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Afrodescendants, Identity, and the Struggle for Development in the Americas

Bernd Reiter
Kimberly Eison Simmons
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 330
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  • Book Info
    Afrodescendants, Identity, and the Struggle for Development in the Americas
    Book Description:

    Indigenous people and African descendants in Latin America and the Caribbean have long been affected by a social hierarchy established by elites, through which some groups were racialized and others were normalized. Far from being "racial paradises" populated by an amalgamated "cosmic race" of mulattos and mestizos, Latin America and the Caribbean have long been sites of shifting exploitative strategies and ideologies, ranging from scientific racism and eugenics to the more sophisticated official denial of racism and ethnic difference. This book, among the first to focus on African descendants in the region, brings together diverse reflections from scholars, activists, and funding agency representatives working to end racism and promote human rights in the Americas. By focusing on the ways racism inhibits agency among African descendants and the ways African-descendant groups position themselves in order to overcome obstacles, this interdisciplinary book provides a multi-faceted analysis of one of the gravest contemporary problems in the Americas.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-324-1
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Bernd Reiter

    From April 28 to April 30, 2010, the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean (ISLAC) of the University of South Florida hosted an international conference entitled “Reexamining the Black Atlantic: Afro-Descendants Still at the Bottom?” The question was rhetorical, but the aim of asking it was not. As the organizer of the conference, I had long wanted to bring together scholars, activists, and funding-agency representatives committed to, and engaged in, the problems of Afro-descendant communities spread over the Americas. As an activist-turned-scholar, who had lived and worked in the Colombian Pacific (Chocó) and then in Salvador,...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxx)
    Bernd Reiter

    Development remains an elusive ideal. There is no agreement as to what development truly means and how generalizable some of its claims are. The most insightful approach on development comes from Amartya Sen (1999), who argues that development cannot be reduced to economic growth, because economic growth is only a means to an end—and that end is “living the kind of life one has reason to value” (10). To Sen, freedom constitutes the core of development—the freedom to act, to participate, to work, to have a voice, to be recognized and respected by one’s peers and community members,...


    • Building Black Diaspora Networks and Meshworks for Knowledge, Justice, Peace, and Human Rights
      (pp. 3-18)
      Faye V. Harrison

      If intellectuals, especially those based within academic settings, attempt to align their scholarship with the dismantling of racism in its multiple modalities and entanglements with other inequalities, then it is imperative that they collaborate in building alliances. Grassroots activists, practitioners within nongovernmental organizations, philanthropists, and other parties with varying stakes in racial justice can potentially work together in coalitions of knowledge and mobilization promoting human rights and patterns of development based on principles of economic and environmental justice. Scholarship for transformations of this sort cannot be limited to conversations in which academics talk mainly to themselves, invoking the most recent...

    • Pan-Afro-Latin African Americanism Revisited: Legacies and Lessons for Transnational Alliances in the New Millennium
      (pp. 19-48)
      Darién J. Davis, Tianna S. Paschel and Judith A. Morrison

      Any survey of the literature on pan-Africanism reveals that works on Afro-Latin Americans are conspicuously absent. For much of the twentieth century, Afro-Latin Americans remained politically and culturally marginalized within their nation-states, and thus absent from international forums. The historical invisibility of Afro-Latin Americans in the world arena can also be directly traced to the dearth of cultural, political, and financial forums and institutions that encouraged or forged what Stuart Hall calls “imaginary coherence, across cultural, linguistic, and historical differences as response to dispersal and fragmentation” (Hall 1990, 52).

      Early articulations of pan-African unity focused on Africa and the English-...


    • Haitians in the Dominican Republic: Race, Politics,and Neoliberalism
      (pp. 51-66)
      Lauren Derby

      Up until the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, there had been a systematic pattern of human-rights violations towards poor Haitians in the Dominican Republic, which has had an enormously stigmatizing impact on the estimated one million Haitians living there. Anthropologists, literary critics, historians, legal scholars, and documentary filmmakers have established a pattern of egregious human-rights violations against Haitians, including deportations, violence, denial of citizenship, as well as mistreatment of Haitian women working in Dominican assembly plants hiring Haitian labor in the frontier.¹ Indeed, there has been both systematic violence against Haitians on the part of the Dominican state, and...

    • Navigating the Racial Terrain: Blackness and Mixedness in the United States and the Dominican Republic
      (pp. 67-92)
      Kimberly Eison Simmons

      In 1999, Anthony, an African American student studying in the Dominican Republic, was detained at the border overnight when he and some Haitian friends decided to visit Haiti for the weekend. Having accepted the invitation to visit his friends’ families across the border from Dajabón, about two hours from Santiago where he was studying, Anthony and his friends had crossed the border into Haiti without incident; but a problem arose when they tried to return to the Dominican Republic on Sunday. The border was closed. With Haitian passports in hand, along with their Dominican visas, Anthony’s friends were prepared to...

    • Negotiating Blackness within the Multicultural State in Latin America: Creole Politics and Identity in Nicaragua
      (pp. 93-112)
      Juliet Hooker

      This essay explores the ways that Afro-descendant Creoles are currently re-imagining their collective identities in Nicaragua, in the context of multicultural policies that guarantee collective rights to land and culture to both the indigenous and Afro-descendant inhabitants of the country’s Atlantic Coast. It traces changes in the way English-speaking Creoles imagine and represent their identity within a Nicaraguan nation that is portrayed as overwhelminglymestizoor Indo-Hispanic. The central aim is to analyze how and why a strong “black” racial group identity that is imagined in terms of transnational connections to the African Diaspora, including to an African past and...

