The Global African: Las Castas/The Trans-Pacific Partnership

TeleSUR’s The Global African looks at the complexity of race in Latin America & who the Trans-Pacific Partnership actually serves.

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BILL FLETCHER, HOST, THE GLOBAL AFRICAN: Today on The Global African we’ll talk about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We’ll also talk about las castas.

That’s today on The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. Thanks for joining us, and don’t go anywhere.

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Las castas–an Iberian term that came out of the 17th and 18th centuries during the European conquest of Latin America. It was used to describe the overall mixed race that was born between the invading European male soldiers and the indigenous women and black slaves that lived on the lands. By the end of the 18th century, 16 different mixed races had been established. And they became the center of many paintings that still exist today.

Today, Santiago Moor joins us to talk more about the significance of las castas.

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For this segment, we’re joined by Dr. Msomi Moor, who teaches at the University of the District of Columbia, is a Howard University educated scholar of the African Diaspora. He has been researching black history or teaching in North American and South American historically black colleges and universities for over two decades.

Welcome to The Global African.

DR. MSOMI MOOR: Appreciate it. How are you doing?

FLETCHER: Good. Good.

You know, I was mentioning to you before we started that some years ago I saw this exhibit, which is actually what inspires this segment. It was an exhibit. It was called Las Castas. And it was at that point that the Los Angeles Museum of Art–L.A. County Museum of Art. And it was from Mexico. And the exhibit had these pictures from the 18th century–they’re Spanish–that had–they would always be a man, woman, and a child. And the title of each of these pictures was the racial designation of the child. Right?

And so I was sitting there, Dr. Moor, I was thinking, okay, so I know what a mestizo is, I know what a mulato is, but wait a minute, there are these other terms. And when I walked out of there, I said to my wife, I said, this is, like, Hitlerian, this is, like, fascist, this is, like, amazing, the way that the Spanish did it, particularly in contrast to the African experience in North America, where such designations, except in maybe Louisiana, didn’t really mean anything.

What is this?

MOOR: What you saw exists in other countries of Ibero-America as well. You’ve got the Argentinian example. You have–even in Puerto Rico you can find these. Colombia has some. Brazil has their version. Even Peru, they have their version.

It’s called the casta naming system, casta meaning caste. Right? So, basically there are two different types of casta naming systems. You have the casta de nación, which means nation castes. And then you have what you saw, which is called the casta de raza, or racial castes.

And so, when you mentioned, for example, there was a man and woman and their offspring, each one of those is going to have a term that is going to be recognized. And basically that’s their status in a racially hierarchical society. Right? So the more Spanish blood or European blood you have, then the higher up on the hierarchy you’ll be.

Just to give an understanding of that pyramid of hierarchy, European is at the top, native comes in the middle, and the Africans are always at the bottom.

So what you’re going to find when you look at the different authors who have written on that topic, they’ll give you the lists. And I have one here from Aguirre Beltrán. He was a Mexican anthropologist from the 1930s. And he gives several in his books. And you’ll find that, for example, when you mix a European, which are called españoles, right, in this case, or peninsulares, meaning, like, from the Peninsula of Iberia, with a black woman, that’s your offspring that you mentioned, the black mulata.

FLETCHER: Right.

MOOR: Right?

FLETCHER: Right.

MOOR: And then, when you keep going in Mexico, the names get kind of funny. Sometimes they’ll use zoological terms.

FLETCHER: Like wolf.

MOOR: Lobo is another one.

FLETCHER: That’s what I was thinking about. Right.

MOOR: Yeah. Right.

FLETCHER: Right.

MOOR: That’s wolf. But you also have names that are like monkey names–Zambo, okay, which is what the United States Sambo comes from. Okay, we’re going to explain how the Spanish words were used in the English lexicon. They borrowed them exactly out of the Spanish nomenclature and Iberian nomenclature. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

But just to finish that, you will have a series of different depictions, and those depictions relate to status in society. So it’s complexion. It’s also heritage. So you have a genotypic and a phenotypic component to these casta names, casta de raza names. Okay?

FLETCHER: Now, you said earlier to me that there’s this casta de nación, and that precedes the casta de raza. Right?

MOOR: That’s right.

FLETCHER: Okay. Explain the casta de nación, then.

