The problem of reducing the mestizo category to the idea of ​​race

Image: Roman Ska


There are no biological races in the human species, although human groups treat each other racially and, thus, “socially construct races”

In a text published on 06/01/2024, in Folha de S. Paul (entitled: "No one here is mixed race”), academic Muniz Sodré states that: “to give credibility to miscegenation, you must first believe in race, then in the human reality of mixing”. It is interesting that the author's reflection has nothing to say about how this statement fits black, white or any other category. In recent decades, the idea that: “black is a social concept of race” has become widespread in the broad academic production on ethnic-racial issues. In other words, although there are no biological races in the human species, human groups treat each other racially and, thus, “socially construct races”. This is what legitimizes talking about black people, according to this perspective that is widespread among academics, activists and “mestizos” between these two categories… Only the mixed-race social construction cannot be thought of, and then one of those mentioned immediately pulls out his sleeve. fallacy: “you can’t talk about mestizos, because there are no races to mix”…

The author also states that: “Today, black is a political-existential belonging, based on a phenotype that varies from more to less dark, called brown”. By decreeing what is real “today” (that is, there are only the trends that he wants to demarcate as existing; those same ones currently disseminated by the mass media, that there are only “either white or black”), Sodré just does not place himself at the mercy of question about whether the 45,3% of self-declared brown Brazilians made this “political-existential” statement about themselves… It doesn’t matter. If we, brown people, didn't do it, Sodré and the black militancy did it for us. Everything is just a matter of equipping the State to disseminate this conception in several of its bodies and sectors and negotiating with Globo, UOL and co., so that they can disseminate the political guideline... There is no evidence either, by the way, that the self-declaration of the 10,2% of blacks is guided by political expressions... But if the activists decided... 

Sodré highlights in an excerpt that: “The IBGE has spoken, it is spoken”, about the data that, it seems to me, he presents with regret: “the majority of the Brazilian population is brown”. It seems that there has not been, since 2010, a law that imposes itself on the data that IBGE produces (and on the declarations of brown people), decreeing that: “black population: the set of people who declare themselves black and brown, according to the question color or race used by IBGE, or that adopt a similar self-definition”. This law (12.228/2010) is not a product of any public consultation carried out among us, the mixed-race masses. The social engineers of other people's lives decided, applied it and that's how it is. “It is the State that always decides”, say the youngest people used to sitting at the table of power… The text also has nothing to say about the various brown people who are being barred from quotas in the institution where Sodré works and in several others, in public tenders.

The academic ends the text using a term that is often swept under the carpet by these perspectives that aim to eliminate the possibilities of people identifying and being recognized as mixed race: phenotype. He says: “which in fact we all are: phenotypically diverse”. It's true, we are physically diverse individually. But our individual phenotypes also make up particular physical patterns collectively. These patterns were already activated in the uses of colonial categories such as customer service (on which historian Eduardo França Paiva reflects extensively) and which were later used as part of the fabric of the idea of ​​race. These uses are always made in contexts of relations and political inequality, of course. Each dominant tendency in each context deserves its due criticism, by those who try to be guided by honesty, at each time.

It is precisely based on the lesser or greater material difference between the phenotype patterns largely produced from the colonial experience in the Americas and the phenotype patterns of the human groups that unequally formed these populations, that we can designate these more recent results with specific terms. Differences objectively perceived by our eyes or touch and which, although they still are and have been, historically, entangled in spurious hierarchies, they are not reduced to this dimension of social construction. Being a material fact. In Brazil, the best-known terms for these new products were, in addition to the general pardo, also caboclo, mulato and cafuzo. Words that serve to indicate, precisely, this mixture. Property that, in indigenous, white and black phenotypes (all with a certain degree of internal variation and with varying degrees of distance and proximity to mixed-race phenotypes), is no longer evident to perception and historical memory, “breeders” of identities .

Ultimately, it is not by denying phenotypic diversity and its terminology that we combat racism. But rather facing the remnants of hierarchization over these phenotypes, which may still be harmfully inhabiting our subjectivities. This fight is also not carried out by denying the white and indigenous portions of mestizo products, in order to, in a childish and illusory way, highlight only the black portion that makes up part of the mestizos. No law should force us to enter into this simulacrum, as has been the case in Brazil since 2010. In relation to mestizos/pardos as a topic (or, even, “cultural miscegenation”), it is up to all honest people of our time to combat certain uses made of the fact of our existence to form “screens” against the identification of raciality in our social inequalities. If you read me, what is the phenotype trend that follows from the poorest neighborhoods to the richest neighborhoods in your city?… If you refuse to talk about the racial nature of our social inequalities, you will not contribute in any way to the construction of any fair project of nation to the broadest possible collective of our population. There's nothing really nationalistic about this.

But let no one continue to dare, on the other hand, to decree the non-existence of mestizos. To the brown people who decided to give up recognizing what their bodies show, claiming to be black, I just say that they respect what the IBGE interview manual states about the term brown (“for the person who declares themselves brown or who identifies with mixture of two or more color or race options, including white, black, brown and indigenous”) and do not impose their political decision on the entire diversity of the mestizo mass. Nor continue trying to cage our existence to the interested assumption of an irremediable destiny of racial injustice to be maintained as long as there are mestizos. There is nothing “progressive” about this, there is just farce and authoritarianism. We, brown people, do not accept that fallacies like these continue to be said with our name.

*Ledson Chagas is a journalist and holds a PhD from the Postgraduate Program in Communication at Universidade Federal Fluminense – PPGCOM/UFF.

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