In 1903, W.E.B. DuBois wrote prophetically that "the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line." More recently, anthropologists and historians have argued that the very idea of race—the notion that human beings can be exhaustively divided into enduring groups such as whites, blacks, or Indians—was first invented in the New World, in the Americas. But what are races? Does it mean the same thing to be white in Boston as it does in Bogot·? If blackness in Alabama is rooted in assumptions about essential biological nature, does the same go for Rio de Janeiro? Is race simply an illusion, a convenient mask for political domination and economic exploitation? Can we hope to abolish the concept of race altogether, or is its grip too tenacious, its appeal to the psyche too great? This course considers episodes in the development of racial categories in Latin and North America. Our aim is to arrive at an overall sense of the nature of race in social life by comparing the logic of racial practices at different times and places in the hemisphere.
Harvard Extension School