MOOR: So casta de nación, or nation castes, that is kind of like an economic classification for skill sets of different Africans. What the Spanish did is they would privilege certain groups based on their skill sets, whether they were mining experts or agricultural experts or they were good in domestic capacities. Supposedly, the Senegambians had a higher domestic–when I say domestic–I shouldn’t say it like that–urban artisan work. They might have been better blacksmiths back on the plantation or in the cities. Maybe they were better bricklayers. Maybe they were more uniform in their understanding of how to organize the different materials. Even stuff that’s that minute is important when you’re talking about profits. So what the castas de nación system is is saying, we have literally thousands of different groups that we’re dealing with that we’re going to enslave, and we’re going to price those based upon their–/pɛˈrisiəs/ is the word in Spanish–their skills, their expertise is how you would say that.

FLETCHER: So it’s not just we’re grabbing these black folks and we’re just throwing in. This is very much designated almost like a factory designation.

MOOR: Absolutely. Some people have compared it to, like, the NFL draft or the NBA draft. Yeah. And some people say, no, that’s a horrible comparison. It’s really not, alright? It has its antecedents there.

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FLETCHER: So at a certain point, then, there’s the introduction of this other kind of caste, the castas de raza. And one of the reasons I think this is so important to understand is that it is dramatically different from what we experienced in the United States, that these layers that the Spanish created don’t have a comparable counterpart in the United States, as best I can tell, except possibly Louisiana and maybe South Carolina or something, but that for the most part that was not the way the British looked at control. So how did this develop? And why do you see the–why the differences in the form of white supremacy?

MOOR: Okay. Different components here. The British wanted a settler colony up in the colder regions in North America. The Spanish didn’t really look at it as such. Nor did the Portuguese at first. And so, demographically speaking, you have way more Europeans up in the British area than you do down in the Spanish area.

The point here, I think, is the Spanish and the Iberians had that system. And I’m going to tell you where they got it from. They got it from Moors, the whole /ɪnconiˈɛndə/, putting people into work. Different people do different tasks in a society. When the Moors invaded Spain, the Spaniards, the Christian, you know, Europeans, absorbed that form of governance, if you will.

So, comparatively speaking, it’s interesting that you mention Louisiana, ’cause that was owned by Spain at one time. And so if you look at the French Quarter, many of those street names are in Spanish. A lot of people don’t know that. You know, Congo Square was not created just when the British got there. It was way earlier. And there was a reason why it was called Congo Square, right? Because there was a lot of Congolese peoples there.

But here’s, I think, another dynamic that needs to be spoken to there. You will hear words like melange in Louisiana amongst the Creole community, which means mixed, sang melange. But in the British, they actually borrow part of the Spanish. How do we know that? Go back to England in the 12th, 13th, 14th centuries. Nobody’s talking about negro.

FLETCHER: Right.

MOOR: They’re talking about Moors.

FLETCHER: That’s right.

MOOR: And they’ll say blacker Moor. Negro comes out of the Iberian lexicon. And when they’re dealing with traffic in persons, they’re very specific with who they’re talking about. And so they break their system down. They say a white with a negro is a mulato. Then they’ll say a mulato with a white is a quadroon. Right?

FLETCHER: Right.

MOOR: And one thing the Spaniards incorporated was the Native American element. And that throws everything off. So the zoological terms that we talked about, like Zambo, that’s a monkey down in South America that has kind of like a dog face. Okay? And it’s Z-A-M-B-O. Now, when you say that, it comes out /sambo/, not /zæmboʊ/. But what–in English, when they look at it, they go /sæmboʊ/. Sambo comes out of that. Mulato, which means like a mule, okay, mule-like in Spanish. Remember we talked about that cross and other zoological terms. The English take that word. Even the work negro–especially the word negro–comes right out of the Spanish lexicon. Negro comes from–the Portuguese started it first. They got it from necro, which means death in Latin. So when, like, the Greeks and whatnot talk about necropolis and things like that, they’re talking about dead references, the dead city and whatnot.

FLETCHER: So it’s–negro is not just simply black. It’s derived from a reference to the dead.

MOOR: And so, negro, as much as it designates Africanity, it designates status. And Africanity equals inferiority. And that’s the whole reason for the casta de raza system.

FLETCHER: Well, I mean, it essentially divides up, particularly given the limited number of Europeans, it divides up the population so that you have the population fighting one another.

So you were saying that then there’s the introduction of the indigenous.

MOOR: Right.

FLETCHER: So where do they fit in? And this may sound like a strange question: why are they situated above the African? How did that end up happening?

