Edited By Marietta Messmer and Armin Paul Frank
Difference Matters: Toward an Inter-American Approach to ‘Race,’ Ethnicity, and Belonging
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Todo lo que divide a los hombres, todo lo que
especifica, aparta o acorrala es un pecado
contra la humanidad.
—José Martí, “Mi Raza” (1893)
Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park, winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play, and numerous other prizes, offers a critical assessment of U.S. American ‘race’ relations since 1959, the year when Lorraine Hansberry’s classic civil rights era drama, A Raisin in the Sun, leaves off. Hansberry’s vision of an African-American family’s struggle for the American Dream—home ownership and upward mobility—ends moments before the movers take their belongings to their future home in Clybourne Park, a fictional white residential neighborhood in Chicago. In the wake of the news that a “negro” family has made a down payment for a house in their area, the local residents are coordinating their efforts in the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, whose idea of “improvement” is to prevent the black family’s move. In Hansberry’s play, the Association’s representative, Karl Lindner, calmly and hesitantly explains to the black family, the Youngers, that hard-working white people like himself have their own American Dream to protect. He therefore proposes that the Youngers should sell the house to the Improvement Association rather than moving there while knowing that they are not welcome. The Youngers go through with the move nonetheless, and this is where the piece by the African American playwright Lorraine Hansberry ends and the piece by the Anglo-American playwright Bruce Norris starts.
With its first act set in the Clybourne Park home in 1959 and the second act in 2009, Norris’s play interrogates from black and white perspectives the changes that have taken place in terms of ‘race’ dynamics in the U.S.A. and it evinces the ← 129 | 130 → increasing fluidity of ‘race’ and racism as well as the dynamics of belonging and of superimposed identity markers (of which ‘race’ is just one). Clybourne Park asks how racialized discourses and modes of behavior were affected by the Civil Rights Movement, multiculturalism, political correctness, and a supposedly ‘post-race’ climate.2 The play illustrates that underneath a veneer of enlightened ‘post-race’ humanism ‘race’ and ethnicity continue to be used as markers of difference and continue to matter. It thus offers an update of Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway and the first Broadway play with a black director.
Norris’s Clybourne Park also sets the stage for the argument of this essay, which is that the negotiation of ‘race,’ ethnicity, belonging, and difference in the United States is interconnected with ‘race’ issues elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere. Because of a shared condition of multi-ethnicity and as a consequence of inter-American migration and transfer, ‘race’ dynamics—while they are always embedded in specific situations, power constellations, and histories—are interlinked in the Americas. Expanding our view beyond the borders of the U.S.A. or any other nation in the Western Hemisphere will reveal some of the multiple contestations that have been under way in processes of self-positioning and othering, in defining or defending a certain notion of self, community, or nation. In view of the multiple categories around which identity politics revolves, we may also ask whether, in the 21st century, belonging might offer a more promising analytical focus than ‘race.’ Either way, an inter-American approach to the topic of ‘race,’ ethnicity, belonging, and difference enlarges the scope of the discursive contests staged in Norris’s Clybourne Park; it will allow us to draw connections between scenarios in different parts of the Americas and to recognize the larger, transnational, inter-American developments under way in terms of identity politics. Considering what Herbert Eugene Bolton has called “the wider horizons” does not mean, however, homogenizing situations and constellations throughout the Western Hemisphere. Difference matters, as we try to place a particular scenario or text into its wider, inter-American contexts in a process that may reveal parallel developments and similarities or opposite trends and disparities. We will better understand the specific issue if we approach it not with tunnel vision but with an openness toward its wider ramifications, interconnections, and comparative ← 130 | 131 → contexts. For example, we will better understand the ultimately futile attempts to circumvent ‘race’ in Clybourne Park in a politically correct manner if we place the play not only in the context of Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun but also, for example, of ‘race’ dynamics in the Caribbean or Brazil, where—despite sharing a history of colonialism and slavery with the United States—the construction and significance of ‘race’ have evolved very differently.
Hansberry’s play takes its title from a poem by Langston Hughes, the best-known writer of the Harlem Renaissance, who assessed his own ethno-racial status in the United States in comparison to blackness and skin color elsewhere in the Americas. He wrote about his experiences in Mexico that “nothing is barred from me. I am among my own people, for … Mexico is a brown man’s country. Do you blame them for fearing a ‘gringo’ invasion with its attendant horror of color hatred?” (qtd. in Haas 181). Ethno-racial allegiance and national allegiance clash here, as Hughes feels closer to “my own people, … a brown man’s country” than to the “gringo” nation of which he is a citizen. This example demonstrates that in an individual’s feeling of belonging and community factors like ‘race’ and nation (and many more) intersect. In fact, his own ‘race’ is itself already an intersection for Langston Hughes, who refers to himself as “colored me” but who also stresses his own mixed-race ancestry, as in his poem “Broadcast to the West Indies,” where he writes: “HELLO WEST INDIES! / You are dark like me / Colored with many bloods like me / Verging … from black to white like me” (qtd. in Haas 189). Distinctions are neither easy nor clear—in Langston Hughes’s work, in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, and in Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park—because numerous categories (like ‘race,’ class, gender, education, age, citizenship etc.) interact, so that belonging becomes temporary rather than absolute. The individual dynamics of belonging (e.g., as they are played out in Clybourne Park’s 2009 Chicago) will become clearer if we relate them not only to the history of their site (Hansberry’s 1959 Chicago) but also to their wider contexts (e.g., Hughes’s experiences in Mexico and in the West Indies).
In his programmatic essay, “America and Its Studies,” Djelal Kadir complains that defendants of a so-called post-nationalist New American Studies remain in the tradition of “the perennial nationalist project of self-affirmation through self-differentiation, broadened in its scope, base, and illusionary political unconscious to the identity formations of ‘minorities’ or ‘disenfranchised groups’” (19). This “nationalist project,” Kadir believes, runs the risk of trying to replace “difference” by “diversity” and homogenizing this diversity into a national identity: “The inclusionary reach toward the hitherto disenfranchised groups persists in its appropriative, assimilationist, and acculturating project, while the projective identity constructs of the professional American Americanist serve as instruments ← 131 | 132 → for homogenizing diversity into identity and interpellating alterity into ulterior sameness” (20). In order to evade this national(ist) impulse, writes Kadir, we need
to see that what we go on labeling America is a lexical and a historical malaprop, that America refers to a whole hemisphere and to over five hundred years of history, of which some 270 years antedate 15 November 1777 and the United States Articles of Confederation. … America is only part of a larger physical and human geography of the Western Hemisphere properly called America, and, in a myriad of other ways, the United States is also in the rest of the world. And even if it were “only in America,” America, even in the United States, is a heteronomy that, demographically diverse and culturally plural, complicates those unitary identity constructs that hark back uncritically to the hegemonically reductive naturalization of 15 November 1777. (21)3
In the same way that we need to avoid homogenizing in the national context we also need to be mindful of difference in the larger, inter-American framework. Fittingly, Daniel Mato has warned against the conflation of (ethnic and cultural) identities in the age of globalization, exemplified through the creation of a pan-Latino identity:
Current representations of a US Latina/o identity as well as of a ‘Latin’ American identity and of an all-encompassing transnational US Latina/o-‘Latin’ American identity entail images that, according to several social actors’ representations, obscure differences that are significant. … [We need to heed] assertions of difference …, be they related to race, ethnicity, class or socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, local experiences, international and transnational relations of domination, or any other relations of power. (598–99)
Widening our focus to the inter-American contexts must not entail undue reductions and simplifications; difference matters in the narrow context and it multiplies in the larger framework.
A case in point is the designation “Hispanic” as it is used by the U.S. Census Bureau. Silke Hensel has referred to it as “an inappropriate label imposed ‘from above’” (92). In her historical analysis she shows how throughout the twentieth century the invention and re-invention of ‘race’ has affected Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans, whose own ideas of “raza” and “mestizaje” (closely tied to practices and ideologies elsewhere in the Americas) clashed with U.S. notions of ‘race’ and “whiteness.” Hensel writes: ← 132 | 133 →
But race has not only been imposed from the outside; both groups brought their own understandings of “race” or rather “raza” with them and contested the hegemonic discourse. The comparison of the two Spanish-speaking groups whose experiences differed considerably further underlines that the invention of racial groups depends on social interaction with other groups and therefore on specific historical situations, an observation which clearly underscores the fluidity of collective identities. (92)
A Puerto Rican and a Mexican American who find themselves in the same location at the same time may well establish a sense of shared belonging in one respect, while underscoring their difference from each other in another. To understand this difference, an inter-American perspective that moves beyond the concepts of “U.S. Latina/o” or “Hispanic” as well as beyond ‘race’ is helpful.
But when we speak of ‘race’ (or belonging) in academic discourse, argues Ruth Hill, there is usually a national or regional focus rather than an attempt to see the bigger inter-American picture. While critical race studies has uncovered the constructedness of ‘race’ and its relation to power, writes Hill,
[f]ar too little … has been done within critical race studies to problematize and conceptualize race in Latin America, and even less has been done to understand race in the Americas—that is, race as a floating signifier that means different things to different people, in the same place or in different places, at the very same time. As a nascent subfield of critical race studies, comparative racial and ethnic studies focus primarily on race and ethnicity in the United States, only rarely venturing across the mental and physical borders that divide what were commonly known in the nineteenth century as “North America” and “South America.” In Latin America itself, race is often denied any ontological status whatsoever, and wherever comparative racial and ethnic studies are attempted, they tend to focus on different races or ethnicities in a specific country or area of Latin America. (110–11)
Whiteness, white supremacism, and blanqueamiento continue to overshadow debates on ‘race’ and interethnic interaction. As Mita Banerjee observed, “even where the norm finally grants emancipation to minority communities, its own image remains center stage. … [T]he same patterns of ethnic exclusion and white privilege occur throughout the twentieth century” (431). The privileges of whiteness are also central to Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park; they continue in the 21st century in what Hazel Rose Markus and Paula M.L. Moya call “systems of social distinction.” In their introduction to Doing Race, Markus and Moya write that while ‘race’ and ethnicity organize modern societies, they are the products of human action, of “social, historical, and philosophical processes … actions that people do” (4). Thus Markus and Moya configure of “race as a doing” (17–20). Such a doing of ‘race’ through dialogues and interaction occurs in Clybourne Park. ← 133 | 134 →
The play opens a few years into the Civil Rights Movement and it closes fifty years later, a year into the U.S.A.’s “Obamamania,” in a social setting in which ‘race’ consciousness still plays a significant role but where it is much more nuanced and complex. Blatant racism has turned into latent racism, as the characters in the 2009 part of the plot are (at first) all very cautious in terms of the politically correct language they use, intent on avoiding anything that might possibly offend members of another group. They also realize that simple distinctions along the lines of only one identity marker (like ‘race’) no longer work because of the multiple belongings (based on ‘race,’ ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, citizenship, religion, education etc.) that inform self-positioning, group formation, political correctness, and othering in the 21st century. As the late Günter H. Lenz stated, “the interrelationships among various, often conflicting dimensions of difference (differentiation) in cultures, such as gender, race, ethnicity, class, religion, language, region, or age” complicate any attempts at categorization (362; italics in the original).
