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A drop of bleach in the gene pool

10 February 2018

A Redenção de Cam (The Redemption of Ham), Modesto Brocos y Gómez (1895)

Although this 1895 painting is by a Brazilian artist, it illustrates quite effectively the Latin American elites ideas about race and  national identity.  At the time, both in the Anglo north, and Latin south, Social Darwinism was accepted science and the assumption was that the more European the population (and, in the United States and Canada, the more north European at that), the better off the nation as a whole.

At the time of this painting,  the US had the “one-drop” theory.  Jim Crow laws, and the fashionable eugenics movement of the day, were meant to — if not eliminate –than at least isolate non-whites from the general population, while Latin Americans (overwhelming non-white) were trying the exact opposite aproach, encouraging white immigration, in hopes of “whitening” the population through what in the US was called “miscegination”, and here was called mestiaje (mixing).   Needless to say, the Social Darwinist thinking behind both approaches was caca, but with recent discussion of mestiaje here in Mexico, one interesting development has been both a political and social movement for people who were considered mestizo to”reclaim” their heritage as Afro-Mexican, Indigenous, or even Jewish, while at the same time, in the US, there’s a trend among people of multi-racial heritage to celebrate a mixed ancestry.

I’ve been wrestling on how to write about the “whitening” era in the late 19th and early 20th century here … when there was a concerted effort to attract European (or at least “white”) immigrants for my Gods, Gauchupines and Gringos 2.0, and I’m still stumped about what exactly to say about the whole, still maddening, question of racial identity in Mexico.

(An excellent critique of the painting by Barbara Weinstein:  How does the painting, ‘The Redemption of Ham’, by Modesto Brocos illustrate ideas of whitening?


Sombrero tip to Isaac Hunter for bringing this Brazilian painting to my attention.

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