MOOR: The Jesuits were all over. They left out of Latin America–in 1767 they were expelled. Prior to that, they had plantations. Like, the largest plantations in Peru were Jesuit holdings, for example.

FLETCHER: Wow.

MOOR: But in this case, the natives were perceived as more human than the Africans were by the locals, by the Spanish government and whatnot, the Spanish Empire, the crown, the same way that Jefferson did it. Jefferson said, well, maybe we can look at natives in a more human way as opposed to Africans, who he said, no, those are–even though, you know, /ˈbænəkoʊ/, is writing letters, my man, he goes, no, you know, at the end of the day. That’s why they tried to get rid of us. You know, Jefferson was one of the first ones, and Madison became a president of the American Colonization Society, right, the president right after Jefferson. Those programs were kind of already in play down in the Spanish world.

The Spanish world–if you ever look at history–and fascinating history–Simón Bolivar, right, when he goes over to Haiti, he’s fleeing for his life. He almost gets killed in Maracaibo and whatnot. And he goes, well, what do I do? He’s asking Pétion, the Haitian president. He goes, look, use black generals, use black troops. So he goes down there and he liberates five countries, right? And they’re nervous now. They’re annoyed at that point. And Bolivar goes, well, these people helped us; we’ve got to free them. Instead of freeing blacks, they assassinated the founder of the Colombian Navy–his name was José Padilla; Leonardo Infante, who was a general; Manuel Piar, who was another general. So the black generals were supposedly in cahoots with the Haitians to try and make black empires. So if you want to think about the impact that a–instead of making black hierarchical empires in South America, white hierarchical empires, people who are not even white calling themselves white. The castas system is still here.

FLETCHER: Dr. Moor, thank you very, very much.

MOOR: The pleasure’s mine.

FLETCHER: Oh, absolutely. Okay.

And thank you very much for joining us for this segment of The Global African. And stay tuned. We’ll be right back.

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FLETCHER: The political fight over the Trans-Pacific Partnership continues to heat up in Washington, D.C. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a trade deal involving the United States and 11 countries along the Pacific Rim that would drastically rewrite the global rules of trade in favor of multinational corporations. The trade agreement would make it tougher for poorer nations to gain access to life-saving medicines, would weaken financial regulations, and curb free speech on the internet. The Trans-Pacific Partnership would also give corporations the right to sue countries that pass laws that infringe upon the future profits of a given company, undermining the very fabric of sovereign law. For instance, if the United States passed a law protecting the environment, Exxon could sue the U.S. for billions of dollars, claiming a future loss in profits. Because of the controversial elements contained within the deal, the text of the agreement has been off-limits to concerned citizens, and even off-limits to our elected leaders.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is rapidly making its way through the halls of Congress. On Friday, May 22, the Senate approved fast track, a measure that would give President Obama the authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership with little oversight from Congress. Bucking many members of his own party, the president has sided with the business-dominated Republican Party, creating a very strange new political coalition.

What are the prospects of a progressive challenge to the disaster that is the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

We’re joined for this segment by Symone Sanders, who’s the communications officer for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, where she manages a significant new media strategy for their grassroots national and international campaigns.

Welcome to The Global African.

SYMONE SANDERS, COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, PUBLIC CITIZEN’S GLOBAL TRADE WATCH: Well, hello. Well, thank you. Thanks for having me today.

FLETCHER: It’s our pleasure and honor.

So we’re going to talk about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And I guess the first question I have, I’ve really been curious about this, Symone. The Trans-Pacific Partnership seems to be completely contrary to the messages that were being conveyed by candidate Barack Obama. So where did this come from?

SANDERS: You are absolutely correct, Bill. So, way back when on the campaign trail, when–prior to President Obama being the president, then candidate Obama, he made lots of promises regarding trade agreements. He said he would revamp new trade agreements, new ways to do trade, and to take America’s trade policies to broader shores. And that sounded good. Those were great promises, because America needs a trade overhaul in the way we do trade policy.

But, unfortunately, what we’ve seen from the administration during President Obama’s tenure is a perpetuation of the status quo. These trade agreements, particularly the trade agreement that’s being negotiated right now, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or the TPP, is the same as NAFTA. These standards haven’t changed.

FLETCHER: When I first learned about the TPP, it was actually through your boss, Lori Wallach. And I was struck by the magnitude of this trade agreement and that it was being handled in secret, total secrecy.

