of the Western Hemisphere received 1,662,400 African captives.
The sugar plantation economies of the Americas were the biggest magnet
for the African slave trade. Northeastern Brazil and the Caribbean
received the largest number of Africans brought during the nearly four
centuries of the transatlantic slave trade, and the British and French
Caribbean colonies combined received more than three million Africans.
The pull of the sugar plantation economy was so strong
that Cuba is estimated to have imported over 780,000 African slaves
between 1790 and 1867 alone, nearly 140% of the total number of Africans
brought to the United States between the seventeenth century and the end
of the Civil War.
Africans, it should be stressed, were brought to every New World
society and were a visible and significant portion of the population in
colonial times. This was the case even in countries that today have
relatively small or invisible Afro-American populations. Thus blacks
were very visible in Buenos Aires and other parts of Argentina during
the colonial era and throughout the nineteenth century. In the twentieth
century, the Afro- Argentine population has been so small, at least in
relative numbers, that most observers, including most Argentines, claim
that the population is nonexistent.
Chile had substantial numbers of African slaves working in gold mines,
even though there is no visible Afro-Chilean population today.
Mexico is estimated to have received somewhere between 200,000 to
250,000 African slaves in the colonial era, greater than the number of
Spaniards who came to Mexico during that period.
There are still substantial Afro-Mexican populations, especially in the
states of Veracruz on the east coast and Guerrero and Oaxaca on the west
coast, but their presence is overshadowed by the large Indian and
Mestizo populations of Mexico.
From the beginning, the Portuguese and Spanish experiences with slavery
differed from the experience in British North America. Very few
Portuguese or Spanish settlers came to the Americas.
In most American territories the small, predominately male Portuguese
and Spanish settler populations uneasily ruled over large Indian
populations.For a number of political
and religious reasons, both the Portuguese and Spanish governments
decided that although Indians would be subject to various forced labor
regimes, they would not be formally enslaved.
Legal slave status would be reserved for Africans and their descendants.
This, of course, added further to the anxieties of Portuguese and
Spanish colonists as a growing population of African slaves were brought
to the Americas to labor on the plantations and mines of the New World.
Asserting and maintaining control over the majority of the population,
which was neither Spanish nor Portuguese, was a major preoccupation of
the Iberian settlers in a way that dwarfed similar concerns of the
British settlers of North America.
If Portuguese and Spanish settlers came to the Americas with somewhat
greater fears concerning their slave populations, they also arrived with
a tool that their English counterparts initially lacked--an already
well-developed body of slave law and law concerning free persons of
African descent.Portuguese and Spanish
slave codes derived from the slave law of ancient Rome.
Spain received Roman law in the thirteenth century during the reign of
Alfonso X, the Wise. Roman law,
including the Roman law of slavery,
was codified into Spanish law in Las Siete Partidas.
In Latin America, Roman doctrine was modified in light of Spanish
Christianity. Roman law, for example, was extremely harsh against
potential slave rebellions. If a slave
killed his master, Roman law specified that all the slaves in the
household were to be put to death. The
law prescribed that this was to be accomplished before the reading of
the deceased master's will so that no slave in the household could be
freed and hence be ineligible for execution.
Spanish law confined punishment in such cases to the slaves actually
responsible for the killing.
Spanish and Portuguese law was concerned with far more than simply
establishing a disciplinary code for slaves, as important as that was.
The law was also concerned with the assignment and preservation of
status. It specified how a slave might be set free, preserving much of
the Roman law doctrine on this topic.
Portuguese and Spanish law, especially municipal ordinances, sought to
control the behavior of slaves and free blacks who lived and worked in
cities like Lisbon and Madrid, or who toiled on the sugar plantations in
the Azores and Cape Verde islands. There
were even ordinances in Lisbon, Madrid, and the other cities of Portugal
and Spain that strangely anticipated the Jim Crow regulations of the
U.S. South in the early twentieth century. There existed laws forbidding
free Negroes from wearing clothing above their station, or carrying
swords, and other kinds of status
Portuguese and Spanish laws regulating slaves and free people of
color were adapted to meet immediate needs. Both nations, even before
Colombus's voyages of exploration, were in a process of expanding from a
system of domestic slavery, where slaves were employed to expand the
household labor force, to a system of what some historians have termed
industrial slavery, where slaves would supply the principal labor force
for an expanding export economy built around plantation agriculture or
mining. The development of sugar
plantation agriculture in the Azores and in the Canary and Cape Verde
islands, made slavery more important to the economies of Portugal and
Spain. It also brought significant
numbers of Africans into both nations, making questions of race and
status more critical.