Two deaths set in the play’s recent past symbolize that when Norris’s Clybourne Park opens in 1959 the old ways of pre-Civil Rights Movement contestation and discrimination are vanishing: the ageing white couple, Bev and Russ, are grieving the death of their son, a veteran of the Korean War who killed himself in the house two years earlier, while Karl Lindner and his wife have to cope with the birth of a stillborn baby who was strangled by the umbilical cord. By the end of the play, half a century later, the house is to be torn down to make room for a new structure, signaling the beginning of yet another era, namely the gentrification of a formerly black neighborhood. Showing the effects of neglect, decay, hooliganism, and graffiti in a run-down area, the property is again being sold—this time to a young white couple expecting a child. The buyers have to negotiate local construction regulations with a black couple representing the neighborhood Owners Association. We find out that the white couple’s lawyer, Kathy, is the daughter of Betsy and Karl Lindner (who, in Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, had offered the Youngers money for not moving into the neighborhood) and that the wife in the black couple is the great-niece of Lena Younger, the matriarch who had bought the house in Hansberry’s play. In this manner, the setting, plot, and characters of Norris’s Clybourne Park illustrate that there is both continuity and change. The playwright’s decision to have the roles of all dramatis personae in Act II played by actors who had appeared in different roles in Act I and to have some characters in Act II repeat the same phrases that other characters had used in Act I further underlines this combination of continuity and change. In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
In the first act of Norris’s Clybourne Park the question of who belongs in a neighborhood and to whom the neighborhood belongs is raised for a 1950s scenario. Bev ← 134 | 135 → and Russ are packing for their imminent move. Especially Russ is still embittered about how the neighborhood residents failed to support their son Kenneth when he came back traumatized from Korea. He partly blames the community for the suicide that took place in the upstairs part of the house they are now selling, and he is indifferent to the future of Clybourne Park. Karl Lindner, on the other hand, wants to preserve the all-white character of their residential area. Having made inquiries about “what sort of people” the prospective future owners of the house are, Karl—irrespective of his claim that theirs “is a progressive community”—is scandalized to find out that “they’re coloured” (33, 32).4 According to Karl, “fitting into a community is really what it all comes down to” (35; emphasis in this and all following quotations in the original). The Youngers, although they may have the money for a down payment, he is implying, could never fit in because of their skin color. Belonging is thus restricted on the basis of ‘race.’ Bev’s feeble intervention, “I mean, in, in, in, in principle, don’t we all deserve to—Shouldn’t we all have the opportunity to, to, to—,” is met with Karl’s “In principle, no question” and “But you can’t live in a principle, can you? Gotta live in a house” (35). His exasperated reaction is: “Well, do the boundaries of the neighbourhood extend indefinitely? Who shall we invite next, the Red Chinese?” (36). Karl insists that “in the world, there exist certain differences” (39), citing the Scandinavian ethnic background of his wife as an example but actually referring to ‘race’ distinctions. Next, Bev and Russ’s black housekeeper Francine and her black husband Albert are asked their opinion on the matter of mixed-race neighborhoods. Circumventing the issue of ‘race’ and addressing ostensibly an ethnic culinary preference, Karl asks Francine whether at the Clybourne Park store she “could find the particular foods your family enjoys” (40). The neighborhood pastor, Jim, brings up “differences in modes of worship” (40), and Karl underlines his plea for separation and segregation by stating that in all the years he has helped take the children of St. Stanislaus school skiing, “I have not once seen a colored family on those slopes” (41). In trying to prevent or dissuade the black family from moving into Clybourne Park, he claims to be acting out of “a responsibility to the community as a whole” (46).
The African American Francine seems to agree with Karl’s position on the desirability of “racial” separation—but for entirely different reasons. When her husband Albert tries to intervene in the quarrel that Russ has with Karl and Jim, she reprimands him: “Let’ em knock each other’s brains out, for all I care. I’m done ← 135 | 136 → working for these people two days from now, and you never worked for’ em at all, so what the hell do you care what they do?” (51).
Through the character of Bev, playwright Bruce Norris illustrates veiled, unconscious, routine racism: although she initially refers to her black housekeeper Francine as her “friend” (24), she does not remember how many children Francine has and she feels insulted when Albert does not want to accept the fifty cents or the chafing dish that she offers him for his help. When he tells her “Ma’am, we don’t want your things. Please. We got our own things,” she protests that “if that’s the attitude, then I just don’t know what to say any more” (52). Her wounded pride (based on the routine privileging of whiteness and Bev’s resulting belief that everyone should want what she has to give away) is challenged by Albert’s declaration that they have “[their] own things” and by his refusal to accept a meager handout.
In Act II, set in 2009—also on a Saturday afternoon, this time two days before the scheduled demolition of the house—, the lawyer Kathy, played by the same actress who had played Bev in Act I, reveals that underneath the veneer of politeness and respect she shares the veiled racism that we saw with Bev fifty years earlier. Speaking into her cell phone, she tells the architect who will be in charge of planning what kind of new residence to build on the property, that they are at the house together with “the people from the neighbourhood thing. Property-owners’ … thing” (59), referring to the black couple Lena and Kevin, with whom she and the white buyers of the property have to negotiate the dimensions of the structure that can be built there. In the middle of chaotic parallel conversations and of characters talking on their cell phones, Lena reminds everyone of the history of civil rights struggles that are connected, in her memory, to the neighborhood: “[T]here’s just a lot of pride, and a lot of memories in these houses, and for some of us, that connection still has value … And respecting that memory: that has value, too” (79). She refers to her great-aunt, after whom she is named and who is the protagonist in Hansberry’s play, as “a pioneer” for being “one of the first people of colour to—” (80). When she declares that she “didn’t mean to make it about [her] personal connection to the house. It’s more about the principle,” her husband Kevin uses the very same line used by Karl Lindner in Act I: “But you can’t live in a principle” (86). In this way Bruce Norris demonstrates how discourses on ‘race’ and racism affect black and white alike and how they tend to be recycled—also cross-ethnically. Also, when the white lawyer Kathy remarks that in the seventies and eighties “there was trouble” in the neighborhood because of drugs and violence, she unwittingly associates this “trouble” with African Americans (82), thus illustrating the pervasiveness and continuity of veiled racism.
The new owners of the property, Lindsey and Steve, on the other hand, employ enlightened, politically correct language in discussing the situation of African ← 136 | 137 → Americans: Lindsey refers to “people [who] are systematically dehumanized” and proclaims that “half of [her] friends are black!” while Steve calls housing projects “some artificial semblance of a community … [that] isolate[s] people” (83, 98). But soon afterward Steve gets tired of political correctness preventing them from saying what they are really thinking and he becomes frustrated with Lena’s references to the historic value of the house and the neighborhood. He stammers:
Okay. Okay. If you really want to—It’s… (Tries to laugh, then, sotto.) It’s race. Isn’t it? You’re trying to tell me that that… (To LENA.) That implicit in what you said—That this entire conversation… isn’t at least partly informed—Am I right? (Laughs nervously, to LENA.) By the issue of… (Sotto.) of racism? (97)
Lena’s reaction is: “I’m fairly certain that I’ve been called a racist” (97). Steve, nonetheless, continues his explicitness and antagonism, lecturing Lena on racialized competition:
This is why we have wars. One group, one tribe, tries to usurp some territory—and now you guys have this territory, right? And you don’t like having it stolen away from you, the way white people stole everything else from black America. We get it, okay? And we apologise. But what good does it do, if we perpetually fall into the same, predictable little euphemistic tap dance around the topic? …
No. I’m sick of—No. Every single word we say is—is—is scrutinised for some kind of latent—Meanwhile you guys run around saying N-word this and N-word that and whatever. We all know why there’s a double standard but I can’t even so much as repeat a fucking joke that the one black guy I know told me—. (100–101)
When he finally tells the joke (about a white prisoner who is about to be raped by a black prisoner), a dead silence falls. Norris highlights the multiplicity of belonging when he has Tom (the white spokesperson of the Owners Association) announce that he is gay and that as a gay person he finds Steve’s joke offensive. Kathy follows suit, remarking that as the sister of a woman who was raped she, too, is horrified by the tasteless joke. Lindsay accuses her husband Steve of being insensitive because of his privileged position: “You can’t be offended, you moron … because you’ve never been politically marginalised, unlike the majority of people in the world” (105). With these reactions Norris explores the ways in which multiple belonging and discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation get interlaced with racism. Three white characters are offended by the joke told by a fourth white character about a white and a black prisoner—all for different reasons and all out of their own sense of belonging, which transcends whiteness.
Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park is based on the principles of difference and competition, which cause a contestation of claims. In 1959 (Act I) as well as in 2009 (Act II), characters compete with each other about their knowledge of geography ← 137 | 138 → and capitals; they bicker about their respective ideas of community; they quarrel about the right way of doing things; they spar with each other about domination; they react to the respective dynamics of residential segregation.5 Both acts of the play interrogate belonging and separation: Could a black family ever belong to the community of Clybourne Park depicted in Act I?, Which factors decide the relationship/separateness of the black couple Francine and Albert or of the disenchanted Russ to/from the community of Clybourne Park?, On which basis do the gay white Tom as well as the heterosexual black Lena and Kevin in Act II belong to the same in-group?, How do lingering and new prejudices prevent genuine interaction and a mutual agreement?, How does the issue of ‘race’ continue to impact the consciousness of black and white alike?, How do the ‘race’ dynamics of the play’s Chicago compare to Toronto or Trinidad? The play suggests that the historical developments of the past half-century merely changed the nature of conflicts and contests but did not lessen the conflictive potential of ‘race,’ the color line, and racialized discourse. While in the play’s 2009 scenario, group formation and belonging keep shifting and cross ethno-racial lines, ‘race’ continues to matter and difference becomes more multi-faceted.
