In Mexico, how erasing Black history fuels anti-Black racism

Long denial of Black history

Anti-Blackness includes the long denial of Black history in Mexico that affects the country’s more than 2.5 million Afro-Mexicans. According to 2015 figures, about two-thirds of the country’s population that self-identifies as Afro-Mexican also self-identifies as Indigenous.

Legacy of Black resistance

Colonists brought enslaved African people to the territory now known as Mexico throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Some enslaved Africans attained their freedom by marrying free Indigenous people, while others were allowed to “purchase” their freedom.Amid the intensive control and cruelties exerted over enslaved people in colonial Mexico, as elsewhere in the Americas, Africans resisted relentlessly and in various ways.

Statue of Gaspar Yanga. (Wikimedia Commons), CC BY

The ‘Society of Castes’

In this colonial era, Spanish colonists instituted a Society of Castes, a colonial legal racial classification system that specified a hierarchical ordering of race categories. As historian R. Douglas Cope notes in his book, The Limits of Racial Domination: Plebeian Society in Colonial Mexico City, a “standard 17th-century format contained five to seven groups, ranked as follows: Spaniard, castizo, morisco, meztizo, mulatto, [Indigenous] and Black.” Spaniards considered these to be hierarchically ranked as per their proximity to full Spanish ancestry. Mulatto referred to Spanish and African; meztizo referred to Spanish and Indigenous; caztizo referred to Spanish and mestizo; morisco to Spanish and mulatto. But Cope also notes that “in its most extreme, this model distinguished more than 40 racial categories …”

Idealized ‘mixed race’ identity

In the 19th-century nation-building period throughout Latin America, the notion of a “post-racial” society that was mestizaje (mixed race) gained traction. Versions of mestizaje vary among countries.

Constitutional recognition

The ability to even count the Afro-Mexican community is a new event: 2020 was the first year Mexicans of African descent were able to self-identify and be counted in Mexico’s census, following decades of activist work from Afro-descendant community organizers.

Affirming Black identity, dismantling racism

Activists defending the rights of Afro-Mexicans such as sociologist Monica Moreno Figueroa, who co-founded the Collective for Eliminating Racism in Mexico (Colectivo para Eliminar el Racismo en Mexico), have long advocated for the affirmation of Black identity in Mexico and the many ways it’s important for dismantling anti-Black racism.

Marycarmen Lara Villanueva



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