Changing Identities: The Politics of Race and Globalization, Part 1

September 25, 2007

This NACLA Report is the first of a projected trilogy on “The Politics of Race and Globalization.” It continues the exploration begun in our 2001-2002 “Race and Racism in the Americas” series, which provided a broad-ranging but necessarily incomplete first passage through the intersection of race, culture and politics in this region of abounding human diversity.

The current series investigates ethno-racial politics in the Americas under the specific conditions of “globalization,” where this concept encompasses both the increasingly transnational flow of people and cultural products as well as the varied effects of neoliberal economic restructuring. The efforts of “racialized” populations to define themselves and press for their own advancement; evolving state and public responses; the way these dynamics have been effected by institutions, ideas and policies of global reach: these are the broad subjects of this exploration.

This first issue in the series, “Changing Identities,” looks at the ways that globalization has reset the regional stage on which the politics of racial identity play out. As the contributing authors illustrate, racialized groups have engaged with these changes in the socio-political context differently to declare their varied presences and claims in new ways.

Charles Hale takes measure of the region-wide shift from a model of governance based on the paradigm of “mestizo” citizenship to that of neoliberal multiculturalism. With Guatemala as his main example, he relates the stunning irruption of indigenous political organizing to this sea change in state racial ideology and asks: How limited are the apparent political openings for identity-based claims within this new paradigm?

Eva Thorne discusses Garífuna identity and its centrality to that people’s struggle for land in Honduras. By newly affirming their ethno-racial distinctiveness, members of this Afro-indigenous group have effectively leveraged the country’s new multicultural constitutional framework, as well as the policies of global institutions, in their quest to secure titles to land.

Livio Sansone notes a relatively recent assertion of black identity by Afro-Brazilians and a heightened awareness of racial inequality in Brazilian society at large. Despite these indications of an ascendant black consciousness, he underlines the uniqueness of race relations in Brazil where racial categories are blurred and people invest much in national and class-based solidarity.

Ariana Hernandez-Reguant recounts how, in the context of 1990s reform in Cuba, the popular musical genre of “timba” burst onto the urban scene as a platform for the celebration of Afro-Cuban identity and black male sexuality, playfully subverting various revolutionary imperatives along the way.

This first installment of the politics of race and globalization immerses us in the series’ overall universe of concerns: how globalization alters racial ideologies and political spaces throughout the region; how it facilitates the transnational movement of ethnic markers and understandings of race; and how these developments have introduced some opportunities for empowerment through the affirmation of ethno-racial identity while delivering new challenges. Upcoming installments will explore the junction of race, citizenship and the construction of national projects (Part 2), and will delve into the transnational politics and cultures of Latin American and Caribbean diasporic communities in the United States (Part 3). Collectively, the series aims to promote fuller understanding of the recent upsurge in ethno-racial identity politics in the region, while exploring the potential for an anti-racist culture at the local, national and global levels.


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