Tackling Racism in Guatemala

There’s an interesting interview with Marta Casaus (cousin of ex-President Alvaro Arzu) on the BBC Mundo website about the issue of racism in Guatemala. Marta Casaus, author of ‘Guatemala: Linaje y Racismo‘, an academic in American history based in Madrid has researched and written about racism in Guatemala for a number of years. I was particularly struck by the fact that she seemed under no illusions about the depth of the problem in Guatemalan society:

“Sin duda alguna, yo pertenezco a una de esas redes familiares de larga duración, a la familia Arzú, y yo creo que la originalidad de esta investigación y su poder de movilización fue porque otra persona que no fuera de la oligarquía no habría podido pasar esta encuesta. Sin lugar a dudas, no se la habrían respondido. No habrían podido acceder a la clase dominante.Yo no hice una investigación así como denuncia, yo misma me sorprendí del nivel de racismo fenotípico y genetista de mis familiares. Yo pensé que iba a ser un racismo más “light”, algo así como “los discriminamos porque son diferentes”, pero no pensé que iban a decir “porque son una raza inferior”.

Lo que me sorprendió cuando yo pasé esta encuesta a 100 miembros de la élite de poder es que un porcentaje muy alto, un 15%, era partidario de la mejora de la raza.”

We recently wrote about the remarkable story of Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj who is a K’ichee’ Maya anthropologist and journalist, and recently made a stand against racial discrimination. Part of the struggle against racism in Guatemala will doubtless need to be fought in the legal public sphere, but the private ambit of personal attitude and prejudice will also need to be addressed, as both Velasquez and Casaus point out.

As the famous IAT experiment at Harvard demonstrates however, the racial preferences that many of us hold subconsciously can remain stubbornly persistent. I wonder what a Guatemalan version of the IAT race experiment would show? In terms of a solution, the IATs suggest that prevailing cultural attitudes and the mass media have a massive role to play, perhaps bigger than we’d previously imagined.

Further reading

For more about the IAT experiment and it’s implications, check out ‘Blink‘ by Malcolm Gladwell.

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