At the center of Clybourne Park’s engagement with belonging and segregation is the issue of ‘race.’ The play thus confirms and expands the view W.E.B. Du Bois had expressed in 1901, when he wrote: “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line; the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea” (354). Although its dynamics differ from place to place and over time, the color line is essential to social and political life and differentiation/inequality throughout the Americas. As Black Atlantic writer Caryl Phillips stated in his essay “American Tribalism” in 2003, “[a]s long as non-white men and women in the United States cannot buy or sell a house, raise and educate their children or get a job without having to factor in race, then there will always be ‘aggressive’ loyalty to racial and ethnic identity that no amount of talking can ever hope to redress” (33). While the dynamics of inequality take on a different shape elsewhere in the Americas, they are often no less severe there. Born in Saint Kitts/Saint Christopher Island in the West Indies and raised in England before returning to Saint Kitts off and on starting at age 22 and then accepting various professorships in the United States, Phillips is in a unique position to consider the wider horizons of ‘race’ and ethnicity. When he speaks of an “‘aggressive’ loyalty to racial and ethnic identity” in the United States, ← 138 | 139 → there is an implicit comparison to the situation he has encountered in the Caribbean with its higher percentages of Afro-Caribbean and mixed-race individuals and its different ‘racial’ and ethnic dynamics. It is also interesting in this respect to note that, according to Stephan Palmié and Francisco Scarano, the Caribbean became the seedbed for global racism as well as for global anti-racism.
Taking up Shelley Fisher Fishkin’s argument for “broadening the frame” of our academic practice transnationally and for “exploring the cross-fertilization of cultures” (31; italics in the original), I propose to expand to the Western Hemisphere the issues that Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park raises. Viewing the Americas as an interlinked terrain in terms of ‘race,’ ethnicity, belonging, and difference will allow us to unveil inter-American similarities and contrasts and will prevent us from an insular approach to issues that have much wider ramifications than the city, region, or nation in which they are played out.
Although the Western Hemisphere had been characterized by interculturalism and by rivalries between different communities, tribes, and peoples long before it came to be called “the New World,” social movements, mobility, transnationalism, and the demise of dictatorships have brought (inter-)ethnic issues, belonging, and difference to the forefront since the 1950s.6 While social structures and political constellations differ sharply within the Americas, the whole bi-continental “New World” has been experiencing quarrels of belonging—to a community or to a nation—, contestations about access to resources or media, and struggles for domination, territory, or recognition. Among the factors that contribute to making the Americas contested continents are their experience of colonialism, coloniality and slavery,7 migration to and within the Western Hemisphere, pluricultural and inter-ethnic societies, social hierarchies (often linked to ‘race’), the dynamics of ← 139 | 140 → capitalism and labor (exploitation), and the interdependence of transnational developments with local and regional issues.8 These phenomena are also of particular interest to Inter-American Studies since a conventional, nationally oriented approach to them would at best yield only a partial analysis of all the factors involved.9
An inter-American approach to the topic does not imply any kind of conflation or homogenization. Difference matters, and the differences between and within North America, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America have to be kept in mind. Even in neighboring countries that belong to the same geographical area—such as Argentina and Brazil—the situations in terms of ‘race,’ ethnicity, belonging, and difference diverge sharply. Clara E. Rodríguez has presented a very useful set of basic distinctions between Latin America and the United States (well aware that the term “Latin America” unduly lumps together very distinct societies). Among the similarities she mentions:
First, both Americas have histories of indigenous conquest, slavery, and immigration. Second, in both Americas, race has been constructed to reflect and support class and power relations. Each country in Latin America has developed its own racial constructions, but in all cases, they have tended to benefit those in power. (111)
As the three main differences in the construction of ‘race’ in the Western Hemisphere Rodríguez points out that (1) whereas in the United States there is a stronger sense of ‘race’ as something passed down from parents to children, “[i]n the Spanish Caribbean and Latin America, ancestral ‘blood’ is only one variable determining one’s race;” (2) while skin color tends to be the only factor used in “racial classification” in the United States, Latin American approaches to ‘race’ also consider “[o]ther physical and social characteristics, such as facial features, ← 140 | 141 → hair texture, social class, dress, personality, education, linguistic identity, cultural modes of behavior, relation of the referent to the speaker, and context” to be important; and (3) “in many parts of Latin America, race is more openly reported as able to change over time and space. That is, in some countries, a person may be born ‘brown’ but become ‘white’ with upward mobility, whereas in the United States, race is more static and is often considered to be an ascribed characteristic” (107–09). It is not surprising, therefore, that while the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, distinguished between five “race categories” plus “some other race,” “[i]n Brazil, for example,” as Rodríguez reports, “an open-ended question about race in a survey can yield more than 140 categories of answers” (108).10
Historical parallels, the flow of goods, people, and ideas to, from, and within them, and participation in global exchanges and developments make the Americas an interconnected space, while their cultural and ethnic diversity, the role of indigenous peoples, and the geographic proximity of the so-called developed world to the so-called developing world account for the unique position of the Western Hemisphere on the globe. The “New World” is a place of many colors—also skin colors—that at different times and in different places compete with each other, alternate, shine bright, fade, are superimposed, mix, and bleed. As they touch each other and become superimposed, difference continues to matter since the result of interethnic and intercultural contact is not a uniform mass but a dynamic interaction—sometimes conflicting, sometimes hybrid. Walt Whitman’s words from his “Song of Myself” also apply to ‘race,’ ethnicity, and belonging in the Americas:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.) (Sect. 51)
The multitudes of ‘race’ and ethnicity in the Western Hemisphere account for different interactions and compositions in different arenas—some conflictive, others harmonious. But usually ethno-racial difference also marks a difference in social class. ← 141 | 142 →
Although the Spanish caste system and the enslavement of individuals of indigenous or African descent have been overcome,11 the New World continues to be marked by difference and hierarchies. While this difference used to be felt predominantly in terms of ‘race’ and ethnicity12 (as illustrated in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun), the focus has broadened to also include differences on the basis of national origin, citizenship status, language, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, education, or access to media and resources (some of which are taken up in Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park). Differences shade and shape the New World—sometimes with sharp contours between the individual colors, sometimes with the colors superimposed or mixing. These New World colors coexist and compete with each other, as communities assert their distinctiveness and as individuals feel a sense of belonging to multiple groups.
As Aníbal Quijano points out, the idea of ‘race’ was imposed “as the basic criterion for social classification of the entire world’s population” around the same time (at the turn from the 15th to the 16th century) that colonialism began in the Americas and that European capitalism came to dominate “the global distribution of labor and trade” (45).13 This is how, according to Quijano, “racism,” “the most obvious and the most omnipresent” manifestation of what he calls “the coloniality of power,” evolved and “has remained the principal arena of conflict” in the Americas ever since (46). Especially in “societies founded on the basis of colonial power relations, the victims fight for equality between the ‘races’” (47).14 Walter D. Mignolo adds that from its early usage on, ‘race’ was entangled with social class, gender, and power:
[E]thnoraciality became the machinery of colonial difference. Beginning with the expulsion of the Moors and the Jews, it was configured from the debates over the place of the ← 142 | 143 → Amerindians in the economy of Christianity, and, finally by the exploitation and silencing of African slaves. It was with and from the Atlantic commercial circuit that slavery became synonymous with blackness. (55)
On this basis, the continuing coloniality of societies and nations in the Western Hemisphere, writes Quijano, creates conditions in which ‘race’ is largely assumed to be a “natural” phenomenon rather than a social construct. This view becomes the basis for white15 supremacy and other forms of inequality, which in turn determine political representation.16
By relating Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa’s Noticias Secretas to Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia Ralph Bauer has further shown how the early modern Spanish American idea of “creolization” evolved into Jefferson’s “creole patriotism—that would ultimately become the dominant ideology of nineteenth-century nationalism throughout the Western world in the process of hemispheric and transatlantic cultural diffusions” (37). Bauer explains that
In their engagement with early modern neoclassical natural history, creole patriots throughout the Americas realigned the discursive economy of human identity and difference by shifting the rationalization from the eighteenth-century scientific debate about “creolization” to a nineteenth-century scientific debate about race. This engagement with early modern natural history was not primarily a local or national, but rather a circumatlantic, debate with a distinctly hemispheric genealogy, as the idea of the “creole” traveled from sixteenth-century Brazil, to viceregal Spanish America, to the French circumcaribbean, as well as to the North American British colonies. In the course of these travels throughout the hemisphere, however, the idea of the Spanish American creole, with its connotations of cultural and biological mestizaje, remained the constant alter ego of the idea of “whiteness” in the creoles’ social imaginary from the eighteenth century onward. (53–54) ← 143 | 144 →
The idea of whiteness and the privileges attached to whiteness came under attack in the United States during the Harlem Renaissance through the concept of the “new negro” and in the second half of the twentieth century through the Civil Rights Movement, the Chicano Movement, and the American Indian Movement. Especially in the 21st century, social and political movements have challenged old hierarchies and privileges in Latin America.
The election of Evo Morales to the presidency of Bolivia in 2005 as well as the victory of Barack Obama in the presidential races of the U.S.A. in 2008 and 2012 mark drastic changes in these two countries in terms of the role that ‘race’ plays in political representation. The Aymara Morales has declared himself the first fully indigenous head of state of Bolivia since its Spanish colonization—a contested statement because there have been previous Bolivian presidents who had partly indigenous ancestry. He foregrounds his ethno-racial background as a basis for claims to resources and leadership and uses it as symbolic capital in the national and international competition for recognition and assets. The African American Barack Obama, on the other hand, tries to move beyond ‘race.’ He proclaimed in his March 17, 2008 “Speech on Race” in Philadelphia his “firm conviction … that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union” (no pag.). While Morales stresses ethnic difference and has embarked on a redistribution of economic and symbolic capital by inverting colonialist hierarchies, Obama seeks to unite his nation under the motto of “e pluribus unum.”
Behind these opposing approaches to ethnic identity lie diverging strategies in dealing with each nation’s internal logic of difference. While Morales emphasizes difference, foregrounding ethnicity and using it to demand changes in the distribution of resources, ownership, and capital, Obama—although astutely aware of difference—tries to unite his nation in the pursuit of common goals.
It is this typically optimistic and forward-looking strategy that has produced comparisons at the beginning of his first presidency between Barack Obama and the Founding Fathers of the United States: On the cover of its first issue after Obama’s inauguration, The New Yorker magazine depicted the President with the wig and garments typical of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (Fig. 1). This comment invokes the possibility of overcoming ethnic boundaries in the pursuit of a more equitable nation and in the return to the nation’s democratic foundation. It points toward the perceived “whiteness” of Obama.17 ← 144 | 145 →
Figure 1: Cover of The New Yorker magazine, Jan. 26, 2009
Figure 2: Official Portrait of Evo Morales
In contrast to this non-essentializing representation of Obama by the New Yorker, Evo Morales likes to stress his indigeneity in official portraits and public appearances. The depiction in figure 2 combines markers of indigeneity (the knitted front of his coat) with those of nation (flag and sash) and leadership (decorations). By adding an ethnic component to the traditional invocations of nation and power in presidential portraits, Morales voices a counter-discourse against the earlier, non-indigenous power elites of Bolivia (supported by and supportive of U.S. political and economic interests); he deliberately appropriates the insignia of postcolonial rule and combines them with a valorization of indigeneity. Stressing his multiple belonging and redefining the nation, he underscores the indigenous basis of the nation and he proclaims that an indigenous ancestry is not incompatible with active participation in the nation and with the right to govern. The nation, he is implying, rightfully belongs to the indigenous.
The New Yorker’s depiction of Barack Obama also stresses multiple belonging, suggesting that blackness and participation in the nation’s foundational principles are not mutually exclusive. While Obama has taken over for himself and his policies the idealistic doctrines of the U.S. Founding Fathers, the former union leader and socialist Morales opposes neo-colonial power structures and wants to bring ← 145 | 146 → about radical change. Whereas for Barack Obama “change” means a return to the Enlightenment ideals of the United States’ Declaration of Independence, Evo Morales’s ideals of change aim to undo some of the evils of five centuries of colonialism, coloniality, and neo-imperialism. Both presidents, however, use strategies of self-fashioning and ideas of multiple belonging in pursuing their political goals.
The contrary positions of Evo Morales and Barack Obama toward the logic of difference which ethnicity provides are by no means developments of the 21st century. Issues of ethnic identity and communal belonging have concerned the Americas at least since the Conquest. Affiliations are dynamic, often used as strategic resources disassociated from territory or ‘race.’ Identity politics in the Americas and elsewhere are played out in alliances as well as in competition and contests. For example, through their different approaches to national and inter-American issues, presidents Morales and Obama reveal stark differences in their ideas about nation and belonging. But both presidents, in their speeches and self-fashioning, also comment on inter-American relations and thus implicitly on their respective counterpart’s approach to hierarchies and affiliations.
With the de-territorialization of ethnic and cultural groups as a consequence of transnational ethnoscapes and mediascapes as well as multiple affiliations it becomes increasingly difficult to pin down difference. Difference remains, but it is articulated and lived in a complex web of belonging. Because of the superimposition of identity markers, group identifications and coalitions keep shifting. At the “Primer Encuentro de Autoridades Indígenas de América” held in La Paz, Bolivia in January 2006, for example, Evo Morales highlighted his own Aymara descent while at the same time including in his own proposed group identity other indigenous communities inside and outside of Bolivia. He said:
Y nos damos cuenta, Evo Morales Aima, nacido en la nación aymara, mi nacimiento político-sindical en la zona quechua, agradecer a los hermanos del departamento de Cochabamba, al movimiento cocalero y acá ven, aymaras, quechuas, chapacas, conduciendo el país, desde la Presidencia de la República, desde la presidencia de las Cámaras correspondientes, por eso nuevamente quiero decirles, hermanos y hermanas, quienes apostaron por las reivindicaciones, la dignificación del movimiento indígena originaria, no solamente de Bolivia, no solamente desde el movimiento indígena sino también personalidades, la gente de la ciudad, intelectuales, no se equivocaron, no nos hemos equivocado. (“Primer Encuentro” n. pag.)
Morales speaks of his biological as well as of his political birth and he is well aware of the variety of group identities to which he belongs: Aymara, indigenous, Bolivian, socialist etc.
Although he has appointed himself the spokesperson of indigenous people, Morales also forges alliances with other groups with whom he shares certain ← 146 | 147 → practices or positions. For example, in his April 21, 2008 speech to the United Nations in New York City, Morales at first presented himself as the representative of indigenous people, demanding his right to be heard: “Los pueblos indígenas no nos vamos a callar hasta lograr un verdadero cambio” (no pag.). But then he went on to include in the group for which he was speaking all anti-capitalists, envisioning a transnational kind of belonging with a political basis. He claimed that “[l]os grandes efectos de los cambios climáticos no son producto de los seres humanos en general, sino del sistema capitalista vigente, inhumano, con desarrollo industrial ilimitado, por eso siento que es importante acabar con la explotación a los seres humanos y acabar con el saqueo de los recursos naturales” (no pag.). When Evo Morales foregrounds (ethnic, cultural, political, national) difference, he does so with respect to a changing series of factors and positions. What exactly the distinctive marker of collective identity is, depends on the situation and issues at hand. As Sebastian Thies and Olaf Kaltmeier have pointed out, “in the postmodern age … fixed categories are challenged and identity formation is described as a strategic, situationally flexible, and inconsistent process” (27).18
Almost a quarter of a century ago, Werner Sollors stressed the dynamic quality of categories like “ethnicity,” “race,” and “nation” and the continuing tendency to keep inventing such categories. He asked provocatively:
Is not the ability of ethnicity to present (or invent) itself as a “natural” and timeless category the problem to be tackled? Are not ethnic groups part of the historical process, tied to the history of modern nationalism? Though they may pretend to be eternal and essential, are they not of rather recent origin and eminently pliable and unstable? (Invention xiv)
Ethnic groups, Sollors maintains, keep emerging and they keep redefining themselves; consequently, we should abandon any notions of ethnic “originality,” “authenticity” or essentialism. Ethnicity, I would add, can become performative or can be used as a strategic resource in the competition for provisions, positions, prestige, or power. In this competition, the declaration and/or performance of (varying degrees of) difference is essential.19 Passing as well as black-, red-, and ← 147 | 148 → yellowface rely on the close link between ethnoracial categorization and cultural as well as economic capital.20
In both separatist and integrative approaches to difference, the individual, by establishing his/her own identity and the identity of his/her group in terms of ethnicity, class, gender, language, political leaning, sexual orientation, and other factors, assumes the right to self-assertion and can use his/her proclaimed and professed identity and affiliation to claim certain forms of cultural, symbolic, political, or economic capital in the name of his/her community. In such claims and acts of self-positioning, ethnicity plays an increasingly central role in the Americas today—from the struggles for sovereignty of First Nations in Canada21 to the claims by the U.S. descendants of African slaves for reparation payments and the demand for full citizenship rights by the Mapuche in Chile and Argentina. But while the insistence on social and economic goods (e.g., Evo Morales) or political autonomy (e.g., the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico) tends to rely on essentialist notions of ethnicity, current academic discussions commonly de-essentialize ethnicity. Most prominently, David A. Hollinger’s formula of “affiliation by revocable consent” has questioned the focus on communities of descent. In the 2005 postscript to his classic study, Postethnic America, Hollinger writes:
The practice of confidently telling people what their identity is or isn’t has gone into precipitous decline as more and more Americans recognize that identity is performative. Identity is a code word for solidarity: to prescribe an identity for someone is to tell that person with whom they should be affiliating. (220) ← 148 | 149 →
Hollinger maintains that after the end of 1990s multiculturalism,22 which had assumed that “individuals would naturally accept the cultural, social, and political habits popularly ascribed to their communities of descent, rather than form their own associations to the extent that their life-circumstances permitted choices” we have come to realize that “descent-defined solidarities” are not to be considered “natural consequences of human difference but in their capacity as chosen instruments for political action and social support” (220). He concludes that
Such affiliations, designed to advance some common purpose, can be vital means of seeking political justice and providing individuals with a life-sustaining sense of belonging, but they need not be permanent, need not be exclusive of other affiliations, and need not carry the pernicious assumption that color and culture go together. (220)
This view is supported by the multiple affiliations that Evo Morales seeks as well as by the shifting dynamics of belonging played out in Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park.
Barack Obama has likewise downplayed his belonging to a singular community of descent. He underlines his own and his wife and daughters’ multiple descent and affiliations, a strategic resource in calling for a post-race national solidarity. In his “Speech on Race” he remarked:
I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slave-owners—an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible. … [I]t is a ← 149 | 150 → story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts—that out of many, we are truly one. (Obama, no pag.)
Obama uses his own mixed-race background to relativize the divisive potential of ‘race’ and he invokes the Founding Fathers’ motto of e pluribus unum to rally for a new group cohesion that crosses racial divides, a national community based on what Hollinger calls “affiliation by revocable consent.” Despite the moving images of interethnic celebration after the election victory of Obama in 2008, his rallying efforts were only partly successful: in 2008 only 43 percent of whites voted for him and in 2012 only 39 percent. As countless incidents from the arrest of Henry Louis Gates in Cambridge, MA (2009) to the shootings of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL (2012) and of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO (2014) as well as statistics on income and employment suggest, racialized practice has not changed significantly in the United States since Barack Obama took office in 2009. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva contends,
Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency is part and parcel of the “new racism” in the United States since the early 1970s. We have seen the rise of a few, carefully chosen minorities who are willing to propound a happy version of the American story, and the elevation of these minority politicians as “evidence” that America has overcome. This fairy tale is the most popular way to explain American racial politics, despite the depressing statistics telling a different story about what it means to be a minority in America in 2011. (256)
The feeling of belonging that Obama has tried to create transcends markers of identity like ‘race,’ gender, class, age, region, or education. As Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka has observed, “[b]elonging together—whether sharing collective identity or not—means sharing experience and the tacit self-evidence of being, of what goes without saying; means jointly taking things for granted, and sharing common knowledge and meanings” (204). Social practices of everyday life like racial profiling,23 the unequal treatment of individuals at points of entry into a country depending on their citizenship and ‘race,’ or anti-government protest (like in Brazil against how much the Soccer World Cup and the Olympic Games are costing the nation) reveal ← 150 | 151 → that despite a common sense of belonging to a collective, there is still a high degree of difference within any such collective.
