Penn Sociology Colloquium Series: Wendy Roth, Professor of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania

“Beyond Money Whitening: Racialized Hierarchies and Socioeconomic Escalators in Mexico”
Sep 21, 2022 at - | Room 150

A core sociological claim is that race is a social construction; an important illustration of this is how racial classifications are influenced by people’s socioeconomic status. In both Latin America and the United States, someone with higher SES is more likely to be classified as White than others of similar appearance, a pattern epitomized by the expression “money whitens.” However, recent studies of the effect of SES on racial classifications show inconsistent results, sometimes depending on the measures used. We develop a broad theorization of societies as having multiple racialized hierarchies with different socioeconomic escalators potentially bringing people to higher-status locations in each one. Yet racialized hierarchies differ across societies and some non-White classifications may reflect a process of upward movement while others may not. We assess this process in Mexico using the 2019 Project on Ethnic-Racial Discrimination in Mexico, a nationally-representative survey including highly accurate digital skin-color ratings, perceived skin-color assessments, and ethnoracial classifications by respondents and interviewers. We find that having higher education increases respondents’ self-classification as Mestizo. Yet those with greater wealth are “whitened” by interviewers. Simultaneously, respondents and interviewers “lighten” respondents with greater wealth. We argue that SES can differentially affect mobility in different racialized hierarchies, showing how race is constructed partly by other social constructs like class.