FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Taxonomy of Racism from Alvarado to Zimmerman

Last week our delegation from School of the Americas Watch made a visit to the Casa de la Memoria, or House of Memory, a new museum here in Guatemala City. What first caught my eye was a poster of early Spanish classifications of racial castes. It is the museum’s answer to the racist notion taught in schools here, that after the Spaniards arrival there was a “mixing of cultures”, kind of like peanut meets chocolate, or hip-hop meets jazz, to produce something new and beautiful — Guatemalan, or at least Ladino, culture. The narratives on the wall counter that pretty well —  the real history of rape, forced labor, and massacres were not quite such serendipitous events.

But the poster says it better. It starts off with a Spaniard meeting an indigenous woman (at an ice-cream social, no doubt), thus producing a “mestizo” child.  In the next panels, the mestizo children in turn start having kids, and things get complicated pretty quickly, if you’re as obsessed with race as the Conquistadores apparently were. There are a total of 16 classifications on the poster, each illustrated with parents of varying tones producing children with increasingly bizarre and elaborate names (and presumably an ever-shrinking sliver of civil rights).  The addition of “moros”, or Africans, to Central America begat yet more taxonomic challenges.  What really caught my eye was “lobo “.  Yes, apparently a child produced by a man whose parents were Spanish and black, and whose mother was Spanish, African and indigenous (leaving exact parentages aside for now, though the poster does not) gives birth to a wolf.

The next to last frame shows a child whose mother is a mixture I can’t quite decipher, and whose father is a mulato — this child is labelled, no doubt appropriately, a “No te entiendo”, or an “I don’t understand you”.

This poster and its classifications are astonishing and disturbing, of course, but we gringos dismiss it as exotic at our own peril.  Mulato is still a recognizable, if offensive, term in the US, and I don’t think one would have to dig too far into the archives of Mississippi or Louisiana to find a set of precise legal definitions (and associated explications of American apartheid pre and post-civil war) of mulato, quadroon, octoroon, and so on, each with their own specific legal implications as well.  The arcane images on the poster don’t only represent 16th century Mesoamerican sociology — they speak to the question of who our great-grandmothers could marry in Alabama, and perhaps whether your great Uncle inherited his farm or had to sharecrop it.

At the bottom of the poster it reads “Todos somos gente” – we are all people. But it’s clear that such a statement is still a protest as well as a fact.

Institutionalized racism today, whether in Guatemala, Florida, or Brooklyn, contains these same complicated calculations of personhood in its DNA. They are the sorts of calculations which were being made unconsciously in a courtroom this past month, as 12 people were given the task of deciding whether a young man possessing an unknown quantity of brown-ness, and playing loud music, is sufficient reason to shoot him. (Spoiler alert….yes, apparently it is.) There were few disputed facts in either the Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis cases, and it is clear enough that if a person kills another person over loud music, or skittles and hoodies, that is murder or manslaughter. The verdicts justifiably outraged and mystified so many. Yet tragically, the prosecutors had little trouble convincing enough jurors to define Jordan and Trayvon as thugs, or wolves, or “No te entiendo” ‘s, to reach the decisions they did.

The project of the museum in Guatemala City is education — a group of middle schoolers were headed in just as we left. In their country and mine, if we truly aspire to make “todos somos gente” our reality, we had better get on with it.

Richard Ring is a field biologist and activist from upstate New York. In 2002 he served three months in federal prison for civil disobedience at the School of the Americas located in Ft. Benning, GA. His Bureau of Prisons I.D. number is 91099-020.

More articles by:

February 18, 2019
Paul Street
31 Actual National Emergencies
Robert Fisk
What Happened to the Remains of Khashoggi’s Predecessor?
David Mattson
When Grizzly Bears Go Bad: Constructions of Victimhood and Blame
Julian Vigo
USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech
George Wuerthner
How the BLM Serves the West’s Welfare Ranchers
Christopher Fons
The Crimes of Elliot Abrams
Thomas Knapp
The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC
Mitchel Cohen
A Tale of Two Citations: Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Michael Harrington’s “The Other America”
Jake Johnston
Haiti and the Collapse of a Political and Economic System
Dave Lindorff
It’s Not Just Trump and the Republicans
Laura Flanders
An End to Amazon’s Two-Bit Romance. No Low-Rent Rendezvous.
Patrick Walker
Venezuelan Coup Democrats Vomit on Green New Deal
Natalie Dowzick
The Millennial Generation Will Tear Down Trump’s Wall
Nick Licata
Of Stress and Inequality
Joseph G. Ramsey
Waking Up on President’s Day During the Reign of Donald Trump
Elliot Sperber
Greater Than Food
Weekend Edition
February 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies
Chris Floyd
Pence and the Benjamins: An Eternity of Anti-Semitism
Rob Urie
The Green New Deal, Capitalism and the State
Jim Kavanagh
The Siege of Venezuela and the Travails of Empire
Paul Street
Someone Needs to Teach These As$#oles a Lesson
Andrew Levine
World Historical Donald: Unwitting and Unwilling Author of The Green New Deal
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Third Rail-Roaded
Eric Draitser
Impacts of Exploding US Oil Production on Climate and Foreign Policy
Ron Jacobs
Maduro, Guaidó and American Exceptionalism
John Laforge
Nuclear Power Can’t Survive, Much Less Slow Climate Disruption
Joyce Nelson
Venezuela & The Mighty Wurlitzer
Jonathan Cook
In Hebron, Israel Removes the Last Restraint on Its Settlers’ Reign of Terror
Ramzy Baroud
Enough Western Meddling and Interventions: Let the Venezuelan People Decide
Robert Fantina
Congress, Israel and the Politics of “Righteous Indignation”
Dave Lindorff
Using Students, Teachers, Journalists and other Professionals as Spies Puts Everyone in Jeopardy
Kathy Kelly
What it Really Takes to Secure Peace in Afghanistan
Brian Cloughley
In Libya, “We Came, We Saw, He Died.” Now, Maduro?
Nicky Reid
The Councils Before Maduro!
Gary Leupp
“It’s All About the Benjamins, Baby”
Jon Rynn
What a Green New Deal Should Look Like: Filling in the Details
David Swanson
Will the U.S. Senate Let the People of Yemen Live?
Dana E. Abizaid
On Candace Owens’s Praise of Hitler
Raouf Halaby
‘Tiz Kosher for Elected Jewish U.S. Officials to Malign
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Deceitful God-Talk at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast
W. T. Whitney
Caribbean Crosswinds: Revolutionary Turmoil and Social Change 
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Avoiding Authoritarian Socialism
Howard Lisnoff
Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Anti-immigrant Hate
Ralph Nader
The Realized Temptations of NPR and PBS
Cindy Garcia
Trump Pledged to Protect Families, Then He Deported My Husband
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail