- Beyond Black and Red: African-Native Relations in Colonial Latin America, and: To Intermix with Our White Brothers: Indian Mixed Bloods in the United States from Earliest Times to the Indian Removals
Among sophisticated scholars, racism is no longer much of a thing. Racism, that is, is no longer treated as a potent entity in its own right, the kind of thing that can cause or shape behavior in some easily determined way. Notions of racism as a kind of monolith or juggernaut derive in part from the sources used by the first generation of modern antiracist scholars, who mostly examined material written by or for elite whites and exposed the vast common prejudices therein. The racism monolith crumbles, however, when scholarly attention turns to ordinary folk, white and nonwhite. Especially revealing is the evidence surrounding mixing between whites and nonwhites, perhaps the ultimate act of racial transgression. In place of racism writ large, complex cross-racial stories and models emerge, stories and models that encompass both nonwhite agency and white power and prejudice. The Restall collection and Ingersoll's book are both outstanding examples of this current vogue for studying hybridity and identity on the margins.
The nine articles assembled in Beyond Black and Red debunk the hallowed idea of an unremitting hostility between Indians and Africans in colonial Latin America. This idea becomes largely a myth promoted by [End Page 180] colonial administrators and other Europeans intent on a strategy of
divide-and-conquer. Study of black–Indian interaction reveals instead that racial identity was highly localized throughout colonial Latin America and rarely if ever conformed entirely to European preconceptions or desires. Indeed, "larger" racial categories such as Indian and black either had no meaning at the local community level, and hence little resonance with ordinary folk, or the big categories "were ascribed a more local meaning than that intended by Europeans" (10). Identity, that is, was informal (as opposed to the racial formalism increasingly advocated by whites) and never reflected anything like a simple process of white domination. There could be blatant manipulation, as when a woman accused of being a "mulata sorceress" tried to prove that she was an Indian to avoid the jurisdiction of the Inquisition (which associated mulatas and witchcraft). Or on further study, seeming racial fears of blacks as criminal "wolves" preying on native Maya "sheep" in Guatemala and the Yucatan resolve into rural fears of exploitive and sometimes black city-dwelling traders and middlemen—a pattern revealing less of unremitting hostility than the opposite: "the intensification of interaction between the two groups and the gradual breakdown of barriers between them" (213). Over time, as interaction between natives and blacks intensified, identities became more complex and neat racial categories became harder and harder to maintain or impose, yielding frustration, fear, and backlash on the part of colonial authorities and elites. These fears escalated to the point that Spanish authorities in Mexico tried to use the systema de castas as a form of racial apartheid to separate Spanish, mixed bloods, Indians, and blacks.
In To Intermix with Our White Brothers, Ingersoll similarly demonstrates that on the margins of American society and settlement there was extensive mixing between Indians and whites, dramatically more than most elite-minded white sources ever acknowledged. If European racial discrimination was "rigid and unchanging," on-the-ground colonial interracial practices were local and situational (9). Colonists who aspired to respectability scorned mixture with Indians and tried to uphold an image of America as a place where Europeans could keep their bloodlines pure and nonwhites and the poor knew their station. "Property in America was hardly worth having," Ingersoll suggests, "if it could not buy respectability in Europe, which it could not do...