Although the slave laws of Portugal and Spain were concerned with the
immediate question of governing the growing African populations of the
two nations, there is one way that the law of slavery made an enduring
contribution to the culture of race relations in Latin America: the laws
of Spain and Portugal reflected a stringent concern with group
classification. This concern would increase with the Spanish and
Portuguese settlement of what would become Latin America. Spanish and
Portuguese settlers in the Americas, aware of their minority status,
sought to maintain rigid separations among the different African,
Indian, and mixed peoples that they ruled. This
was to be accomplished through
codification, the development of a highly precise system of racial
classification through law. Spanish
lawmakers were particularly artful at this, importing racial categories
developed in Spain and adding to them classifications developed in the
New World. Mexican anthropologist
Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán reported on one such scheme employed in
eighteenth-century Mexico. The codified
categories indicated the designation and status of individuals according
to the race and color of an individual's parents.
The offspring of a:
1. Spaniard with an Indian woman is a Mestizo;
2. Mestizo woman with a Spaniard is a Castizo;
3. Castizo man with a Spanish woman is a Spaniard;
4. Spaniard man with a Black woman is a Mulatto;
5. Mulatto woman with a Spaniard is a Morisco;
6. Morisco man with a Spanish woman is a Chino;
7. Chino man with an Indian woman is a Step Backward;
8. A Step Backward man with a Mulatto woman is a Wolf;
9. A Wolf man with a Chino woman is a Gibaro;
10. A Gibaro man with a Mulatto woman is a Leper;
11. A Leper man with a Black woman is a Cambujo (very dark);
12. A Cambujo man with an Indian woman is a Zambaigo;
13. A Zambaigo man with a Wolf woman is a Calpa Mulatto;
14. A Calpa Mulatto man with a
Cambujo woman is a Stay in the Air;
15. A Stay in the Air man with a Mulatto woman is an I Don't
Understand Thee; and
16. An I Don't Understand Thee man with an Indian woman is a Step
This and other similarly meticulous classification schemes were
developed in part to strengthen Portuguese and Spanish rule in the
Americas. Spanish colonial law in particular attempted to group the
different racial categories into different castes with differing sets of
legal privileges. This was done as part
of a divide-and-rule strategy. Spanish and Portuguese colonial
administrators were particularly concerned with preventing the subject
peoples in their American colonies, the African, Indian, and mixed race
populations, from making common cause. Their idea was that a strictly
codified caste system--the Spanish actually used the word casta or
caste--would foster a strict separation of the differing groups,
facilitating Spanish or Portuguese rule.
The legal attempt to make fine racial distinctions had an ironic
consequence. Far from strengthening the boundaries between the different
subordinate groups, the multiplicity of racial classifications actually
contributed to a culture of racial mobility and what, to North American
eyes, appears to be a culture of racial ambiguity in Latin American
It would become possible to improve one's racial standing with the
improvement of one's social standing. If being white meant that one was
at the top of the social pyramid, while being black meant that one was
at the bottom, these were not legally immutable characteristics.
The successful individual, the military captain, the person who struck
it rich in the gold fields, those whom fortune smiled upon, could aspire
to be white. In some cases, legal recognition of one's
"whiteness" could actually be purchased.
Even if whiteness might be beyond an individual's grasp, a free person
of African descent might aspire to be recognized as a Mulatto, a Morisco,
or some other mixed category.
Racial mobility, of course, can only exist where there is a clear
notion of racial hierarchy or stratification. Firm notions of the proper
place and status of the three races existed in Spanish and Portuguese
thought. Whites were deemed superior. Indians, as a group, were seen as
nobler than Africans. As might be expected, this picture became more
complicated when cultural issues and racial mixtures came into play. As
Africans, and more particularly their Afro-American descendants, adapted
to the Portuguese and Spanish cultures, they became part of Latin
American colonial societies. Because Africans were enslaved, more of
them were likely to adopt the principal features of the Portuguese and
Spanish cultures, particularly language and religion, than Indians, many
of whom were effectively beyond the control of their
nominal European masters. This helped
to create a system of racial stratification, a pyramid if you will,
which persists to the present day in most Latin American nations. Whites
generally have a superior status. People of Indian racial background
whose cultural practices are mainly of Portuguese or Spanish
derivation--Portuguese or Spanish is their first language, Catholicism
is largely unmixed with indigenous religious practices-- would be next
on the social ladder. Mestizos, people of mixed indigenous and white
background, would have a higher rating than those of largely Indian
background. At the bottom of the social pyramid would be Afro-Americans,
with mulattoes occupying a higher social status than blacks. Indians who
retain indigenous cultural patterns--and in most nations Indians are
defined culturally, not racially-are
frequently viewed as being outside the society's social structure,
frequently with devastating results. It
was in this hierarchical framework that law in colonial Latin America
provided a formal legitimization to the notion of racial mobility.
