FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Taxonomy of Racism from Alvarado to Zimmerman

by RICHARD RING

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:
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
Susan Roberts
Are Modern Cities Sustainable?
Joyce Nelson
Canada vs. Venezuela: Have the Koch Brothers Captured Canada’s Left?
Geoff Dutton
America Loves Islamic Terrorists (Abroad): ISIS as Proxy US Mercenaries
Mike Whitney
The Obnoxious Pence Shows Why Korea Must End US Occupation
Joseph Natoli
In the Post-Truth Classroom
John Eskow
One More Slaughter, One More Piece of Evidence: Racism is a Terminal Mental Disease
John W. Whitehead
War Spending Will Bankrupt America
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Latest Insulting Proposal: Converting SNAP into a Canned Goods Distribution Program
Robert Fantina
Guns, Violence and the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Zaps Oxygen
John Laforge
$1.74 Trillion for H-bomb Profiteers and “Fake” Cleanups
CJ Hopkins
The War on Dissent: the Specter of Divisiveness
Peter A. Coclanis
Chipotle Bell
Anders Sandström – Joona-Hermanni Mäkinen
Ways Forward for the Left
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Winning Hearts and Minds
Tommy Raskin
Syrian Quicksand
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Still Tries to Push Dangerous Drug Class
Jill Richardson
The Attorney General Thinks Aspirin Helps Severe Pain – He’s Wrong
Mike Miller
Herb March: a Legend Deserved
Ann Garrison
If the Democrats Were Decent
Renee Parsons
The Times, They are a-Changing
Howard Gregory
The Democrats Must Campaign to End Trickle-Down Economics
Sean Keller
Agriculture and Autonomy in the Middle East
Ron Jacobs
Re-Visiting Gonzo
Eileen Appelbaum
Rapid Job Growth, More Education Fail to Translate into Higher Wages for Health Care Workers
Ralph Nader
Shernoff, Bidart, and Echeverria—Wide-Ranging Lawyers for the People
Chris Zinda
The Meaning of Virginia Park
Robert Koehler
War and Poverty: A Compromise with Hell
Mike Bader – Mike Garrity
Senator Tester Must Stop Playing Politics With Public Lands
Kenneth Culton
No Time for Olympic Inspired Nationalism
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Final Days of the Regime
Irene Tung – Teófilo Reyes
Tips are for Servers Not CEOs
Randy Shields
Yahoomans in Paradise – This is L.A. to Me
Thomas Knapp
No Huawei! US Spy Chiefs Reverse Course on Phone Spying
Mel Gurtov
Was There Really a Breakthrough in US-North Korea Relations?
David Swanson
Witness Out of Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
George Brandis, the Rule of Law and Populism
Dean Baker
The Washington Post’s Long-Running Attack on Unions
Andrew Stewart
Providence Public School Teachers Fight Back at City Hall
Stephen Cooper
Majestic Meditations with Jesse Royal: the Interview
David Yearsley
Olympic Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail