South America’s Cosmic Race
By Terence Roberts
March 18, 2007
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IT IS difficult and rare to find a similar flexible and civilised official approach to racial co-existence and integration as that of the Spanish/Portuguese, in the huge Anglo-colonial colonies of North America, Canada, and the Caribbean islands, even though many Anglo individuals in these areas chose non-white lovers and spouses.
Whereas the Spanish/Portuguese in South America led in fostering and creating a distinct continental polymorphic creole modern culture, expressed and projected in “avant-garde”, or unusual fiction, poetry, visual art, films, and music, celebrated around the world for its inventive social vision and lack of racial obsessions, the Anglo-colonial view discouraged and obstructed the birth of new creole cultures based on hybrid racial and cultural values.
What was more useful to their divide-and-rule social ideas was the encouragement of ethnic exclusiveness, frozen cultures transplanted elsewhere and forever looking back to their racial origins, while their labour remained exploited for “the Empire”, rather than the collective creole nations they were now citizens of, and for which they had been taught little appreciation.
Guyanese who grew up receiving, and continue to receive only exclusive Anglo worldviews on race and ethnicity, would hardly ever be exposed to a concept like Vasconcellos’ “Cosmic Race”, and many similar ones from Bolivar, Freyre, Amado, Marti, Carpentier, etc, since they were almost completely brainwashed for centuries to believe that Latin American creole cultures had no equality or authenticity comparable with Old World Cultures like Europe, Africa, India, Asia.
This self-abusive idea meant that like the British colonial, who was too great to every change, Africans, Orientals, etc. in Guyana, simply had to stagnate as imported races and cultures and everything would be fine. What resulted was racial ideas and attitudes comparable to Anglo North America, one of the most racially paranoid and confused areas in the world, ideas imitated and brought back to Guyana by many Guyanese who returned after adjusting to North America’s specific racial reasoning and attitudes.
On the other hand, South American concepts like the “Cosmic Race” refused to stagnate, refused to use ethnic or cultural ideas in order to justify racial and cultural fragmentation.
To accept the idea of race as no longer specific or “pure”, no longer self-obsessed but relaxed and open to simply the human form, the human as a precious value, is to accept the “cosmic race”. It is probably a human state that comes about naturally, if people really felt free to mix, associate, learn, and love, without feeling they have lost something, but rather gained, on one way or another.
Racial mixing or miscegenation can involve giving up one’s racial and personal vanity based on colour, features, etc; relinquishing such outward possessions to the inner beauty of character and personality formation in humans. Also, South America’s “cosmic race” does not mean the end of the continent’s ethnic whites, blacks, and other peoples, since it is they who have created the “cosmic race” among themselves, and they too belong to it as a potent and necessary catalytic part.
All parties should therefore once again see and appreciate their interdependence, whether as a minority or majority.
It would be an error to think that South America is the originator of miscegenation as a major factor in its development from abusive colonial to freer modern times.
By now most people know that many Spanish and Portuguese who came to South America, came from countries that were already largely miscegenated. The Romans (already very miscegenated) first conquered Spain, mixed in, then later the Moors of North Africa also conquered Spain/Portugal to a large extent, and their customs of impregnating harems of secluded women led to hundreds of children bearing one man’s name.
Some of these same attitudes towards conquest continued in South America among Native Indians and Imported African slaves. So only a very small minority of Spanish/Portuguese, if any, were ever pure-blooded in colonial transferal. However, later in the 20th century South America saw millions of Europeans from everywhere, flowing into the continent, where they too added to the mixed batter, enriched it, and help to modernise nations like Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, etc.
In 1971, the brilliant French structural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss in his essay “Race and Culture” for UNESCO, wrote: “According to certain anthropologists, the human species must have given birth very early to differentiated sub-species, which, in the course of pre-historical times, produced all kinds of exchanges and cross-breedings.
“Indeed, going further back in time to Ancient Greece and Roman times, we find preserved evidence in visual works of art, often highly erotic and romantic, of Africans and white women (at Pompeii, for example) engaged in sexual pleasures; and even before 1492’s European voyages to America, evidence of a minority of Africans in pre-Columbian Mexico and Central America is generally accepted, to the extent that since 1929-45 the gigantic mural titled “Market at Teotihuacan” by the famous mestizo Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, distinctly depicts Africans in their unusual robes among the multitude of native Indians in this famous pre-Columbian city very long ago.
Human knowledge increased and was shared only because different civilisations encountered each other. Often the first meeting of different races and cultures resulted in misunderstanding, resistance, pillage, and violence.
Everywhere on earth forced intimacy resulted in rape by uncivilised men who simply wanted to release their passions, or create replicas of themselves through women they saw as a commodity in which to increase their own race or tribe or customs. Women were seen as no different than possessions of food, gold, treasure, land.
However, when the opponents are of different race, all the resulting crimes seem to double in the eyes of the opponents. The slow civilised reform of this negative stereotype usually attached to conquests, imperialism and colonialism, would result in an educational, sensual, and new vision of the role of culture, first promoted as open-minded cosmopolitan visual art by fiercely individual European artists, especially from nations like Italy, Flanders, Holland, France and Spain, then later Latin America.
The individual non-conformist personality of many such national artists asserted and sustained their freedom of expression, even in the face of skeptical public response still waiting to be convinced.
Eventually, today, these various nations in Europe and Latin America, would see millions of viewers pass through their museums yearly to ponder and be intellectually and sensually stimulated before paintings celebrating the pleasure of romance, intimacy, food and drink, miscegenation and family values among people of different race and cultural origin.