Gates Talks 'Black in Latin America' With NPR

The Root's editor-in-chief, Henry Louis Gates Jr., discusses his latest book and TV series.

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Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Getty Images)

The Root Editor-in-Chief Henry Louis Gates Jr. recently discussed his latest book and four-part documentary, Black in Latin America, on NPR's Fresh Air With Terry Gross. In Black in Latin America, Gates highlights the impact of the slave trade on countries south of the border, such as Mexico, Brazil and Cuba, and its lasting effects on Latin America's cultural history.

The descendants of slaves brought to Latin and South America, says Gates, don't identify as white or black the way many Americans do. In Brazil, there are 134 categories of blackness to describe someone of African descent.

"[They say], 'I'm not black. I'm murano [or] I'm kubuku,' he says. "You could say that these societies have refused to be locked into this ridiculous binary opposition between black and white the way we are here in America, and they've socially constructed race or ethnicity in a more subtle way than we could ever imagine."

In each of the countries Gates examined, there were also policies enacted to "whiten" the complexion of the country soon after receiving an influx of slaves. In Brazil for instance, 4 million white Europeans and 185,000 Japanese immigrants were allowed into the country between 1884 and 1939. Cuba and Mexico also had similar policies in place.

"They were trying to do two things," says Gates. "They wanted to bring in white families so that the white population would increase. But they also assumed, because so many of these indentured immigrants would be men, that interracial sexual liaisons would ensue -- and indeed they did. So whitening was to be achieved in two ways: through white people marrying white people and a browning movement, when a series of racial gradations would be created through interracial sexuality."

Read more at NPR.

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