Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ann Twinam's "Purchasing Whiteness"

Ann Twinam is a Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Miners, Merchants and Farmers in Colonial Colombia and Public Lives, Private Secrets: Gender, Honor, Sexuality and Illegitimacy in Colonial Spanish America.

Twinam applied the “Page 99 Test” to Purchasing Whiteness: Pardos, Mulattos and the Quest for Social Mobility in the Spanish Indies, and reported the following:
The key quote on page 99 is:
Even though outlawed, slaves found ways, either supervised by masters or not, to carry weapons. It would not be until the next generation that their freeborn descendants would open the door wider, seeking the privilege to carry arms as whites, opening the door to militia service and eventual status as royal vassals.
This citation on page 99 falls in a chapter entitled “Interstices.” It explores how Africans and their mixed descendants (castas) searched for openings over the generations that permitted the movement from slavery to freedom and from freedom to status as vassals of the Spanish Empire. Once the castas achieved the rank of vassals, they enjoyed the traditional benefits of reciprocity: those who performed services had the right to request favors; the duty of the monarch was to reward them. This included the Council of the Indies that would---for that reason---seriously consider those casta petitions that arrived in the late eighteenth century requesting the privilege (gracias al sacar) of purchasing whiteness.

The quote on page 99 identifies an earlier and fundamental part of that process. It tracks how in the early colony it was not uncommon for imperial officials and elites to enhance their status by surrounding themselves with armed slave footmen. This practice accustomed the populace to seeing those in bondage with arms, even though this was a privilege legally reserved for whites. In succeeding generations the free mixed descendants of these slaves would also receive permission to carry weapons and to serve in pardo and mulatto militia units. As the castas participated in the defense of the empire against foreign invaders, they legitimated their status as loyal vassals, worthy of royal favors, including not only the acquisition of whiteness by a privileged few, but also official reconsideration of the discriminatory regime directed against them.
Learn more about Purchasing Whiteness at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue