Cover of Purchasing Whiteness by Ann Twinam
Purchasing Whiteness
Pardos, Mulattos, and the Quest for Social Mobility in the Spanish Indies
Ann Twinam

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January 2015
552 pages.
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Cloth ISBN: 9780804750929
Paper ISBN: 9780804750936

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Winner of the 2016 Bryce Wood Book Award, sponsored by the Latin American Studies Association.

Winner of the 2016 Ligia Parra Jahn Award, sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies (RMCLAS).

Winner of the 2016 Bandelier/Lavrin Book Prize in Colonial Latin American History, sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies (RMCLAS).

Winner of the 2016 Albert J. Beveridge Award in American History, sponsored by the American Historical Association (AHA).

Winner of the 2016 Bolton-Johnson Prize, sponsored by the Conference on Latin American History.

The colonization of Spanish America resulted in the mixing of Natives, Europeans, and Africans and the subsequent creation of a casta system that discriminated against them. Members of mixed races could, however, free themselves from such burdensome restrictions through the purchase of a gracias al sacar—a royal exemption that provided the privileges of Whiteness. For more than a century, the whitening gracias al sacar has fascinated historians. Even while the documents remained elusive, scholars continually mentioned the potential to acquire Whiteness as a provocative marker of the historic differences between Anglo and Latin American treatments of race. Purchasing Whiteness explores the fascinating details of 40 cases of whitening petitions, tracking thousands of pages of ensuing conversations as petitioners, royal officials, and local elites disputed not only whether the state should grant full whiteness to deserving individuals, but whether selective prejudices against the castas should cease.

Purchasing Whiteness contextualizes the history of the gracias al sacar within the broader framework of three centuries of mixed race efforts to end discrimination. It identifies those historic variables that structured the potential for mobility as Africans moved from slavery to freedom, mixed with Natives and Whites, and transformed later generations into vassals worthy of royal favor. By examining this history of pardo and mulatto mobility, the author provides striking insight into those uniquely characteristic and deeply embedded pathways through which the Hispanic world negotiated processes of inclusion and exclusion.

About the author

Ann Twinam is Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Miners, Merchants, and Farmers in Colonial Colombia (University of Texas Press, 1982) and of Public Lives, Private Secrets: Gender, Honor, Sexuality, and Illegitimacy in Colonial Spanish America (Stanford University Press, 1999). This latter book won the Thomas F. McGann Prize and was runner up for the Bolton Prize.

"Ann Twinam's long anticipated study of royal dispensations from the "defect" of African descent (gracias al sacar) proves well worth the wait . . . At over four hundred pages, this book will not find a place in the undergraduate curriculum, but it should be essential reading for graduate students and scholars of both Latin America and the history of race more widely. Twinam guides readers with clear chapter summaries, while also enticing them to keep turning pages to follow her detective-like investigations of both personal dramas and political debates."

—Sarah C. Chambers, American Historical Review

"Beginning with a two-part historiographic and methodological introduction, Twinam guides readers through concepts of social mobility in the Spanish Indies from the arrival of African slaves until the Bourbon reforms . . . This book is an impressive methodological study for uncovering the voices of nonwhite colonial society . . . Recommended."

—S.B. Opperman, CHOICE

"This is a massive, hefty piece of work, both in terms of length and depth of scholarship. I admit that I was rather daunted by its prospect, but once I started reading I was soon fascinated by the topic and the way it is presented. It'll win prizes. It's important."

—Matthew Restall, Pennsylvania State University

"Quite simply, the author knows more about this subject than anyone else ever has. Her research is thorough, original, and imaginative. Above all, she demonstrates the larger relevance of what might first seem a narrow topic. These whitening petitions are valuable because they throw a sharp light on long-term, largely submerged processes of casta mobility. Some of the most interesting passages describe her detective work in tracking down whitening cases and uncovering the life stories of the petitioners."

—R. Douglas Cope, Brown University