Despite ongoing racism and the continuing privileging of whiteness throughout the Western Hemisphere24—including in a supposedly “post-racial” United States (cf. Bush; Kaplan; Metzler25)—some progress has been made in ‘race’ relations and in the rights and recognition of minorities over the past few decades, as illustrated, for example, by the opening of the Centro de Estudios Judaícos at the Universidad de Chile in Santiago in 1968, by Canada adopting multiculturalism as an official policy in 1971, by the electoral success of Evo Morales and Barack Obama, or by a 2012 law passed in Peru that requires “prior consultation” with “indigenous and tribal peoples” on extraction projects that affect their rights.26
Although incomplete, the U.S.A., over the time period covered in Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park, has experienced a certain shift toward Hollinger’s vision of “affiliation by revocable consent,” which is also reflected in Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park.27 Nonetheless, white privilege remains intact in the United States as well as elsewhere in the Americas.28 It may be telling in this regard that while the U.S.A. did ← 151 | 152 → not have a non-white president until 2009, Mexico had been ruled for five presidential terms by the Mayan Benito Juárez from 1858 to 1872. Whereas the U.S. Supreme Court’s “separate but equal” decision of 1896 (overturned only in 1954) cemented racial segregation in the U.S.A., Mexico’s former Secretary of Public Education and later presidential candidate José Vasconcelos argued in La raza cósmica (1925) for racial mixture as natural and desirable.29 He wrote:
The future race will not be a fifth, or a sixth race, destined to prevail over its ancestors. What is going to emerge out there is the definitive race, the synthetical race, the integral race, made up of the genius and the blood of all peoples and, for that reason, more capable of true brotherhood and of a truly universal vision. … The fifth race does not exclude but accumulates life. For this reason, the exclusion of the Yankee, like the exclusion of any other human type, would be equivalent to an anticipated mutilation, more deadly even than a later cut. (A95, A97-A98)
In the context of Brazil, it was Gilberto Freyre who, eight years after the publication of Vasconcelos’s Raza cósmica, presented racial mixing as one of the strengths of that country in his Casa-Grande e Senzala (1933), which was the first study to value the contributions that Afro-Brazilians had made to national identity. According to Juan E. De Castro,
Casa-Grande e Senzala gained acceptance as an egalitarian reconceptualization of Brazilian identity. Miscegenation became synonymous with a racial democracy that presented a historical version of Brazil formed by the contributions of its three constitutive races—Indian, black, and white—and, thus, implied the validation and acceptance of these originating racial and cultural groups (even if the Amerindian cultural contribution is undervalued by Freyre). (61)
More recent analyses of ‘race’ issues in the history of Brazil, reveal, however, that despite an alleged scale of valor attributed to skin color, which meant that “no absolute social or racial dichotomy was enforced,” the founding of the republic ← 152 | 153 → in 1889 and the formal abolition of slavery a year earlier were not followed by ethnic egalitarianism but by a continuing privileging of whiteness (Marx 160).30
Despite academic studies like those by Vasconcelos and Freyre, racial distinctions and the use of difference in the service of maintaining or challenging hierarchies vanished neither in Brazil nor in Mexico nor elsewhere in the New World. For the past two decades, for example, new indigenous movements contesting post-colonial forms of political representation have arisen in Ecuador and Bolivia; the debates on ecological consequences of industrialization and on intellectual property rights have put indigenous groups from the Amazonian region on international agendas; and the (primarily Mayan) Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) in Chiapas, Mexico has claimed autonomy from the Mexican state and control over territory and resources (Fig. 3).
Figure 3: Proclamation of Zapatista Self-Rule
← 153 | 154 →
In the contestation of established power and in the creation of solidarity communities for strategic purposes, ‘race’ is a factor, to be sure, but not an absolute one that alone decides on exclusion or inclusion. For example, the former spokesperson and military commander of the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Subcomandante Marcos, is alleged not to be indigenous, while the movement itself is foremost an indigenous movement. Group cohesion in the EZLN is established independently of ethnic background on the basis of a belonging that is sustained by shared Marxist political leanings, the demand to respect the rights of the indigenous, a claim to territory and self-rule, as well as an opposition to the Mexican government, to capitalist exploitation, and globalization. And although the movement is a regional phenomenon, it has national and transnational dimensions as well: people in urban areas outside of Chiapas have rallied in support of EZLN’s goals, the movement’s website creates the possibility of worldwide support, and the U.S. economic policies toward Mexico are likewise affected, seeing that the Zapatista movement started as a reaction against the North American Free Trade Agreement, when that accord went into effect in 1994.
In analyzing the role which ethnicity and belonging play in the EZLN or in identity politics in individual American nations, a transnational, inter-American perspective is most illuminating. The movement can be seen in the context of a hemispheric tradition of ethno-racially motivated political activism from the founding of APRA (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana—Partido Aprista Peruano) by Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre in Mexico in 1924 and in Peru in 1930, that of the La Raza Unida Party by José Angel Gutiérrez and Mario Compean in Texas in 1970 or that of the First Peoples National Party of Canada in Ontario in 2004.
Inter-American mobility, multi-ethnicity and pluri-culturality, as well as the growing differentiation of lifestyles in the Americas are altering traditional constellations of ethnic identity and notions of belonging.31 The symbolic capital attached to identity designations in different social or medial contexts and especially migration also changes the ways in which individuals identify themselves as members of communities.32 Ingrid Kummels has presented the following example: ← 154 | 155 →
In the rural home communities of Oaxaca, such as in the Mixteca region, individuals would first self-identify as members of their rural community, occasionally consider themselves to be campesinos, but would never label themselves as mixtecos. However, members of different Mixtec-speaking communities would move in together when living and working in the United States. In the late 70s they began highlighting a new, broader ethnic identity as Mixtecs, Zapotecs or as indígenas in opposition to the non-indigenous population. They appropriated a label formerly used by linguists, anthropologists and the Mexican government, utilising the latent identity horizon of their shared mother tongue. (263)
Belonging and self-identification thus always depend on the contexts and on the perceived need of differentiation from other groups, be they “Mexican,” “Chicano,” or “Anglo” (cf. Kummels). Self-identification and group belonging may constitute reactions against experiences of discrimination and exclusion, but they also carry symbolic capital and can be used as a resource to strengthen collective demands.
Other factors that impact identity politics in the Americas are the technological revolution of the conditions of media production, distribution, and reception as well as the formation of global consumer cultures, which, according to Manuel Castells, has led to a “network society.” The revolution in media technology and the acceleration of social processes has brought about a space-time compression, in the context of which de- and re-territorializations occur in the competition for goods and resources. And where old structures and borderlines become tenuous and murky, the number of conflicts in terms of identity politics will rise. The conflictive potential of these cultural transformations manifests itself in particular where (post-)colonial structures of power are in place: in the politicization of ethnic identities, the break-up of patriarchal social regimes, new modes and motives of belonging, and changes in religion-based forms of social hegemony. In this context, communal identities are increasingly used in a strategic manner when it comes to social, political, and economic conflicts in the contested American continents. To this end, video technology and the Internet have been employed by very diverse groups. For example, as mentioned by Kevin A. Yelvington,
[r]ecent decades have seen Indians mobilize as indigenous people with common goals throughout Latin America. … A number of pan-Indian organizations have sprung up. ← 155 | 156 → And they speak in a language that power can understand. For example, some Amazonian Indian groups have utilized video and Internet technology to press their claims in the court of world opinion and to establish solidarity with indigenous groups elsewhere. (258)
Transnational mediascapes, digital technology, and migration help create networks of overlapping and superimposed collectivities. Because of contemporary means of communication and transportation, according to Stephen Castles and Alastair Davidson, “no longer is it implied that migration means forgetting where one belonged before joining the host culture. This is so from both the emigration and immigration societies’ points of view” (159).
The interrelation of different markers of identity33—ethnicity, class, gender, sexual preference, religion, age, language, education, political leaning, regional background, nationality, consumer orientation etc.—needs to be taken into account in examining how individuals and groups of social actors resort (in changing constellations) to discourses and performances of different identities and constitute what Stuart Hall has termed “new identities.” As Ingrid Kummels writes, in order
[t]o be able to trace these diverging processes of collective identity construction, it is instrumental to conceptualise ethnicity as a sense of belonging, that is, as a flexible way of creating emotional attachments to various collectivities and groupings in the context of hegemonic categorisations at certain socio-historical moments. (264)
Belonging transcends ethnicity, it is dynamic and it depends on the shifting contexts in which the individual or group feels a need for contradistinction.