But the other thing that struck me was the potential impact that this has on government regulations. What was the origin of the TPP?

SANDERS: Definitely. And so the TPP–so what we know–so I want to be clear. What we know about the TPP is only what we know from WikiLeaks and leaks that have happened. And from the leaks, we can see that the negotiating, the things that they’ve negotiated and that have made it into the TPP are no different, sometimes are even far worse than those that we’ve seen.

FLETCHER: So who are the forces that are behind pushing this sort of diabolical move?

SANDERS: Friendly K Street lobbyists, Bill. The corporate community is mainly pushing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, because–and, inadvertently, also fast track trade legislation is currently being debated in Congress right now, because the TPP would make it easier when manufacturing jobs pull out from a community and they take their jobs overseas. Families lose out, communities lose out, workers lose out. And that’s what happens when we make it easier for companies to offshore our jobs.

So the corporate community, the United States Chamber of Commerce, they’re all for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They want the president to get fast track so that they can sew up the TPP and make it easier to ship our jobs overseas for lower wages, so they can work–. Workers in Vietnam, for example, they can work for $0.60 a day. That’s not going to fly here in the United States. But in Vietnam, that’s okay. And companies like Nike, for example, who’s notorious for offshoring and low wages, they’re all for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

FLETCHER: One of the things that I found particularly scary not just with the TPP but with other free trade agreements that doesn’t get discussed very much until something happens is the ability of corporations to sue governments over their legislation, and particularly over regulations. Can you say something about that?

SANDERS: Definitely. So, again, we know this from the chapter that has leaked, the investor states chapter, that the TPP provides for these secret–these tribunals, if you will, these investor state dispute and resolution tribunals that would allow governments to bring a lawsuit against another government for something that’s happened in their country. We’re in Japan, for example. Japan is one of the countries in the TPP. So, for example, under this new TPP, under the way that it’s currently set up, Japan could sue the United States government if they don’t like something that they’ve done, a regulation that we’ve put in place under this trade agreement. And they could sue the government, and the government would have to pay them. They’d have to either pay, they’d have to roll back their policies. But this is just another way that these trade agreements affect policy.

I’ll give you a actual recent example. About a week ago, the World Trade Organization ruled that the United States COOL policy, country of origin labeling policy, which is a policy that basically says if your food or packaging or something comes from another place, it has to be labeled as such–so when you buy, for instance, chicken from a grocery store, you might notice that it says United States, Mexico. That means that that particular calf was slaughtered in the United States but it originally came from Mexico. And that’s important, because you want to know. Some countries don’t have the level of labor standards that we would like them to have. So country of origin label [incompr.] is important. Consumers care about it. Everyday people care about it. I want to know where my food comes from. So it’s overwhelmingly popular. And COOL laws were passed overwhelmingly in a bipartisan way.

Well, last Monday, the WTO said the United States COOL labeling law is not valid. A matter of fact, they don’t like it; throw it out; you can’t do that anymore. So you had the World Trade Organization, the WTO, a separate entity, telling the United States that their policy is essentially illegal and we need to change it. So you know what the U.S. Department of Agriculture said? Well, guess we’ve got to repeal this law, because the WTO said it’s not legal. So this is one example of the way that our laws can be affected by these outside tribunals.

What’s so scary about the investor state tribunals in TPP is they’re absolutely secret. And they are the people deciding if these countries are paying out these large sums of money.

So it’s very concerning. It’s dangerous to U.S. policy. And it’s just not something we should want to even think about [incompr.]

FLETCHER: Let me tell you this question that I’ve been wondering for a while. So let’s say that November 2016, Senator Bernie Sanders is elected president of the United States. Upon inauguration, can Sanders say, you know what, I’m sick of this, we’re pulling out of the TPP or we’re pulling out of NAFTA? Can they do that?

SANDERS: Well, essentially they probably could. It’s not as though that no one–so I want to be clear. It’s not that anyone on our side of this trade battle doesn’t like trade. So people love trade. Trade is good for America. It’s great. But fair trade is what’s good for America. So I can’t speak for Senator Sanders or anyone else in that instance. But, yes, if a new elected president decided that they did not want to participate in a trade agreement, essentially they could back out.

FLETCHER: Symone Sanders, thank you very much for joining us for The Global African.

SANDERS: My pleasure, Bill. Anytime.

FLETCHER: And thank you for joining us for this episode of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll see you next time.

End

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