Review of Race Mixture in the History of Latin America by Magnus Morner

in Latin

Magnus Mörner introduces his reader to both concepts and details of the centuries long process of miscegenation, the racial mixing and acculturation, that culminated in the national character of Latin America. This blending over time is awash in regional political, religious, and social intrigue. Whether it be a source of discrimination, the logical effects of assimilation within a geographic area, or simply the result of gender specific immigration, the synthesis and evolution of the Latin American from their three main lineage roots, the Indians, African blacks and the Europeans has a long and storied history.

Mörner points out various aspects of the transitions over time that the miscegenation or the mixing or blending of race in marriage or breeding went through. Though he often remarks that there is little physiological difference to be found that defines the term race, he expresses that the question of the importance of miscegenation in psychological and intellectual terms is "violently discussed." He thus strikes out in historical contexts to sort out the extent that socioculture that the instituted efforts to promote, ban and likewise control the certain mixing of the "races".
Race Mixture illuminates the many faceted trials that instigated economic, imperial, social and legal hurdles that Latin Americans of every shade, background and class were entwined by.

One of the more ironic points Mörner brings up is that of the classes and stratification. The book establishes that the class and stratification features in place over various times and regions of Latin America were arbitrary placement and limited by the ability to discern "shades". It became a matter of "dress and movement" to pass as a higher caste in some instances, a well placed monetary gift in others. It is inconceivable today that there would be detailed policies that dealt specifically with taxation, marriage, military obligation and social stigma attached precariously to something as indiscriminate and subjective as "shade" of skin. Given that he also makes the early point that the domestic Spanish population was well-blended before the New World contact by African Moors, the Jewish and other Europeans, the assumed phenotype, or outward appearance of these Iberians begs to refuted as ethnically pure or superior.

Once done with the roll call of various historical, colloquial and myopically pigeon holing ethnic variants and pursuant bred derivative, assumed or disputed statistics, Mörner moves into what were to become, in my opinion, the most poignant from the current perspective, chapters on the events and changes in the systems and status dealing with the many castes, ethnic classes and cultures that found themselves sharing the Latin world. What was once the basis of religious, imperial and economic policy, was to become not only accepted, but also the norm. Mörner aptly points out in the course of the book that the aforementioned systems, prejudice and discrimination eventually fell away, or were negated over time. That it took such time, economic and social revolution to remove the strictures, prejudice and discrimination based solely upon breeding (that was oftentimes forced or ill granted) is one of humanity's greatest shames.

Pointedly, I find the word miscegenation oddly suited as the root "mis" is so often identified as meaning wrong, bad and hate of...yet it is the very blending of races that created the unique culture of Latin America that is represented today.

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Review of Race Mixture in the History of Latin America by Magnus Morner

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This article was published on 2010/04/03