Such contradistinction, however, is never easy or one-dimensional since difference is always multiple. Stuart Hall explains that we have
not simply to appreciate the historical and experiential differences within and between communities, regions, country and city, across national cultures, between diasporas, but also to recognize the other kinds of divergence that place, position, and locate black people. The point is not simply that, since our racial differences do not constitute all of us, we are always different, negotiating different kinds of differences—of gender, of sexuality, of class. It is also that these antagonisms refuse to be neatly aligned; they are simply not reducible to one another; they refuse to coalesce around a single axis of differentiation. ← 156 | 157 → We are always in negotiation, not with a single set of oppositions that place us always in the same relation to others, but with a series of different positionalities. (30–31)
While Stuart Hall is referring to black identity, Kevin Yelvington likewise points out with regard to contradistinction in Latin American and Caribbean contexts that, depending on the particular scenario, different aspects can assume prominence:
Determining who one is and where one fits in Latin American or Caribbean society depends on a number of factors. Physical appearance counts, but it can be overridden. Perhaps more profoundly, one’s class position and status in society are determining factors. The reverse is also true; one’s class and status are determined, at least in part, by one’s “race” and ethnicity. Furthermore, conceptions of nationalism and the destiny of the nation are infused with notions of whose culture and whose “racial” and ethnic identity are most representative of the nation and, in turn, those to whom the nation really belongs. (245)
Whoever has or assumes the authority to define the nation or the collective gives prominence to particular markers over others.34 With changes in terms of who is in a position of power there will also be changes of what is foregrounded and what are deemed to be the constitutive factors of a communal identity. For example, in Mexico, the colonial Spanish dogma of “limpieza de sangre” (purity of blood), which had been the basis for a caste system, was supplanted in José Vasconcelos’s notion of a “raza cósmica” (“cosmic race”) by the idea of “mestizaje” (racial mixture) as the most promising model for the nation (cf. Yelvington 252).35 As Rafael Pérez-Torres has remarked, “[a]s the mestizo is given voice, as meaning is ascribed to notions of mestizaje, one can trace numerous transformations in the significance of the term. Meaning moves from the racial to the cultural, from the body to the text” (181). ← 157 | 158 →
Mestizaje, métissage, mestiçagem, créolité, and miscegenation have also entered the literature of the Western Hemisphere since the 19th century, where, as Earl E. Fitz believes, they have become “a metaphor for the Americas.” Fitz states that
From Spanish America, where this movement can be traced from the cultural significance of “La Malinche” through Sab (1841) and Cecilia Valdés (1882), to the twentieth-century work of Vasconcelos, Pietri, Arguedas, and Márquez, to Brazil, where the issue of miscegenation has long been a thematic staple, and from Haiti to Canada and the United States, which, as a culture has never been comfortable with the issue of racial mixing (a point reaffirmed in Peter Brimelow’s Alien Nation), this alternative approach to race relations in the Americas has, I believe entered a new phase of development, one that has moved beyond both a fascination with and a horror of interracial sexual relations and toward a greater, more comprehensive sense of human solidarity, one in which what has happened in the Americas can, in fact, be read as a trope for the entire human experience. (“Blood,” 246)
Not only on the U.S. census form but also in many other scenarios of the Western Hemisphere is multiple heritage (whether ethnoracial or other) increasingly being acknowledged.
Especially in recent decades there has been a growing fragmentation and hybridization; identity-based classifications that result from processes of uprooting, marginalization, and heteronomy have emerged as fluid and dynamic. Numerous affiliations and markers are recognized as playing into an individual’s set of allegiances. Gloria Anzaldúa, in her groundbreaking Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, gives the following account of her own mestiza position:
As a mestiza I have no country, my homeland cast me out; yet all countries are mine because I am every woman’s sister or potential lover. (As a lesbian I have no race, my own people disclaim me; but I am all races because there is the queer of me in all races.) I am cultureless because, as a feminist, I challenge the collective cultural/religious male-derived beliefs of Indo-Hispanics and Anglos; yet I am cultured because I am participating in the creation of yet another culture, a new story to explain the world and our participation in it, a new value system with images and symbols that connect us to each other and to the planet. Soy un amasamiento, I am an act of kneading, of uniting and joining that not only has produced both a creature of darkness and a creature of light, but also a creature that questions the definitions of light and dark and gives them new meanings. (80–81)
With Anzaldúa individual identity has come to be seen as fluid, as “an act of kneading,” in which ethnicity is just one factor that interacts with many others in shaping a person’s sense of herself or himself. Fragmentation, hybridization and the fluidity of classifications and affiliations make multiple belonging possible. “The new mestiza,” writes Anzaldúa, needs to be able to live with contradictions, be “a crossroads.” This is because she is an individual who is not only determined by ‘race’ or ethnicity but also by gender, sexual preference, class, language, place, ← 158 | 159 → religion, and many more factors. From this point of view, essentialist approaches to identity and ethnicity are revealed to be reductionist and over-simplifying; the foregrounding of difference centered on any one marker of identification (e.g., ethnicity) may unduly obfuscate multiple belonging.
A transnational approach is particularly important in light of the massive current social and cultural changes occurring in the Americas and their accompanying conflicts of identity and processes of cultural hybridization.36 Chinese restaurants are not indigenous to Vancouver, a Cinco de Mayo parade is not indigenous to Los Angeles, the Oktoberfest is not indigenous to Milwaukee, a Caribbean Street Day is not indigenous to Brooklyn, reggae music is not indigenous to Rio de Janeiro, and gangsta rap is not indigenous to Buenos Aires. Yet all of these cultural practices have become de-essentialized in terms of location and ethnicity in the course of their transnational migration and their adoption by individuals and communities from very different (national, ethnic, class etc.) backgrounds.
The current social, cultural, and political processes of change in the Americas are part of an informational and economic globalization, the emergence of transnational forms of collectivization, and the relativizing of ethnic and national categories in transnational contexts. Much research has been done—especially by sociologists—on questions of migration in general, global contexts, as they relate to transnational spaces, translocation, diaspora, issues of belonging, and “long-distance nationalism.”
Beyond these general tendencies, the Americas show a specific (inter-American) momentum that cannot be reduced to the worldwide globalization processes. This momentum is based on the shared colonial history and postcolonial condition of the societies of the Western Hemisphere; it is determined by (a) the continent’s social, political, religious, and linguistic common ground; (b) the massive inter-American migration flows between South and North America in the 20th and 21st centuries; (c) the growing transnational integration of the culture and media industries; and (d) the strong, if asymmetrical, economic and political interdependence of Western Hemisphere locations and nations. The articulation of regional/ethnic/cultural/political/economic/social difference becomes a complicated issue ← 159 | 160 → in view of the commonality and regional overlap with regard to so many other markers of identity.37
The recent academic reorientations in both North American cultural studies and Latin American estudios culturales from nation-centered approaches toward transnational area and cultural studies respond to the growing complexity of ascertaining “difference” and cultural/ethnic/national identity in the Western Hemisphere. While Evo Morales foregrounds within Bolivia his own ethnic difference as indigenous Aymara and his political difference as socialist anti-U.S., he has, since 2006, also forged alliances with indigenous groups in the United States and Canada, downplaying national difference and highlighting a transnational kind of belonging. With massive migration, the rapid change of neighborhoods in the metropolitan areas of the Americas, the spread of diasporic communities, the growing medial and technological interconnectedness across long distances, and the intensifying interpenetration of the local, the national, the supranational and the global, a de-territorialization of identity practices has occurred. With the growing number of mixed-race individuals and with an event like 9/11 triggering Islamophobia and thus creating a new outsider group, the color line is superimposed by categorizations beyond ‘race.’ Since a definition of belonging based on space or ‘race’ is fading, difference is getting harder to pinpoint. But as Pierre Bourdieu wrote in Homo Academicus, the establishment of difference and the nature of an individual’s habitus are essential to societies and to the constitution of culture and communities: “There is no way out of the game of culture, and one’s only chance of objectifying the true nature of the game is to objectify as fully as possible the very operations which one is obliged to use in order to achieve that objectification” (12). What we should seek to understand are the “operations” at work in identity politics and the strategies used in maximizing or minimizing difference.
In this context it may be appropriate to replace ‘race’ and ethnicity by belonging, a sense of a shared, dynamic, non-exclusive community. Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka has defined “belonging” as “an emotionally charged social location” that combines ← 160 | 161 → three factors: “(1) perceptions and performance of commonality; (2) a sense of mutuality and more or less formalised modalities of collective allegiance, and (3) material and immaterial attachments that often result in a sense of entitlement” (201). “Belonging,” she points out, denotes both “an individual’s belonging to a collective” and the “togetherness” of a group, which suggests that tensions between individual agency on the one hand and the collective’s negotiation, performance or definition on the other are unavoidable. Also, while “belonging” may foster a practice of distinguishing between insiders and outsiders, it recognizes a multiplicity of factors with changing parameters of inclusion.38 According to Pfaff-Czarnecka, the notion of belonging should help us “uncover the multiple, subtle and shifting modalities of forging and thinking the collective dimensions of the social life and the dynamic nature of social boundary-making” (203).
We need to ask how belonging, ‘race,’ ethnicity and difference play into the construction of individual and collective identities and how they determine questions of community, of inclusion and exclusion in/from a group, a social movement, or a nation. And we need to do so with an inter-American frame of reference rather than with national(ist) or regional tunnel vision. As Pablo Neruda said in his 1971 Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are” (no pag.). But not everywhere in the Americas do such expressions of individual or collective identity meet with respect and recognition. Deviance from the norm or mainstream is often sneered at, punished, or negated. For those cases, Toni Morrison spoke in her 1993 Nobel Prize lecture of “lethal discourses of exclusion blocking access to cognition for both the excluder and the excluded” (19). In many parts of the contested Americas difference is still a long way from being considered an enrichment and an opportunity rather than an obstacle or a threat.39
Regardless of whether it is deemed a blessing or a burden, difference matters (whether established through ‘race’ or other factors). This position is also central to Bruce Norris’s play Clybourne Park. The drama goes beyond a black and white ← 161 | 162 → difference within the United States. It demonstrates how other markers of difference from age to sexual orientation and from class to dis/ability are superimposed onto ethno-racial markers.40 At one point in Act II, the lawyer Kathy receives a call on her cell phone from Hector, the architect whom the buyers of the property have hired to plan their future residence, which is to replace the existing house. When the assembled characters are struck by Hector’s persistence, Lindsay “rolls her eyes at the others” and Steve explains “Spaniards” (60). This explanation is followed by a dialogue between Anglo-American Steve and African American Kevin:
KEVIN (to STEVE). Spaniards?
STEVE. Architect, ya know.
KEVIN. Toro toro.
While the ethno-racial difference between the black Kevin and the white Steve seems to be sublated in this inter-ethnic assessment of “Spaniards,” another realm of difference is opened up, namely the one between “Spaniards” and non-Spaniards.
