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Blanqueamiento Cultural Colonialism, Internalized Racism, blanqueamiento, adelantar la familia Read more: Blanqueamiento - Cultural Colonialism, Internalized Racism, blanqueamiento, adelantar la familia
Cultural Colonialism, Internalized Racism, blanqueamiento, adelantar la familia
The concept of blanqueamiento refers to ethnic, cultural, and racial “whitening.” Blanqueamiento, an ideology as well as a social practice, is a major form of racism in the United States. It is a racist way of thinking that places value on white Anglo culture while implicitly devaluing nonwhite cultures. In turn, blanqueamiento works to recreate a social hierarchy based on race and to perpetuate white supremacy. Yet, because such racist beliefs are so pervasive in society and its institutions, they often remain invisible or are ignored.
The notion of blanqueamiento relates to what can be called cultural colonialism. It is a way of privileging white culture and associating it with superiority and refinement. Blanqueamiento accepts Anglo-American whiteness as developed and advanced. In referring to “race” in cultural terms, blanqueamiento links whiteness to high status, wealth, power, national culture, civilization, Christianity, modernity, and development. Thus “whitening” in the cultural sense is “becoming” more modern, more civilized, and more superior in terms of national standards. These notions simultaneously associate blackness and indigenousness with the lack of cultural refinement, ambition, and civilization. Nonwhite cultural expressions are in turn considered barbaric, vulgar, unself-reflective and stupid. These principles of blanqueamiento indirectly reject and devalue black and indigenous culture.
Persons who consciously or unconsciously pursue a course of becoming “whiter” and consider themselves superior in “cultural” terms to darker nonwhite people ascribe to principles of blanqueamiento. Given the negative cultural ascriptions that blanqueamiento associates with blackness and indigenousness, it purports the view that upward mobility cannot be achieved if a nonwhite identity is maintained. It suggests that nonwhites are the potential equals to whites in physical terms, but that their traditions and modes of behavior are heavily influenced by an earlier, lesser state of cultural development. Therefore blanqueamiento promotes a system of beliefs that places socioeconomic advancement and success in relation to racial “development.”
This ideology of blanqueamiento has been utilized by nonwhites for purposes of social advancement. Blanqueamiento links whiteness with success and blackness with poverty on the level of social relations of class society and the cultural space of the nation. It is a continuing legacy of a time when society was modeled on a race-based caste system. Slavery produced a social order that assigned people of color the lowest rank in the social hierarchy. It became legally and socially beneficial for people of color to mix with whites to “whiten” their blood and lineage. Nonwhites could improve their social status by “whitening” themselves through marriage or informal affairs with lighter if not white people. Thus blanqueamiento adheres to notions of adelantar la familia, advancing the family socially through “whitening.”
Given the context of a racially based social system, people of color who adhered to notions of blanqueamiento aspired to “become” light and to get as far away from slavery as possible. Instead of developing a consciousness of their own worth, they absorbed the discriminating beliefs imposed on them from above. Intermarrying with people of lighter skin color was a mechanism for people of color to integrate themselves better into society and establish their social distance from slavery. Racial mixture blurred the visible boundaries between racial groups. Yet for nonwhites, being accepted into larger society was also conditional on cultural “lightening” as well. Under the rationale of blanqueamiento, white social attributes help to offset nonwhite racial attributes, making conformity to white social norms necessary.
In this light, nonwhites come to perpetuate the racial hierarchy and racism that oppresses them. “Successful” nonwhites end up being dependent on and/or associating with whites-blacks, even if there is no personal motive to “whiten” themselves or their children. The same disdain with which they were regarded by most whites they often applied to their peers. “Whitening,” physically or culturally, was a precursor for upward mobility. In turn social, economic, and political advancement was conditional on engaging in adaptive strategies that promoted racist ideas and practices. Success and acceptance entail acting like and purporting the racist values of those in power. This conditional acceptance of people of color by placing a premium on white strategies and practices that promote blanqueamiento is sometimes termed today as “passing.”
Blanqueamiento specifically encourages Latinos and Latinas to identify or orient themselves toward whiteness. Ideas of blanqueamiento sustain eugenic notions that white blood is stronger than other types and would dominate the mixture. Under this principle the process of mixing, both racially and culturally, is seen as a progressive whitening of the population that would eventually bring about the elimination of blacks and Indians. Mixture would orient society toward a distinctively whiter end of the spectrum. The ideology of blanqueamiento presumes that the best means of integrating minorities into society is suppression of African and nonwhite derived expressions. Thus nonwhites should assimilate and adhere to “superior” Western norms and values. In this way blanqueamiento works to reiterate the hierarchies of a racial order and to perpetuate racism.
Blanqueamiento is also an unstated physical and cultural goal of the United States. Symbols of nationhood such as the “melting pot” and diversity are coupled with ideologies of blanqueamiento. A pernicious pluralism exists when diversity is embraced, because the essence of such beliefs is still rooted in Euro or Anglo whiteness. Legal and government discourses of “nondiscriminatory color blindness” imply blanqueamiento and result not in equity but in a subtle form of racism.
Such discourses can lead to the self-discrimination of Latinos and Latinas. The assimilating elements of heterogeneity devalue or deny the contributions of people of color to the nation. Latinos and Latinas are denied agency in claiming status as real producers of elements of national culture. If people cannot honor their own culture and history both privately and publicly, they are essentially giving in to the oppression of forced assimilation in the dominant culture.
The U.S. population as a whole is not willing to accept the quality of nonwhite peoples as part of the cultural construct of the nation. Discourses on pluralism fail to understand how black people have engaged in cultural practices that have transformed the nation, its culture, and its people. Neglecting or minimizing the contribution of Latinos and Latinas and Afro-Latinos and Afro-Latinas to the culture and formation of the nation denies official recognition of the true racial composition of the population. In turn, such discourses of blanqueamiento harm nonwhite cultural identities that are defined both privately by the individual and publicly by the community and society.
Furthermore, such discourses seek not only to de-Africanize the nation but also to blame those classified as nonwhite for the worsening state of the nation. Thus blanqueamiento results in a struggle over the value of historical and cultural contributions made by Latinos and Latinas and other nonwhites to the emerging nation. Blanqueamiento purports positive values associated with whiteness and in turn plays a part in undermining the formation of a distinct Latino and Latina identity. The hegemony of blanqueamiento has become part of the natural order of society and the nation, so that it is not questioned and is unconsciously promoted.
Bibliography and More Information about Blanqueamiento
* Helg, Aline. “Race in Argentina and Cuba, 1880–1930: Theory, Politics, and Popular Reaction.” In The Idea of Race in Latin America, 1870–1940, edited by Richard Graham. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990.
* Martinez-Alier, Verena. Marriage, Class, and Colour in Nineteenth-Century Cuba: A Study of Racial Attitudes and Sexual Values in a Slave Society. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1974.
* McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Peace and Freedom (July/August 1989): 10–12.
* Roediger, David. Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. London and New York: Verso, 1991.
* Torres, Arlene, and Norman E. Whitten Jr., eds. Blackness in Latin America and the Caribbean. 2 vols. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.
* Wade, Peter. Race and Ethnicity in Latin America. London: Pluto, 1997.
See also Afro-Latinos; Black-Latino Relations; Internalized Racism; Mestizaje; Race and Racialization; and Whiteness.