Blackness and Deviance: Afro-Ecuadorians, Masculinity, and Race Hierarchy in Early Twentieth-Century Ecuador

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:20 AM
Columbia Hall 1 (Washington Hilton)
Nicola Claire Foote, Florida Gulf Coast University
This paper examines representations of black masculinity in Liberal Ecuador. The early twentieth century in Ecuador was a period in which racial hierarchies and ideologies were the focus of intense elite debate. Liberal politicians and intellectuals believed that indigenous peoples – especially those from the highlands – were “redeemable” and could be transformed into productive citizens and members of a modern market economy through targeted state policy. Yet they were much more pessimistic about the potentialities of the Afro-Ecuadorian population to be integrated into the citizenry. This paper examines how elite fears and concerns about blackness were mediated through the lens of gender, and assesses how ideas about black manhood and masculinity were used to construct iconographies of fear that helped position blackness as an anti-national discourse.

The paper examines two (inter-related) sets of images: stereotypes of black men as aggressive and violent; and ideas about black male sexuality as deviant and uncontrolled. Afro-Ecuadorians played a prominent role in the military struggles of the period and developed a reputation as fearsome soldiers. But the efforts of black men to seek social mobility through military service led to the characterization of Afro-Ecuadorians as inherently bloodthirsty and barbaric, and as a threat to political stability – and thus as unsuitable for citizenship. Liberal elites also presented Afro-Ecuadorians as a threat to projects aimed at the evangelization and education of indigenous peoples. State efforts to contain black influence on lowland indigenous people often used imageries of black male sexual aggression against indigenous women to justify measures such as limiting black rights to land access and ownership in regions of indigenous citizenship. By bringing the gender dynamics of Ecuadorian anti-black discourse to the fore, this paper will shed new light on the racialization of citizenship.