Talking of Spaniards leads in this scene of the play to a conversation about past holiday destinations and the capitals of countries. In trying to determine the capital of Morocco, there is confusion about Rabat, Timbuktu, Mali, and Bali, to which Kathy answers, “Same difference” and Lindsey concurs: “And who gives a shit, any—?” (67). But playwright Norris underlines that difference does matter, having Steve reply: “Uhhh, no? The difference— … is that they happen to be three distinct countries so, I guess I give a shit—” (67). It seems obvious that in the 2009 setting of Act II, talking of “Spaniards” is influenced by the changed demographics of the United States and the increase in the Latino population. In 2010 there are ← 162 | 163 → eight times as many Latinos living in the United States as there were in 1960.41 Due more to migration than to birth rates, this demographic change needs to be seen in an inter-American framework that includes the changing stereotypes of Latinos,42 which the play’s characters extend to Spaniards, and the brain drain from Latin America and Europe to the United States. In these contexts, difference continues to matter—whether marked by ‘race,’ ethnicity, nationality, or other factors. Fittingly, Norris has the above declaration by Steve followed by attempts to blame the alleged rudeness of the buyers and their lawyer on ethnic backgrounds:
LINDSEY. We’re totally rude.
KEVIN. No, you’re not.
LINDSEY. It’s my family. Irish Catholic, you know? Blarney.
KATHY (raising a hand). Please, my husband? Half-Jewish, half-Italian.
KEVIN. Is that right?
KATHY. Get a word in edgewise.
KEVIN. I believe that. (67–68)
Bruce Norris seems to agree with Djelal Kadir, who wrote that “America … is not reducible to the discrete and differentiated identity formations that would eradicate otherness, its own or others’, and thereby elide or co-opt diversity, internal and external” (21). It also underlines the statement by Monika Kaup and Debra J. Rosenthal that “mixture and multiculturalism” are “an all-American reality” (xviii).
In the new millennium and with changing ethnoracial power hierarchies in various sites throughout the Americas, the notion of “post-race America(s)” has been advanced. While it is hard to pin down a commonly accepted meaning of this term, there seems to be a trend of shifting the focus from the experience of living as ethnoracial individuals (that was instrumental, for example, in the Civil Rights Movement and in multiculturalism) to the idea of ‘race’ and its socio-political significance and impact. While Ramón Saldívar acknowledges that “race and racism, ethnicity and difference are nowhere near extinct in contemporary America,” he discovers a new engagement with ‘race’ in 21st-century U.S. ethnic fiction, an engagement that develops “a new racial imaginary” and that demonstrates “a ← 163 | 164 → conceptual shift to the question of what meaning the idea of ‘race’ carries in our own times” (574, 575). Saldívar writes:
Today race remains a central question, but one no longer defined exclusively in shades of black or white, or in the exact manner we once imagined. That is, apart from the election of Barack Obama, one other matter marks the present differently from the racial history of the American past: race can no longer be considered exclusively in the binary form, black/white, which has traditionally structured racial discourse in the US. If for no other reason than the profoundly shifting racial demographics of early twenty-first-century America, a new racial imaginary is required to account for the persistence of race as a key element of contemporary American social and cultural politics. For these reasons, the term “postrace” does not mean that we are beyond race; the prefix “post” here does not mean a chronological “superseding,” a triumphant posteriority. Rather, the term entails a conceptual shift to the question of what meaning the idea of “race” carries in our own times. The post of postrace is not like the post of post-structuralism; it is more like the post of postcolonial, that is, a term designating not a chronological but a conceptual frame, one that refers to the logic of something having been “shaped as a consequence of” imperialism and racism. (574–75; italics in the original)
Curiously, Saldívar locates this post-race aesthetics exclusively in works of what he calls “ethnic writers.” We may ask: Does not such a racialization revert to essentialist, divisive modes of thinking about ‘race’? A work like Clybourne Park (written by a white U.S. American) and the findings of whiteness studies suggests that we need to move beyond such assumptions of essential differences between “ethnic” and “non-ethnic/white” writers.
At the end of Clybourne Park, in a kind of epilogue, there is a flashback to the day on which Kenneth, the son of Bev and Russ—sticking out in the community as different because of his PTSD—, kills himself. As Kenneth is writing his suicide note to his parents, his mother, unaware of what is going on, tells him: “I really believe things are about to change for the better” (115). The statement is bitterly ironic since the audience is aware of Kenneth’s imminent suicide. Bev’s words refer not only to the situation of her family but they also comment bitterly on the development of ‘race’ relations and questions of belonging that the play has illustrated. While much has changed between 1959 and 2009 in the play’s fictional Chicago and while the civil rights movement, political correctness, and a sense of post-racial equality and respect have left their marks in the conversations and interactions we observe on stage, difference is still very obvious in the play’s 2009 scenario. It is a difference that is no longer primarily marked by ‘race’—the way it had been in 1959—; we are more conscious of how gender, social class, sexual orientation, age, educational background, national origin, and other markers of identity intersect with distinctions in terms of ‘race’ and ethnicity. In the Western Hemisphere of the 21st century, as illustrated by Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park, ← 164 | 165 → difference has not necessarily decreased; but it has become more dynamic and complex. In an interview, Norris said that the play is really about “war and territoriality and why we fight over territory.” An inter-American context is established when we consider that Norris describes himself as a “whitey” who grew up in an all-white neighborhood in Houston, TX (a city that underwent massive demographic changes while Norris was living there) and who recalls that when reading A Raisin in the Sun in school “the only character I could identify with was Karl Lindner,” the representative of the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, who tries to prevent the move of a black family into his white neighborhood (Seymour, no pag.). So both Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Norris’s Clybourne Park are in one way or another related to Langston Hughes’s use of “my own people” to refer to dark-skinned Mexicans rather than to “gringos.”
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1 Some of the ideas presented in this essay first appeared in “Contested Americas,” my introduction to the volume New World Colors: Ethnicity, Belonging, and Difference in the Americas.
2 It is interesting to note in this respect that when Norris learned in 2012 that the Deutsches Theater in Berlin was planning to cast a white actress from Croatia in the role of the female black character in Clybourne Park, he withdrew the production rights.
3 While Caroline F. Levander and Robert S. Levine concede that in studying New World phenomena the nation remains important as an entity, they underline that it needs to be seen as part of a larger entity. Hence, they write, it is important to “recognize the asymmetry and interdependency of nation-state developments throughout the Americas” (6).
4 The version of the play published by Nick Hern Books in London uses the spelling conventions of British English.
5 For a discussion of how unevenly residential segregation affects different ethnic groups (especially in the United States), cf. Massey.
6 For a discussion of intercultural issues in 20th- and 21st-century Canada, U.S.A., Mexico, and beyond, cf. Raab/Greiffenstern, Interculturalism in North America.
7 For a comprehensive, varied perspective of how slavery shaped different societies in the New World, cf. The Oxford Handbook of Slavery in the Americas, edited by Robert L. Paquette and Mark M. Smith. The editors state in their introduction how vast and varied an area of research slavery in the Americas constitutes:
Slavery, wherever it existed, evolved with no predictable trajectory under dynamic pressure from a complex battery of internal and external forces. They stamped each New World slaveholding society with a distinctive profile so that, for example, the countenance of slavery in Brazil, the country that imported African slaves in numbers that approached half of the total, was, in any number of important ways, quite different from that in the United States, the Dutch Caribbean, or the slaveholding societies established and fostered by the French and the Spanish.
Slavery in the Americas pre-dated Columbus, but once taking root in the Americas under western European auspices, acquired a predominantly commercial character whose benefaction to the sustained economic growth of the Western world no serious scholar can any longer doubt. (4)
8 While José Vasconcelos, in 1925, had diagnosed that in the Western Hemisphere “[o]ur age became, and continues to be, a conflict of Latinism against Anglo-Saxonism” (A86), our notions of rivaling communities and traditions have become much more complex in the 21st century. Olaf Kaltmeier has appropriately spoken of multiple inter-American “entanglements.”
9 Inter-Americanists will be reminded of Herbert Eugene Bolton’s claim, made in his 1932 Presidential Address to the American Historical Association, “The Epic of Greater America,” that in the same way that European history cannot be studied by looking at only one nation, American history cannot be adequately dealt with in exclusively national frameworks.
10 In the 2010 U.S. Census, individuals were first asked whether they considered themselves to be “of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.” Clarifying that “[f]or this census, Hispanic origins are not races,” the questionnaire went on to ask for self-identification as “White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, [or] Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander” or as belonging to “Some Other Race.” Individuals were able to check more than one box, which, according to the Census Bureau means that “[t]here are 57 possible multiple race combinations involving the five OMB [Office of Management and Budget] race categories and Some Other Race” (Humes/Jones/Ramirez 2).
11 The process of abolition in the Americas took almost a century, “from the abolition decree of the French revolutionary commissioner Léger-Félicité Sonthonax in Saint-Domingue in 1793 to the Golden Law signed by the Princess Regent Isabel in Brazil in 1888. Between these two years, revolutions, independences, counterrevolutions, and civil wars upset the region, often putting slavery and the fate of emancipated slaves in the forefront” (Helg 247).
12 On the origins and differentiation of “race” and ethnicity, cf. Sollors, “Ethnicity and Race.”
13 For a comprehensive account of the origins, history, and pervasiveness of racism, cf. the Oxford Reader on Racism, edited by Bulmer and Solomos.
14 Lois Parkinson Zamora holds a somewhat more optimistic view of what those suffering from colonial rule can achieve. Analyzing Alejo Carpentier’s El Siglo de las luces (1962), she concludes that the novel illustrates “both the European colonial legacy—still monumental in Latin America—and the explosive energy that continues to transform that Old World legacy in the New World” (84–85).
15 In his monumental study, Buying Whiteness: Race, Culture, and Identity from Columbus to Hip Hop, Gary Taylor delves into the changed associations of whiteness: “[i]n the ancient and medieval world, whiteness was achieved, not received,” when it referred to moral or spiritual purity or innocence. However, this moral meaning came to be conflated with the reference of whiteness to skin color, which meant that “white” ended up being used “in a positive ethnic sense, as a self-identifying badge of belonging to an esteemed community” (241–42).
