Race is about politics. The concept of race was invented in Spain in the 14th century. Originally this was about religion (the Jews) but then it became about social and political power — the idea being not to share power with the conversos. So otherness then became about genealogy, not current religious difference, and Jewishness was genealogical. This racial difference was not visible since the conversos did not look different from Christians.
Then, with colonialism and slavery, Iberians and other Europeans developed this racial ideology further and carried it around the globe. A series of racializing theories were created to mark groups as permanent outsiders. Many of these populations did look different, so race became a visual marker of difference — although they still insisted that the main difference was an inheritance from birth. Note that in this way the U.S. convention of hypodescent, much maligned in the Hispanic world as “more racist,” isn’t actually different from the Inquisition’s search for Jewish origins.
Origin–place and race of origin–is imbricated here, and it is key that race is visual and/or genealogical, and that the variety of the racializing theories is part of the power of the concept of race. People who say things like, “my racializing theory is not as evil as yours” utterly miss the point.
All of this has to do with the construction of nation in Latin America: to what extent can people be part of the nation, or not? The complexity of the strategies of exclusion/ inclusion is what makes everything so precarious–especially when you are trying to have slavery/patriarchy on the one hand, and modern rights on the other.
The lodging of racial difference or otherness in the body is what enables permanent exclusion of whole groups, and this is the problem they are having in Cecilia Valdés … yet I need to be able to articulate on a dime why all mestizaje is not subversive (even Cecilia’s is not really, since she is trying to whiten).
There is amazing bibliography on race and the early modern world here, and I should probably see The Beguiled and read Dixa Ramírez’ book.
I received interesting PDFs by Minnie-Bruce Pratt’s spouse, also, and they’re out of field for me but I should read them.