It should be quickly acknowledged that the law's role in creating
this culture of racial mobility, although real, was probably of somewhat
minor importance. More than any other reason, demography dictated that
Brazil and the Spanish colonies adopt a fluid view of racial
classification. With their small European populations, Latin American
colonial societies could not have functioned without allowing
significant numbers of people of African and indigenous
descent to rise within the different societies. The military and
economic needs of those colonies dictated the rise of large free
Afro-American populations, mostly (but not exclusively) from the ranks
of those of mixed racial backgrounds.
These needs also dictated that the population be allowed to join the
ranks of citizens and that a certain fluidity in racial definition be
The history of Afro-American slavery in Latin America is a long and
complex one that cannot be examined here. The system of African
household and industrial slavery that began in Spain and Portugal early
in the fifteenth century would ultimately end in Latin America in the
nineteenth. Here the histories of Brazil and the Spanish-speaking
nations of the hemisphere took very distinct paths. Spain's American
colonies began the process of emancipation as part of their struggles
for independence from Spain. Some of the emerging nations abolished
slavery outright when they attained independence and adopted new
constitutions. Others developed gradual
emancipation schemes that put an end to formal chattel slavery within a
generation after the attainment of independence.
Puerto Rico and Cuba, which would remain Spanish colonies until the end
of the nineteenth century, would retain slavery throughout most of the
Brazil would have the longest experience with Afro-American slavery. Although
Brazil would attain independence in 1822, it would become independent as
an empire, complete with an emperor and an economy very much centered
around plantation agriculture and slavery.
Brazil would resist much of the antislavery currents of
nineteenth-century liberal thought. The Brazilian Empire would only
reluctantly agree to end the slave trade in 1850, more than forty years
after Britain and the United States had outlawed the trade.
Slavery was finally abolished in Brazil in 1888.
The circumstances of abolition and its relationship to postemancipation
race relations will be discussed below.
B. Race and Contemporary Afro-Latins: The Elusive Problem
Slavery has left a mixed legacy to the American hemisphere. There are
visible Afro-American populations throughout the hemisphere. Every
nation in the Americas numbers among its citizens descendants of African
slaves, most who are classified as black or mulatto, and some who are
numbered among the white or mestizo populations of their nations. Here,
just as in our previous discussion with slave importation, it might be
useful to attempt to contrast the size of the black population of the
United States with the Afro- American population in the hemisphere as a
whole. This is a somewhat difficult task. While the records of
slave-trading companies, combined with tax records, have given
demographic historians a reasonably accurate portrait of the size of the
slave trade and the destinations of the African captives who came to the
Americas, the data are much less firm on contemporary Afro-American
The first problem is one of definition. Who should we count as Afro-
Brazilian, Afro-Mexican, or Afro-Colombian? To North Americans, that
seems like an incredibly easy question. We are accustomed to viewing
anybody with traceable African ancestry as black. Surely, even conceding
to Latin Americans that blacks and mulattos are distinct groups and that
our notion of hypo- descent is carrying things a bit far, we should be
able to determine if there is a proximate black ancestor, perhaps
drawing the line at grandparents or great-grandparents, and thus, decide
if an individual might fall into an Afro- American category. This should
not be too difficult. It is. Concepts that either developed or
intensified during slavery, views of black inferiority, and notions of
racial mobility complicate the task of determining who should be
included in the Afro-American population of Latin America. If U.S.
history and culture dictated that anyone with traceable African ancestry
was to be included in the black population, circumstances during slavery
and after emancipation in Latin America dictated almost exactly the
opposite--people of mixed background or even people largely of African
ancestry above a certain social standing were to be counted as something
other than black.
