Since the early sixteenth century, indigenous peoples, blacks, and mestizos have been mistreated on the American continent. After the abolition of slavery, many expected that the inequities would vanish – but racial differences remained. This study by the Inter-American Development Bank illustrates the past and current socioeconomic situation of excluded groups in Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries. Proper classification of and data on groups that are discriminated against is required to promote equitable growth.
Athough discrimination in LAC countries has been documented in several studies, there is still reluctance within the region to accept that it exists. Despite the evidence, racial and ethnic discrimination has been denied, justified on the basis of other factors such as class/wealth, or its importance underestimated.
Lack of available information in many LAC countries has limited the accurate measurement of discrimination, but the increasing mobilisation of racial and ethnic groups experiencing exclusion has prompted countries to include racial/ethnic information in their surveys and censuses. Some difficulties in collecting reliable data remain. For example, racial identity and class position are not always easily distinguishable, and therefore have often been confused, obscuring the real cause of discrimination. Creating technically and politically accurate classifications of populations is also problematic. For instance, allowing self-identification in surveys leads to individuals ‘whitening’ themselves. Acculturation and cross-country differences also impact on the measurement of the extent and effects of discrimination.
Forms of discrimination include: racial, political, educational, occupational, cultural, and spatial. Cross country data from country-specific studies shows evidence of discrimination:
- In general, black and indigenous populations are disadvantaged compared to whites. Lower levels of human capital (and investment in human capital) within these groups aren’t enough to explain income differences, which suggests further discrimination.
- Disadvantaged races and ethnicities receive lower wages. Earnings of black and indigenous male populations in LAC countries range from 30 – 66 per cent of that of white males. This means a loss in potential productivity ranging from 12 – 65 per cent.
Both data quality and quantity are lacking in comprehensive coverage of the LAC countries, and further research is required. Measuring population numbers by racial or ethnic group has serious fiscal implications that affect the welfare of these populations. Differences in classifications lead to different policy implications. Therefore:
- The inclusion of all racial and ethnic groups through their classification in surveys and censuses, along with improved in the accuracy of classification of individuals must be a common objective of all LAC countries.
- Political resistance to including all racial and ethnic groups in surveys and censuses, and the difficulties posed by accurate classification requires coordinated efforts to produce the necessary research.
- The IADB and World Bank should contribute financial/technical resources towards these goals.