16 Quijano also links gender inequalities to coloniality and to the continuing impact of dualistic Eurocentric thinking. He believes that “without rejecting the shackles of the Eurocentric worldview … we will not get very far in the struggle to free ourselves decisively from the idea of ‘race’ and of ‘racism,’ nor from that other form of the coloniality of power, the relation of domination between ‘genders.’ The decolonization of power, in whatever frame of reference, signifies from the outset the decolonization of all dimensions of consciousness” (53).
18 With recourse to Bourdieu they suggest that “social, political, or cultural conflicts [are to be described] in terms of relational positions and positionings characterized by the access to different types of capital, whether economic, cultural, social, or symbolic.” Thies and Kaltmeier conclude that in “the field of identity politics the actors struggle over the distribution, valuation, and accumulation of what we like to call ‘identitarian capital’” (27).
19 As Sollors adds, “It is not any a priori cultural difference that makes ethnicity” (Invention xvi, italics in the original). Difference is invented, constructed, and used as a resource. Ethnicity, therefore, according to Sollors, “does not serve as a totalizing metaphor but simply as a perspective onto psychological, historical, social, and cultural forces” (Invention xx).
20 For a discussion of black-, red-, and yellowface in the Americas, see Jill Lane, “ImpersoNation.” She highlights the redface of the Boston Tea Party, the blackface of Cuban writer José Crespo y Borbón’s pseudonym of Creto Gangá representing Asian Cuba, and the statement by James K. Kennard, Jr. in 1845 that a truly American poetry would need to be black. Lane concludes: “The evidence suggests that racial impersonation—acting in the name and place of the other through such practices as blackface, redface, yellowface, cross-dressing, and drag—has played a particularly important role in the imagination and aesthetic articulation of national communities across the Americas” (1730).
21 For a differentiated analysis of questions of belonging as they affect First Nations and other ethnic and social groups in the Canadian model(s) of diversity, multiculturalism, and integration, cf. Banting/Courchene/Seidle.
22 Sherrow O. Pinder argues that “if multiculturalism is the tool used to carve out a new American cultural identity, it is bound to fail. A close examination of multiculturalism shows that its concern is not about incorporating racialized ethnic groups into America’s cultural oneness, but to recognize and celebrate cultural manyness. America’s cultural manyness should be recognized and celebrated. However, when cultural manyness is looked on as un-Americanness, the racialized implications that un-Americanness entails and assumes are brought to the forefront. It is not surprising, then, that multiculturalism is limited in dealing with America’s problematic race relations” (155). Only a “denormalization of whiteness” and an end to the “de-Americanization of racialized ethnic groups,” Pinder believes, would allow for an age of postmulticulturalism, in which “America’s cultural oneness” would be challenged by “recognizing and celebrating America’s cultural manyness” (159).
23 On the role that ‘race’ plays in policing and the justice system of the U.S.A., cf. Davis. She argues that “[w]hen the structural character of racism is ignored in discussions about crime and the rising population of incarcerated people, the racial imbalance in jails and prisons is treated as a contingency, at best as a product of the ‘culture of poverty,’ and at worst as proof of an assumed black monopoly on criminality. The high proportion of black people in the criminal justice system is thus normalized and neither the state nor the general public is required to talk about and act on the meaning of that racial imbalance” (265).
24 Jonathan W. Warren and France Winddance Twine state that while, over the past two decades, there has been a significant increase in critical race studies in Latin America that take on “the multiple dimensions of white supremacy,” the broader impact of ‘race’-centered scholarship in Latin American studies remains limited (538).
25 Christopher J. Metzler calls a “post-racial America” “but an apparition of a collective imagination” (141), and H. Roy Kaplan states that “racism, the domination and exploitation of people of color by whites, with accompanying social and psychological justifications for doing so … endures even in the best of times and flourishes in the worst” (6). As Melanie E.L. Bush writes, the hard facts about the role which ‘race’ plays in housing, education, health care, policing, or hiring in the United States “challenge discourse that conveys we are increasingly less racialized and more equal” (250).
26 Sadly, the implementation and supervision of that law are still inadequate.
27 Writing in 1997, during the presidency of Bill Clinton, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw saw the United States as still having a long way to go toward ‘racial’ and ethnic equality. She spoke of “the continuity in law between the former period of explicitly endorsed, state-sponsored white supremacy, and today’s more benign version of formal equality,” which is, however, still impacted by the “separate but equal” ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896, a ruling that lends itself to “the manipulability of concepts such as equality” (281).
28 Cf. Banton 92. Howard Winant warns, however, that although “[w]hite privilege—a relic of Herrenvolk democracy—has been called into question in the post-civil rights period …, the white ‘politics of difference’ is now being trumpeted as an ideology of victimization” by the white political right warning of challenges to U.S. national identity (105).
29 There is no equivalent in the United States for a political figure of José Vasconcelos’s stature proclaiming the benefits and great future of miscegenation the way Vasconcelos did for mestizaje in Mexico. For an excellent illustration of the development of miscegenation laws in the United States from 1863 to 2000, see Peggy Pascoe, What Comes Naturally. Pascoe argues that “[e]very successive [U.S.] American racial regime, beginning with slavery, but continuing with the taking of Indian lands, the establishment of segregation, and the development of [U.S.] American immigration restrictions, expended a great deal of energy making its racial notions appear so natural that they could not be comprehended as contradictions to a society ostensibly based on equality” (313).
30 Anthony W. Marx writes in his comparative study of ‘race’ and nation in the development of the United States, Brazil, and South Africa that in late 19th-century Brazil “[p]eaceful abolition and republican federalism provided little pressure or capacity for central state intervention to assist freed slaves. Neglect of those slaves earlier manumitted set the pattern. … Not only were blacks abandoned to their fate, but their prospects were diminished by official efforts to further encourage European immigration. The end of slavery and rising industrialization had produced great demand for free labor, which the Brazilian elite preferred to fill with imported whites rather than by training and advancing blacks” (161–62).
31 As Michał Krzyżanowski and Ruth Wodak write, “questions of who belongs and who does not belong legally in/to contemporary societies and polities have become crucial problems in defining the current and future roles of citizenship in a world characterized by transnationalism … and increased human mobility” (100).
32 Depending on the legal, economic, and social situation of migrants, their experiences will differ sharply. As David Theo Goldberg and John Solomos write: “The trends identified by some commentators toward globalization of labor and the emergence of transnational citizenship are real enough. It is also clear, however, that for everyone who can claim to enjoy global or flexible citizenships …, there are so many more who are shut out from every aspect of citizenship, local and global …. These different forms of exclusion emanate from the restrictions of the nation-state” (10). Steve Garner agrees that nation-states have been “racializing their populations across time and place” in addition to institutionalizing divisions on the basis of class, gender, and other factors (57).
33 Michael Banton has suggested that we may need a new analytical framework in order to account for the interrelatedness and simultaneity of various factors that are the basis of social formations and trends: “The presently available conceptions of race relations, whether they start from discrimination, from racism, or from some other key concept, will have to be subsumed within some more powerful sociological theory, such as, perhaps, the theory of collective action …, which will explain the special features of race relations within a framework that also explains other kinds of group relations” (96).
34 How one and the same marker, namely “rhythm,” has been used throughout the history of the Americas as a category in counter-distinction is revealed by Martin Munro, who writes: “Moving through slavery, revolution, Emancipation, world wars, nationalist uprisings, the end of colonialism, dictatorships, and various black power movements, … in diverse locales and at different times in New World history, rhythm has been one of the most persistent and malleable markers of race, both in racist white thought and in liberatory black counter-discourse” (5).
35 Juan E. De Castro points to the ongoing impact that the concept of “mestizaje” has in the Americas. He argues that “the discourse of mestizaje can be seen as both a forerunner of and an influence on some important postmodern and multicultural versions of identity proposed during recent decades” (xiv).
36 In a prize-winning article, Earl E. Fitz has recently made a convincing case for transnational, hemispheric approaches to Native American literature, calling this literature “the very foundation of the inter-American project” and “our common American denominator.” As Fitz explains: “Stretching back in time to long before the arrival of the first Europeans in the New World and yet still flourishing even today, Native American literature, both oral and written, unifies the American experience as nothing else can” (“Native,” 124–25).
37 I therefore applaud Edna Acosta-Belén’s impassioned plea for a “hemispheric approach” to societies and cultures of the Americas that is comparative and cross-disciplinary and that analyzes differences as well as commonalities. Acosta-Belén observes that “the incessant intersections between the local, the national, and the transnational are producing new forms of interaction and socioeconomic relations and structures that influence the nature of social and political movements and the construction and reconfiguration of cultures and identities in the Western hemisphere” (241). Our academic practice needs to heed these intersections and interconnections.
38 Pfaff-Czarnecka believes that whereas “identity politics have time and again revealed the exclusionary properties entailed in this notion,” the politics of belonging, while “equally prone to effecting social exclusion,” can also go in the opposite direction, “widening borders, incorporating, defining new common grounds” (203).
39 Whether difference will be intensified or diminished in the Western Hemisphere in coming decades is a question open to debate. Thomas E. Skidmore and Peter H. Smith, for their part, believe, with regard to Latin America, that the power of media (especially television), cultural homogenization, and continuing urbanization will diminish regional and ethnic distinctiveness (452–53).
40 Cordelia Chávez Candelaria came to a similar conclusion with regard to Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima, in which she examines the tension between living inside an ethnic community (or “anticommunity”) and outside of it: “This dialectical tension subsumes more than a conflict between a depicted pastoral of lost possibility and an ironic real world of material experience, more than a contrast between a privileged many and a marginalized minority, more even than the opposition of civilized versus primitive worldviews. The tension emerges from all these polarities amalgamated and also from the psychological and cultural web of effects implicit in their dichotomization of identity” (186). She concludes that there is a “difference and distance from one single determinable referent … [or a] différance in articulating ‘community’” (201).
41 Over the half-century that lies between Lorraine Hansberry’s play and Frank Norris’s, the Hispanic population of the United States rose from six million (3.24 % of the population) in 1960 to 50.5 million (16 % of the population) in 2010 (Census; Gutiérrez).
42 For a comprehensive discussion of how 1960s stereotypes of the Latino underdog (or criminal) changed to self-assured presentations of latinidad on U.S. television, cf. Raab, “From Spic to Spice: Latinas and Latinos on U.S. Television.”