Racism in the 21st Century

pp 151-170

The Latin Americanization of Racial Stratification in the U.S.

  • Eduardo Bonilla-SilvaAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, Duke University Email author 
  • , David R. Dietrich

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Aside from what exists in the U.S. there is another layer of complexity in Latin American racial stratification systems. They include three racial strata, which are internally designated by “color.” In addition to skin tone, phenotype, hair texture, eye color, culture, education, and class matter is the phenomenon known as pigmentocracy, or colorism. Pigmentocracy has been central to the maintenance of White power in Latin America because it has fostered: (a) divisions among all those in secondary racial strata; (b) divisions within racial strata limiting the likelihood of within-strata unity; (c) mobility viewed as individual and conditional upon “whitening;” and (d) white elites being regarded as legitimate representatives of the “nation” even though they do not look like the average member of the “nation.” A related dynamic in Latin American stratification is the social practice of “Blanqueamiento,” or whitening, not a neutral mixture but a hierarchical movement wherein valuable movement is upward. Racial mixing oriented by the goal of whitening shows the effectiveness of the logic of White supremacy. As a Latin America-like society, the United States will become a society with more, rather than less, racial inequality but with a reduced forum for racial contestation. The apparent blessing of “not seeing race” will become a curse for those struggling for racial justice in years to come. We may become “All Americans,” as commercials in recent times suggest, but paraphrasing George Orwell: “some will be more American than others.”