In Modern Latin America on 2/10, the topic of the class was “Race and Nation.” Race and nation are two distinct categories that are often assumed to be one category. A person’s race does not define their nationality and a person’s nationality does not define their race. We started this discussion by looking at scientific racism, a trend in Latin America during the late 1800s and early 1900s. While technological issues prevented us from engaging with Professor Holt’s PowerPoint presentation, we were able to look at these issues through a more discussion-based class. Scientific racism, along with the concept of race itself, was created by Western Europeans in order to divide people into categories. While we know today that race is less scientific than cultural, scientific racism was a widespread method of creating hierarchies that were specific to that time and place.
About halfway through class, we broke into small groups to discuss the two readings from “Race & Nation Building” and “Portraits of a Possible Nation.” These readings highlight that scientific racism was important for Europeans because it provided a method for determining what groups of people were best suited for different tasks. Physical features were thought to indicate distinct capabilities. Because they were considered superior and more capable, Latin American elites pushed to bring in more Europeans. In my small group with Gio and Abby, we discussed particular sections of the readings. We discussed raceless ideology in Cuba which created a problematic ideology that completely ignored differences in race. We also discussed the divide between rural and urban people, the barbershop approach of making people look and think more European, as well as how Darwinism is applied to race. The group spent the most time discussing the love story from Brazil. This was a story that was intended to be very romantic but has become more problematic with the passing of time. The author exoticized an indigenous woman, essentially “othering” her on the basis of race.
One of the key terms that came up in class was “race.” Professor Holt provided the definition of race from her dissertation that says, “Historically specific construction of difference based on an ascribed somatic hierarchy for the maintenance of power.” The aspect of “maintenance of power” makes a lot of sense in the context of Europeans having created race. Europeans essentially created the concept of race to legitimize their own global power.
In “Portraits of a Possible Nation,” Nancy Stepan examines the importance of photography as a science. She writes, “From its beginning, photography was closely related to the sciences, thereby extending the importance of the visual to scientific knowledge. The medium was taken up by anthropologists, engineers, and physicians who believed, as Susan Sontag has put it, that ‘to collect photographs is to collect the world.’ The emphasis in science and medicine on the importance of accurate observation, on the distinction between the knower and the known, and on the way that knowledge could be obtained by inventorying and ordering objects of the natural world within classificatory schemes, all made photography seem not merely an ally of science but an enactment of it.” This passage is an excellent source in understanding how human data was collected from photographs. This data was then used to formulate different categories within scientific racism.
In addition to the two readings for class, these three websites provide accessible information on race:
Three exam questions:
Who created the concept of race? For what purpose?
Race is based more on (blank) than science.
What was the goal of the barbershop approach?