There is yet another level of complexity that must be added to the question
of who should be counted as an Afro-American within the Latin American
context. After awhile, the North American researcher begins to get the
hang of things. There is a strong distinction between blacks and
mulattos. There are individuals with admitted black ancestors who
regarded themselves, and are regarded by others, as white or mestizo.
Racial mobility is possible--you need not remain a member of the racial
group into which you were born. Just as you get used to these ideas,
certain facts throw a curveball or two your way. If it is true that
phenotype and social position determine race--and not remote ancestry,
as has been the case in the United States--why is the tragic mulatto
story a genre in Latin American as well as North American fiction? Or
why does one occasionally encounter individuals who are phenotypically
white or Indian who nonetheless identify themselves as Afro- Colombians
or Afro-Mexicans? These seeming counterexamples tend to make the North
American student of race even less surefooted when traversing the
difficult terrain of race and status in Latin America.
In some cases African ancestry is denied altogether, even when it is
apparent. The population of the Dominican Republic, for example, is
predominately of African descent. Only a minority of the population is
phenotypically white, and a majority of that group probably has some
African ancestry. Despite this, it has
been customary among some Dominicans, until relatively recently, to
define themselves as Indians, or descendants
of Indians, and not as Afro-Dominicans. Blacks have frequently used the
term Indio Oscuro, or Dark Indian, while mulattos have tended to use the
term Indio Claro, or Light Indian. This
tendency has in part reflected the traditional higher status for people
of Indian descent in Latin America, as well as the fact that Haitians
have traditionally been seen as the "other" in Dominican
All of this makes determining the size and scope of the Afro-American
population in the Western Hemisphere a somewhat difficult undertaking.
This task is made yet more difficult because, with the exception of
Brazil, most of the nations of Latin America have not kept systematic
records of their African- descended populations in national censuses.
Angel Rosenblat's population estimates, done in the late 1940s, are
frequently taken as a point of departure for estimates of racial groups
in the Americas.Rosenblat's estimates
indicated that in 1950, throughout the hemisphere, there was a black
population of nearly 29 million and a mulatto population of a little
over 19 million. This would make an
Afro-American population of approximately 48 million in a hemisphere
that then had a little more than 326 million inhabitants.
Thus, according to Rosenblat's estimates, Afro-Americans counted for
nearly 15% of the inhabitants of the Americas.
However, a study done by the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) in
1996 indicated a population of some 150 million persons of African
descent in Latin America out of an
estimated 471 million persons in the region.
These figures would make the Afro-American population roughly 32% of the
population of the region as a whole. The differences between the
Rosenblat and IDB estimates can in part be attributed to the difficult
question of who should be counted as Afro-American within the Latin
By any estimate the Afro-American population of Latin America is
substantial. In some countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, the
Dominican Republic, and Venezuela, people of visible African descent
make up one-third or more of the population.
In other nations, Mexico and Peru for example, there are substantial
Afro-American populations, but their presence tends to be overshadowed
by the large indigenous populations and the tensions between the white
and mestizo populations and those who retain an indigenous culture.
In a number of Latin American nations, the Afro-American population is
quite small, and there has been a tendency to claim that they have
disappeared altogether. This has been
true, to varying degrees, of Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay in the
twentieth century. In some countries,
the Afro-American population is largely an immigrant population,
particularly in many Central American nations, where there has been
large English-speaking Afro-Caribbean immigration in the twentieth
century. In a number of nations, this
has added an overlay of cultural conflict in addition to their racial
Despite significant variations
in the different nations, certain common patterns with respect to race
and discrimination regularly appear in the historical and social science
literature discussing Afro-Americans in Latin America. Racial hierarchy,
a social pyramid with blacks on the bottom and whites on top, the idea
of relative fluidity in racial classifications, and the concept of
racial mobility have all been reasonably well-explored in the recent
social science literature. A generation or two ago, historians and
social scientists, partly influenced by the contrast with the Jim Crow
United States, were likely to describe racial interactions in Latin
America in terms of the concept of "racial democracy,"
attributing the different conditions under which blacks and whites lived
to class differences, not racial discrimination.
Today there is a much greater willingness in the literature to recognize
the extent of Latin American racial discrimination in areas like
employment, public accommodations, receipt of government services, and
even areas like public stereotyping and racial insult.
There are efforts in some Latin American countries to strengthen
antidiscrimination laws.There is also a
debate over how much might be learned from the U.S. experience in this