    • Ethnic Identity and Political Mobilization: The Afro-Colombian Case
      (pp. 113-140)
      Leonardo Reales Jiménez

      In 1995 I was the student with the darkest skin color at the University of the Andes, one of the most influential academic institutions in Colombia. I was the only Afro-indigenous person out of more than ten thousand students. Some colleagues called me “the Negro of the university” and made jokes about my indigenous background. I did not know how to respond to their racist verbal attacks. My ethnic identity did not exist at that time, and for many reasons I was confused about my weak racial (“skin-color”) identity.

      In the late 1990s I joined the Afro-Colombian National Movement CIMARRON....

    • The Grammar of Color Identity in Brazil
      (pp. 141-176)
      Seth Racusen

      What logic does a social structure impose upon public policy? Could an identity structure be too complex or diffuse to implement categorical public policy such as affirmative action? Conversely, what impact does categorical public policy have upon an identity structure? Must categorical policy impose its own categories of identity on its public? This chapter examines the nature of the Brazilian social structure, which I characterize as a grammar of color identity, and its interaction with categorical public policy such as affirmative action in higher education. Opponents of affirmative action have claimed that Brazilian identity is too diffuse and subjective to...


    • Afro-Colombian Welfare: An Application of Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach Using Multiple Indicators Multiple Causes Modeling (MIMIC)
      (pp. 179-206)
      Paula A. Lezama

      Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach has emerged as an alternative framework to long-established economical approaches that seek to analyze individual welfare, poverty and human development from narrow monetary perspectives (Kuklys 2005; Clark 2005). The Capability Approach identifies three elements—functionings, capabilities,andagency—to analyze individual welfare. Functionings represent the achieved welfare of an individual: what a person manages to be or do in the different dimensions of human life. These “beings” and “doings” vary in a wide range of aspects, from being adequately nourished and in good health to more complex achievements like having self-confidence or walking without shame. Capabilities...

    • Racism in a Racialized Democracy and Support for Affirmative Action Policy in Salvador and São Paulo, Brazil
      (pp. 207-230)
      Gladys Mitchell-Walthour

      University affirmative-action policies in Brazil have come under attack from a number of scholars who believe the program is inappropriate for Brazil’s multiracial population. Peter Fry et al.’sDangerous Divisions: Racial Politics in Contemporary Brazil(2007) includes a number of opinion pieces by both scholars and activists against university affirmative action. On the other hand, sociologists such as Antonio Guimarães (2001) and Sales Augusto dos Santos (2006) support the programs. North American scholar Seth Racusen (2010) proposes a novel approach with a schema that would consider both class and race in university affirmative action. Much of the debate focuses on...

    • Afro-Descendant Peoples and Public Policies: The Network of Afro-Latin American and Afro-Caribbean Women
      (pp. 231-240)
      Altagracia Balcácer Molina and Dorotea Wilson

      The very definition of racism, “the superiority of some people over others because of their membership in a particular ethnic or racial group,”¹ leads us to assume a position of rejection and rebellion against its many expressions. This alleged superiority has only been possible to establish through the use of force by groups who unilaterally built a hierarchical social structure based on discriminatory criteria such as poverty, ethnic and racial differences, sex, sexual orientation, and age, among others. In this structure, the highest place is occupied by the dominant groups, and people who do not share their traits are subjected...


    • Decolonizing the Imaging of African-Derived Religions
      (pp. 243-268)
      Amanda D. Concha-Holmes

      In the vein of Harrison’s (1991) call to “decolonize anthropology,” I respond with a challenge to decolonize the imaging of African-derived religions. I attempt to expound on this process through a three-fold path. First, in order to decolonize, one must comprehend some of the historical processes and implications of colonization. In this case, I delineate how racialized modes of scholarship and legislation have created derogatory and commodified representations and images of Afro-Cubans in Cuba. Then, once this historical foundation is set, I endeavor to reframe Lucumí (Yoruba practitioners in Cuba) religio-ecological knowledge,¹ specifically that of Osain. Finally, this paper contributes...

    • Neoliberal Dilemmas: Diaspora, Displacement, and Development in Buenos Aires
      (pp. 269-290)
      Judith M. Anderson

      The development of organizational capacity is key for the advancement of African diasporic people in any nation. Structural racism can thwart such efforts, as already marginalized individuals find themselves further isolated by the same policies that were designed to assist them. Dominant Argentine society, like that of many Latin American and Caribbean nations, insists that racism is imported from other nations, specifically the United States. Argentina, the reputed “European nation in Latin America,” does recognize discrimination against some racial and ethnic minorities, yet denies the existence of anti-black racism. The perceived absence of black people is interpreted as eliminating the...

    • Pluralizing Race
      (pp. 291-302)
      Mamyrah A. Dougé-Prosper

      On October 23, 2006, in response to the debilitating repercussions of the U.S. housing crisis, a group of activists and homeless people took over a vacant public plot of land in Liberty City, Miami, Florida, with the slogan and mission “Take Back the Land.”¹ Having denounced the failures of the local and national governments in providing adequate and fair housing options to lower-income black people in Miami, Take Back the Land founded a shantytown it named Umoja Village, arguing that the village was an exercise of the black community’s human right to self-determination and housing. On April 23, 2007, the...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 303-310)
    Bernd Reiter

    This volume is a unique collection of essays by scholars, activists, and representatives from funding agencies. The starting point is the Black Atlantic (Gilroy 1993). Our aim here is to use the idea as a way of presenting and discussing issues that have been, and still are, relevant to Afro-descendants in the Americas, even though we are aware that many of the communities discussed here do not fit neatly into the Atlantic region. In South America, many African American communities concentrate on the Pacific coasts of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. However, given its salience and notoriety, the concept of the...

  10. Contributors
    (pp. 311-314)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 315-315)